How To Fertilize Herbs

When it comes to herbs, many hobby gardeners think of Mediterranean plants that do not require any nutrients. However, there are popular kitchen herbs that value nutrient supply. Fertilizer frequency is also low for these plants.

Herbs and their nutritional needs

Kitchen herbs, originally native to the Mediterranean region, grow on dry sandy soil. Plants such as lavender, thyme, and rosemary have specialized in lean locations and do not need to be fertilized every year. Mint, basil, and tarragon are among the species that thrive in shadier conditions and have higher water requirements. They value regular fertilization.

Deficiency symptoms

In addition to the main nutrients, herbs require trace elements in low concentrations. If these are missing in the fertilizer, growth problems occur. A lack of iron manifests itself in a yellowish discoloration of the leaves. Plants in partially shaded locations such as mint are prone to iron deficiency. If the leaves discolor, a copper deficiency can also come into question. Basil or parsley often tend to curl up the leaf edges, which indicates a boron deficiency.

Tips for fertilizing

Herbs are sold in a nutritious substrate to keep them looking fresh and crisp. In the first six to eight weeks, the plants do not need any additional fertilization. This well-intentioned care measure would lead to over-fertilization. During further cultivation, the nutrient supply requires little attention.

The general rule:

  • the first application of fertilizer in spring
  • Fertilize nutrient-loving plants once or twice a year
  • Provide plants in poor locations with nutrients every two to three years


It is better to fertilize more often in lower concentrations to avoid oversupply. Herbs with a high nutrient requirement such as lemon verbena or chives can be given a little more fertilizer. This also applies to sandy soils, where nutrients are quickly washed out.

The right fertilizer

There are special herbal fertilizers on the market, which should be tailored to the needs of the plants. Nitrogen is essential for healthy growth. Phosphorus promotes root formation and supports the development of flowers and fruits. Potassium strengthens plant tissue and makes it more resilient.


The substrate is a perfect fertilizer because it contains all the important nutrients and trace elements. Compost is suitable for medium to heavy consumers such as chervil, lovage, or tarragon. Pay attention to the quality of the compost. It should be dark in color, loose and fresh, and not give off any unpleasant odors.

Coffee grounds

Many herbs are grateful for fertilization with leftovers from the coffee filter. Coffee grounds as a fertilizer provide the plants with nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, with the powder being a rather weak nutrient supplier. The pH of the substrate varies with the addition of coffee. You should therefore only fertilize herbs that thrive in both slightly acidic and moderately alkaline substrates. These plants include some species that prefer partially shaded and damp locations.

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Written by John Myers

Professional Chef with 25 years of industry experience at the highest levels. Restaurant owner. Beverage Director with experience creating world-class nationally recognized cocktail programs. Food writer with a distinctive Chef-driven voice and point of view.

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