5 Garden Herbs to Plant in Early Spring

herbs
kirin_photo / Getty Images

In the early spring, the weather is fickle. One day is hot and the next could have a light dusting of snow. Tender herbs will not survive the temperature fluctuations, but there are still plenty of herbs that will grow just fine if they experience a chilly morning or two. In addition to the satisfaction of cheating the seasons, these herbs make for frugal gardening, since you can start them from seeds rather than buying transplants. Here are five recommended herbs that are ideal for planting outdoors from seeds in early spring.

  • 01 of 05

    Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)

    green coriander plants
    Tammyasian / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11 (normally grown as an annual, but will readily self-seed)
    • Color Varieties: White, pink, pale lavender (not grown for the flowers)
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Medium-moisture, well-drained soil

    Be sure to start your cilantro seeds straight into the ground at the start of spring—about two weeks before the last frost date in your region. The seeds will tolerate even a light covering of snow, and the minute it is warm enough they will germinate.

    Cilantro leaves can be snipped and used in soups and meat sauces, sprinkled onto the dish after cooking is complete. The seeds can also be used in sauces, stews, pies, and cakes, but don't use immature seeds, since they are bitter.

  • 02 of 05

    Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis)

    Lemon balm plant

    Gregory Irby / Getty Images

    • USDA Growing Zones: 3 to 7
    • Color Varieties: White to pale yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil

    Lemon balm is a perennial member of the hardy mint family. It's no surprise that this yummy herb can tolerate the crazy days of early spring weather. Consider planting it in a container sunk into the ground, because lemon balm can escape and spead rampantly if given the opportunity.

    Plant the seeds indoors about 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost, or outdoors immediately after the last expected frost date, and enjoy the best this lemony plant has to offer before the heat of summer puts too much stress on it. The edible leaves can be added to salads, soups, sauces, and vegetables. The leaves can also be used to flavor teas, and dried leaves are often added to potpourri.

  • 03 of 05

    Borage (Borago officinalis)

    Bourage plant

    Guy Cali Corbis / Getty Images

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11 (normally grown as an annual, but self-seeds easily)
    • Color Varieties: Blue (not grown for its flowers)
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun to part shade
    • Soil Needs: Dry to medium-moisture, well-drained soil.

    Plant borage seeds immediately after the danger of frost has passed. This beautiful herb deserves a place of honor in the garden. It will grow quite large, so plant it where you want it to remain forever. Borage will escape and reseed vigorously unless supervised.

    Borage leaves are used in salads, the flowers are always edible, and once the sun starts to scorch the earth in the latter part of summer, this cool-loving herb will try to go to seed and die back. Be sure to peek under the large mother plant for small seedlings to add to your salads all summer long.

  • 04 of 05

    Dill (Anethum graveolens)

    Dill plant

    nicodemos / Getty Images

    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11 (normally grown as an annual)
    • Color Varieties: Yellow
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Rich, light, well-drained soil

    Who doesn’t love dill? It grows lightning fast in the cool spring soil and offers a bright sunny flavor for your dishes. Plant it outdoors when the danger of frost has passed. Dill likes to reseed itself once it has been trimmed back numerous times, so planting in the spring and continuing to plant at weekly intervals will provide you with plenty of dill. The leaves have the best flavor if harvested and used as soon as the flowers open, but dill also dries and freezes perfectly, so build up a stash while you can.

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Basil (Ocimum basilicum)

    Basil
    AlexD75 / Getty Images
    • USDA Growing Zones: 2 to 11 (normally grown as an annual)
    • Color Varieties: Magenta (not grown for its flowers)
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
    • Soil Needs: Moderately rich, well-drained soil

    As much as you hear about basil loving the heat (which is very true), it may surprise you that basil does best if started as seeds indoors (6 to 8 weeks before last frost) and then transplanted outside when the weather permits. In fall, you can take root cuttings and transplant them into indoor pots and continue growing the herb through the winter. Basil is best used by adding freshly chopped leaves and small stems near the end of cooking, but the herb can also be frozen or dried to preserve for winter use.