Growing Herbs in Pots is Easy and FunBy
If you’ve never done much gardening but you love to cook, growing herbs in pots is a great way to get acquainted with the plant kingdom, have some fun, and save money on dried herbs and garnishes. Seasoned gardeners who have never grown their own seasonings will also find the process relaxing and delicious.
Herb gardens (sometimes called ‘kitchen gardens’) are among the easiest kind to start and maintain. Herbs are especially easy to grow in pots, and some varieties are so aggressive it’s hard not to grow them successfully.
No matter how limited your space or time, you almost certainly have room for a few pots outside the kitchen door, or a window box filled with herbs outside your kitchen window. Fresh herbs are quite unlike dried ones in both flavor and quality. Once you get used to cooking with them, you’ll wonder how you ever got by without them.
The best type of container for growing herbs is a plastic window box or a series of attractive glazed pots that you can set in a sunny place on a patio or near a back door. Start with good potting mix of medium weight.
If can you splurge on the kind of potting mix with fertilizer already included, that will get your herb garden off to an even stronger start. Any potting mix marked for vegetables will also work wonderfully for herbs.
Some herbs are so aggressive and spread so rapidly you will want to confine them to their own separate pot instead of mixing them in a window box. These include all varieties of mint, lemon balm, and some herbs that double as ground covers (such as pennyroyal and hoytunia).
Other herbs can be easily combined in a single large pot or window box to make your planting more attractive. Some pretty combinations are chives and variegated oregano, parsley and creeping thyme, and French tarragon with purple basil, and sage with summer savory.
Don’t be afraid to mix edible flowers and miniature vegetables and lettuces into your herb garden. ‘Mesclun’ seed packets that contain a mix of many colors and textures of edible greens are widely available in garden centers, as are decorative miniature multi-colored pepper plants and patio cherry tomatoes.
Edible flowers include violets and dandelions, (both of these will need to be confined to their own containers since they spread aggressively), chamomile (you can make a calming tea out of the flower heads), and borage flowers and nasturtiums (good in salads). Including edible flowers in your container herb gardens is a great way to create beauty while supply yourself with instant garnishes and cake decorations all summer long. Keep in mind however that not all flowers are edible, so make sure of what you are eating before you pop it in a salad.
Water your herb pots regularly but don’t over water. To check the soil for dryness, stick your finger about an inch deep into the pot. It should feel moist but not soaked. If the soil is bone dry, your pots need water. Over time you will learn how frequently to water for optimal growth.
Watch your plants for signs of distress. Crisp leaf edges, drooping plants, and dropped flowers or brown leaves are all signs that your herb pots need water pronto. Some of these signs of plant distress (especially lots of dropped flowers and spindly growth) can also indicate over watering.
If the soil looks wet but your herbs are still unhealthy, gently tug at the base of one of the plants. If it comes right up with little or no root system attached, you are over watering and rotting out the roots. Let the soil dry out completely and then ease up on your watering schedule and they may come back.
Regular feeding is a good idea to encourage lots of green growth. Look for a fertilizer specially formulated for container gardens such as Miracle Grow or Fertilome. You can choose a liquid that you add to water once a month or so, slow release granules, or even solid spikes that dissolve slowly over time.
Some herbs are easier to grow from seed than from bedding starts. Catnip is a one of these. Planting catnip bedding plants or pots is likely to attract a neighborhood cat that will easily dislodge the plant from its pot and drag it away, but if you grow it from seed, it’s much harder for cats to pull out the entire plant (though they may still nibble).
Other herbs that grow easily from seed include parsley, chervil, and nasturtiums. Basil, thyme, and oregano grow easily from seed but get a faster, healthier start if you buy bedding plants. Rosemary is pretty hard to start from seed. If you like to use rosemary, you would do well to buy a fairly large already-grown container plant and take care of it at home.
Check out online nursery catalogues, gardening sites, and herb gardening blogs before you get started in order to get a sense for which herbs are available and which ones you might like to grow. Many online suppliers will deliver everything you need to get started right to your front door. It doesn’t get any easier than that!