Garden Topics: Herb Containers
Herbs, The Easy and Convenient Way
With summer upon us, and as we move outside for dinning and entertaining, it becomes more important that we decorate our outdoor living areas with container grown plants. Consider herbs in your plant selection. They can add variety, fragrance, and a splash of color to a deck, balcony, patio, or any small space. Annual flowers and vegetables can be used in these containers along with the herbs.
The advantages of container grown herbs is that they are easy to grow and harvest right there at your doorstep. You will be more apt to use your herbs when they are near at hand. Container gardens don’t need a lot of space, and they are portable. They can be easily moved to a warmer sunny area if needed and back into the shade if the season gets too hot.
So, how do you decide what to plant? How much space can you give to your herb containers? They should get at least 6 hours of sun per day, so do you have a sunny location? Gather all of your empty pots together to see what you have available. Decide if you should get a few more. Think about what you want from your herb garden. Do you want herbs for soups, stews, meats and vegetables? Do you want to make vinegars? Eliminate the herbs you really don't think you will use. Here are some ideas:
- Salads: Nasturtiums, tomatoes, basil, chives, oregano, parsley
- Italian Cooking: oregano, basil, patio type tomato, marjoram, rosemary
- Mexican Cooking: cilantro, pepper plant, oregano
- Fragrance: lavender, rosemary, miniature roses, mints, scented geraniums
- Vinegars: dill, basil, oregano, nasturtium, chives, sage
- Flowers: Agastache, monarda, feverfew, lavender, rue, thyme, yarrow
There are basically two kinds of herbs: those that need a lot of moisture and those that don’t. Herbs that prefer moisture-rich soil include basil, cilantro, tarragon, and parsley, while herbs that don’t need, nor want, as much water, “Mediterranean herbs” include chives, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme, bay, marjoram, and lavender. It may be wise to plant moisture-loving herbs in plastic containers, which retain water, and put Mediterranean herbs in terra cotta containers, which draw out water. No matter what kind of container, make sure there are drainage holes at the bottom to insure a healthy root system. Roots rot from sitting in water.
When choosing culinary herbs, remembering to avoid
mint in mixed containers, as it will overgrow the other
plants in a very short time. Tarragon, sage, and
nasturtiums will provide added interest. Herbal plants
such as lavenders and flowering herbs, give a pretty and
colorful look to your miniature garden.
Don’t forget good design when planting. Try to contrast foliage texture and color. Give thought to plant size and rate of growth. Balance is another consideration. Place taller plants in the rear or center, and position shorter plants to extend out from there.
The essential oils that give herbs their flavor and aroma are produced in the largest quantity when they receive plenty of light. For best results, as was stated previously, most herb varieties require at least 6 hours of sun per day. Try not to mix plants with different lighting requirements on the same container.
Herb Container Care
- Potted herbs need good drainage and some extra care. Be sure to check them often for dryness and water accordingly. Most plants need at least an inch of water per week. On hot summer days daily watering may be needed.
- Pot-grown herbs need occasional fertilization. Fertilize outdoor pots at least once mid-season with a good organic fertilizer. However, be cautious in fertilization since in most cases, less is better. Over fertilization of herbs results in weak growth and reduces the oils that give the herbs flavor.
- Herb containers will need some pruning to ensure that all the plants have adequate room to grow, and that the overly enthusiastic specimens are not crowding out all the others. Regular pruning of herbs promotes fresh and vigorous growth. If harvested regularly, there may be no need to prune your herbs.
- Most herbs have few problems with pests and disease. Regular weeding, proper watering, and frequent harvest usually eliminates any pests and diseases herbs may encounter.
- Harvest herbs in the morning when moisture and fragrance are at their peak. However, wait to harvest until after dew has dried.
- Although you can harvest cooking herbs all season, give perennials some time off in the fall to help them prepare for winter.