Herbs will thrive in containers if cared for properly. And if you keep them near your kitchen, you can easily snip off pieces to use in cooking. Here’s how to start your own herb container garden:
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1. If your container doesn’t already have holes in the bottom, poke several to allow the soil to drain. Pour gravel into the container until it is about a quarter of the way full. This will help the water drain out and help to keep the soil from washing out.
2. Fill your container three-quarters of the way with potting soil or a soil-based compost.
3. It’s best to use seedlings when planting herbs in containers. Tease the roots slightly, gently spreading them apart with your fingertips. This will encourage them to spread once planted. Place each herb into the pot and cover the root base with soil. Place herbs that will grow taller in the center of your container and the smaller ones around the edges. Leave about four square inches of space between each seedling.
4. As you gently press in soil between the plants, leave an inch or so between the container’s top and the soil. You don’t want the container to overflow when you water the herbs.
5. Cut the tops off the taller herb plants to encourage them to grow faster and to produce more leaves.
6. Pour water into the container until it begins to leak out the bottom. Most herbs like to dry out between watering, and over-watering can cause some herbs to rot and die, so water only every few days unless the plants are in a very hot place.
Things to Consider
Growing several kinds of herbs together helps the plants to thrive. A few exceptions to this rule are oregano, lemon balm and tea balm. These herbs should be planted on their own because they will overtake the other herbs in your container.
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You may wish to choose your herbs according to color to create attractive arrangements for your home. Any of the following herbs will grow well in containers:
• Silver herbs: artemesias, curry plants, santolinas
• Golden herbs: lemon thyme, calendula, nasturtium, sage, lemon balm
• Blue herbs: borage, hyssop, rosemary, catnip
• Green herbs: basil, mint, marjoram, thyme, parsley, chives, tarragon
• Pink and purple herbs: oregano (the flowers are pink), lavender
• If you decide to transplant your herbs in the summer months, they will grow quite well outdoors and will give you a larger harvest.
Preserving Your Container Plants
As fall approaches, frost will soon descend on your container plants and can ultimately destroy your garden. Container plants are particularly susceptible to frost damage, especially if you are growing tropical plants, perennials and hardy woody plants in a single container garden. There are many ways that you can preserve and maintain your container garden plants throughout the winter season. Preservation techniques will vary depending on the plants in your container garden. Tropical plants can be over-wintered using methods replicating a dry season, forcing the plant into dormancy; hardy perennials and woody shrubs need a cold dormancy to grow in the spring, so they must stay outside; cacti and succulents prefer their winters warm and dry and must be brought inside, while many annuals can be propagated by stem cuttings or can just be repotted and maintained inside.
Many herbaceous annuals can also be saved for the following year. By rooting stem cuttings in water on a sunny windowsill, plants like impatiens, coleus, sweet potato vine cultivars and purple heart can be held over in the winter until needed in the spring. Otherwise, the plants can be cut back by half, potted in a peat-based, soilless mix and placed on a sunny windowsill. With a wide assortment of “annuals” available on the market, some research is required in order to determine which annuals can be over-wintered successfully. True annuals (such as basils, cockscomb and zinnias)—regardless of any treatment given—will go to seed and die when they are brought inside.
Hardy Perennials, Shrubs and Vines
Hardy perennials, woody shrubs and vines needn’t be thrown away when it’s time to get rid of accent containers. Crack-resistant, four-season containers can house perennials and woody shrubs year-round. Below is a list of specific perennials and woody plants that do well in both hot and cold weather, indoors and out:
• Shade perennials like coral bells, lenten rose, assorted hardy ferns and Japanese forest grass are great for all-weather containers.
• Sun-loving perennials such as sedges, some salvias, purple coneflower, daylily, spiderwort and bee blossom are also very hardy and do well in year-round containers. Interplant them with cool-growing plants, like kale, pansies, and Swiss chard, for fall and spring interest.
• Woody shrubs and vines—many of which have great foliage interest with four-season appeal—are ideal for container gardens. Red-twigged dogwood cultivars, clematis vine cultivars and dwarf crape myrtle cultivars are great container additions that can stay outdoors year-round. If the container has to be removed, hardy perennials and woody shrubs can be temporarily planted in the ground and mulched. Dig them from the garden in the spring, if you wish, and replant into a container. Or, leave them in their garden spot and start over with fresh ideas and new plant material for your container garden.
Sustainable Plants And Money in Your Pocket
Over-wintering is a great form of sustainable plant conservation achieved simply and effectively by adhering to each plant’s cultural and environmental needs. With careful planning and storage techniques, you’ll save money as well as plant material. The beauty and interest you’ve created in this season’s well-grown container garden can also provide enjoyment for years to come.
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This article was published in the HERBAL REMEDIES™ #90 issue and reprinted with permission from “The Homesteading Handbook: A Guide to Basics” by Abigail R. Gehring. Skyhorse Publications; New York, NY; ©2011. To subscribe, click here.