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Container Gardening: Growing Herbs in Containers

Using fresh herbs are a fantastic way to add healthful flavor to your food. They’re great tossed into green salads for a splash of unexpected flavor (basil, oregano and dill are great choices). Fresh herbs really kick up the flavor of sauces and can be used to make really flavorful crusts for roasted meats.

Sure, you can get fresh herbs from most grocery stores, but why not grow your own? You’ll have an endless supply of organic flavor for your kitchen and the pleasure of growing them yourself! Container herb gardens are easy to grow, whether you’re in the city, the suburbs or the countryside.

Herbs are also easy to grow and don’t need a lot of attention. The best, most flavorful and fragrant herbs come from plain, organic, non-fertilized dirt. Be mindful of the watering needs of your herbs: some like it dry, while others prefer a bit more moisture.

Herbs in raised beds.

Sunlight is a must. Many of the herbs we use in cooking come from sunny areas like the Mediterranean. You’ll want your container herb garden to get at least eight hours of full sun each day. Moving the containers around outside to accomplish this is easy. If you’re growing your herbs indoors, choose a south-facing windowsill. You’ll still get a good harvest, but not as much as if you’d grown them outside.

Soil, or in this case “potting mix” is the proper medium in which to grow your herbs. Potting mix is mostly organic matter like composted plants and peat, is lighter and gives container gardens the best texture for root systems and much needed good drainage.

Good drainage is key to the success of a contain herb garden. The containers need to have a good-sized drainage hole that allows extra water to escape. Herbs don’t tolerate soil that is too wet.

Vegetable garden on a terrace. Herbs, tomatoes seedling growing in container .

Container size is also important. The shape of the pot isn’t a big deal to the herbs, but the containers must be larger. It takes longer for a larger quantity of potting mix to dry out, which keeps the right amount of moisture in the mix. Rather than using many smaller containers, plant two or more plants in one larger container.

If you plant perennial herbs, they’ll make it through all seasons as long as the containers are big enough and they have good drainage. Typically, you want containers that hold at least five gallons of dirt. This is one case where plastic containers are better: clays & ceramics tend to crack due to freeze-thaw cycles.

Watering is important but remember: herbs don’t like wet soil. Stick your finger an inch into the potting mix. If it feels dry, add water.

Seeds or plants? We recommend planting small, grown plants. You can get them from garden centers, mail order companies or even at your local health food store. Don’t buy them until it’s warm enough to actually plant them, unless you’re growing them inside. If you want to spend more time try growing plants from seed.

Small herb and flower garden built on terrace or roof

Patience is another key ingredient in a successful container herb garden. For the first few weeks, your herb seedlings may look pretty puny. However, once warmer weather comes, they will grow and thrive. You may end up with more than you can use (your friends will love you for sharing!).

Leaves are what you want from your container herb garden. Most of the time, the leaves are the parts of the plants we use. Many herbs don’t care for fertilizers anyway and you definitely don’t want to use a fertilizer meant to speed flower growth! Once your herbs bloom, the flavor of the leaves tends to change and not always for the better.

Harvest the leaves often. This keeps the plants from blooming and also keeps them producing more leaves. Take off the oldest stems individually using scissors; usually from the top. Keep a pair of scissors close by to easily snip and incorporate into your recipes, smoothies and dry them out for later use.

Pairing herbs in larger containers can make for a beautiful, fragrant herb garden. It’s important to make sure you’re planting herbs with similar needs in the same containers. For example, basil prefers more water and fertilizer than rosemary, which prefers drier, less nutrient-dense soil.

Container herb gardens are an easy introduction to growing your own food. Herbs are easy to grow, typically very forgiving of gardener mistakes and are just plain fun to grow. Enjoy!

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