Herbal Container Gardens

First, choose your container/s. Get creative with your container options. Use a wheel barrel, a whicker basket a coffee pot or even an old boot. If it can hold soil you can grow your herbs in it. Whatever you use though make sure that there are holes in the bottom for good drainage. Self-watering containers can be purchased at most garden centers. Plants are able to soak up the water from an attached reservoir without washing away valuable nutrients and they help prevent overwatering. Remember, soggy roots can be detrimental to plant growth and can eventually kill the plant.

Next, add a growing medium. I recommend a potting mix which will have the right combination of nutrients and will have the right consistency for proper drainage. Occasionally you will want to add a slow release organic fertilizer.  This will replenish the nutrients that leach out of the soil over time in a closed container system. Synthetic fertilizers can sometimes be high in salt, which will build up over time in the container, so I would recommend choosing an organic option or even consider using worm castings to fertilize.

The final step: choosing your herbs.  When choosing your plants, there are a few things to take into consideration.  Consider whether the herb is an annual, biennial, or perennial.  An annual herb blooms in one season and then dies; examples of annuals are anise, basil, chervil, coriander, dill, and summer savory.  Biennials, like parsley, live for two seasons and bloom in the second season.  Chives, fennel, marjoram, mint, tarragon, thyme and winter savory are perennials, meaning they will overwinter and come back each season once established.

You can put several varieties in one pot replacing the space of the annuals each year.  As you pick your plants consider the watering needs of the herbs.  The Mediterranean perennials (fennel, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, marjoram, and thyme) are drought tolerant and even thrive when the soil dries out before watering again.  On the other hand, most annuals like constant moisture.

To create aesthetically pleasing containers consider color, texture, height, how the plants grow and even how many containers you would like to use. Look for herbs that have different hues of foliage like red basil or lemon thyme. Plant mint around the borders and allow it to cascade over the edges. Rosemary and basil can get large, so maybe put them in the middle.  Most importantly as you choose your herbs keep your cooking needs in mind.  There is little reward if you are not going to use your herbs. Try focusing on just a few herbs at a time and experiment with cooking and getting to know each one. A great starter herb garden can have a single oregano, sage, and thyme, two chives, and and three to four basil plants.

Once you have your container garden set up you will want to put it in a location that receives at least 6 hours of sunlight.  Make sure that the soil stays moist with regular watering. Remember herbs don’t like soggy roots, so avoid drenching them.  Use a spray bottle to mist the herbs with water providing them with the humid conditions they like.

Keeping your container garden next to your kitchen will encourage you to use the herbs more often and experiment with cooking.  Play with your new world of flavor, color and aroma and use these beautiful herbs to transform any meal into a fine dining experience.  — Ashlee Decker

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