Container gardening is fun, rewarding and the perfect thing to do in a small space. You can grow almost any herb in a container and as an added benefit, you can keep them away from iguanas and key deer better than you can when they’re in the ground!
First, you’ll need to plan out your “garden”. All herbs are not created equal. When planning your garden, be sure to keep in mind the size and shape of each herb as well as how they spread as they grow. You can grow whatever you like in the same container as long as you make sure that they share the same preferences for water, soil and sun. Pay attention to what the height and width of the plant will be when full grown. They will develop a healthier root system if they are not overcrowded. If you’re like me, you love the bountiful looking pots you see on Pinterest, but resist the urge! Follow the guidelines until you get more experienced. Have patience and in just a little time they’ll fill in. If you plan on harvesting them frequently also keep in mind that the more you harvest, the more you’ll get so really, resist the urge to overpack!
Always choose healthy plants: Look for bright color, plenty of foliage and absolutely no bugs.
Read the label: You need to make sure you start with plants that will work in the environment you have.
Always use a high quality potting soil. Most herbs require good drainage and good soil will help with that.
Check the sun requirements for each herb. Most need full sun which means at least six hours per day. However, you don’t want them to sit and bake in the sun either, especially during our hot summer. You may find that they need to be moved to the shade during the hottest part of the day.
Fertilizer & Pesticides
Most herbs don’t need it and some won’t tolerate it. In fact, the flavor and scent is best when they are grown in slightly lean conditions. In general, you’ll find they taste better without it and you’ll also thrive much better without any dangerous or toxic chemicals inside of you! If you must use a fertilizer, make sure it is labeled for use on edible plants. Compost tea is a great natural alternative. Herbs in general aren’t as bothered by insects as other plants, maybe it’s their aroma that most insects find repelling. It’s true, some insects will eat anything, but more than likely, and especially in the situation of a container garden, if you have pests it’s because you brought them in. Be ruthless when choosing your plants. Check them over carefully before you bring them home.
This is where you can really get creative. Almost any container will do as long as you have good drainage. Most herbs don’t have big root systems so even smaller containers are ok. Some herbs prefer drying out between waterings and are ideal in small containers which will make it easy for you to gauge the moisture in the soil. Some of these include: basil, oregano, rosemary, thyme.
Another option is a self-watering container. Plants like marjoram, parsley and mint like a more constant level of moisture and do well in this type of container.
Herbs are not needy, they are relatively easy to care for. A couple of tips:
Water early morning if possible. Without the heat of the day, the water can soak into the soil better without as much evaporation. Water the soil, not the leaves. Mulch can help retain moisture and extend time between waterings but don’t put the mulch right up next to the stem.
Pruning: Pruning makes herbs grow faster and thicker. Without pruning, expect the plant to grow taller and have less stems. On it’s own the plant will grow; the leaves will age, dry up and fall off; it will flower; and the plant itself will start to decline. This is the life cycle of a plant. By harvesting (pruning) the plant regularly, what you are really doing is keeping it in it’s growth stage for as long as possible. This will encourage the growth of leaves and stems and keeps the flowers from forming, giving you a bushier, healthier plant.
Most annuals taste better before they flower. When you see a flower start, simply pinch it off. If you find that they start flowering a lot, you might want to cut the whole thing back by about a third and then try to start using it more often.
A tip on harvesting: harvest in the morning. The essential oils that give the plant it’s scent and flavor are driven down into the stem of the plant during the heat of the day.
Grow what you love. Try different things. You’ll find out soon enough what works best for you.