Herb Container Gardens: Pretty, Practical, Easy
Herbs are wonderfully easy-to-grow plants that lead to inspired cooking, but they don’t have to go in the ground. Debbie Colombo, horticulturalist and herb buyer at Garden Heights Nursery in St. Louis, Missouri, gave us the dos and don’ts of making herbs thrive in containers.
First, the generalities: Herbs like well-drained soil (use bagged potting mix) and lots of sun. Young plants will need regular watering for a few weeks, but once established, they become low-maintenance. They don’t require fertilizing, just twice-weekly watering (more often in hot dry weather, less if it’s raining a lot).
Let’s get the negatives out of the way first…
- Grow herbs indoors. It’s tricky because there’s almost never enough direct sunlight, so they won’t grow as quickly or do as well as they would on a patio or deck.
- Plant dill, cilantro or sage in a pot. Once they mature, they’ll get too rangy and floppy to look nice.
- Put each plant in its own tiny pot. It may look cute, but you’ll be watering several times a day in hot weather. Also, herbs will grow to the restrictions of the pot you put them in – bigger pot, bigger plants.
- Shy away from combining different herbs in the same pot. Most popular herbs come from the Mediterranean, so they like similar conditions: sun, heat, and well-drained soil.
- Plant mint with anything else. It’s so aggressive it will choke out the other plants. Colombo tells customers not to put it in the ground unless they’re okay with it taking over.
- Plant basil. Besides being a versatile culinary herb, it’s great in a container because of its bushy growth, which can get out of hand in the ground but is nicely contained by a pot.
- Use ornamental thyme. There are a lot of edible varieties, and they’ll trail over the edge of the pot, adding visual interest. Colombo recommends Doone Valley thyme, a pretty white-and-green variegated strain.
- Play around with scented geraniums (http://www.motherearthnews.com/organic-gardening/scented-geraniums-zmaz84jazloeck.aspx). They have small, pretty leaves that come in different shapes, and usually bear small pink or blue flowers. Scents range from sweet (apple, apricot, rose) to pungent (mint, lemon, nutmeg) to wacky (coconut, nutmeg, filbert). They’re also culinary; Colombo uses lemon scented geranium to flavor pound cakes by sticking leaves to the sides of the pan with butter before pouring in batter (and peeling them off afterwards).
- Include rosemary. Besides being a versatile culinary herb, it’s one of the few that does well indoors over the winter. There are also pretty trailing varieties to try.
Try lemongrass and lemon balm. Their scent supposedly repels mosquitoes, but even if it doesn’t, your deck or patio will smell great. Also, they’re both fun to cook and drink with – lemon balm is great in iced tea. (http://farmflavor.com/growing-and-cooking-with-lemon-balm/