Contain Your Passion: A Guide to Growing Herbs

Fill your deck, patio or porch with fresh flavor, fragrance and color.

| February/March 2008

he best-dressed gardens, no matter their size or style, include potted herbs. Potted herbs add an extra dimension of beauty to outdoor living areas, where they will surround your family and guests with lively colors, fragrances and textures. You’ll also love having sprigs of your favorite herbs within reach, right outside the kitchen door. Keeping your potted herb garden vibrant and lush from early spring through fall isn’t difficult if you pay attention to a few simple requirements.

Best Bets

You can grow practically any herb in a pot if you have the right container and potting mix, but these types are especially good choices.

  • Aggressive herbs, such as mints, comfrey and lemon balm, are not only easy
    to grow in pots, but actually grow best in pots, to keep them from spreading uncontrollably in the landscape.
  • Plants that like dry soil, such as santolina, curry plant, oregano, rosemary and thyme, do well in containers, which dry out more quickly than garden sites.
  • Tropical or tender herbs, such as lemon verbena, jasmine or passionflower, are ideal for growing in pots, which can be moved indoors for the winter.
  • Specimen-type plants, like chaste tree, lemon verbena and bay laurel, grown in large, handsome planters, make striking focal points wherever they are located in the landscape. (See “20 Top Herbs for Pots” for specific varieties.)

Soil Savvy

To get your plants off to a strong start, use a high-quality commercial potting mix that is lightweight and porous. It’s essential that potting soil drains easily; otherwise, roots become deprived of oxygen and the plant eventually dies. (Garden soil is too heavy for use in pots and could contain pathogens or weed seeds.)

Mix in a bit of finished compost or earthworm castings to supply nutrients gradually over the course of the season, as well as a little perlite, vermiculite or pumice to help loosen and aerate the final mix. You’ll find these materials at your local garden center.

Planting Particulars

Before filling your pots, stir enough warm water into the mix to moisten it thoroughly and evenly. Then fill two-thirds of your container with mix. (See “Pot It Up” for tips on choosing containers; most important, be sure the pot has a drainage hole.) lace the herb in the pot so that the base of the plant is 1 to 2 inches below the container’s rim. Add enough additional potting mix to cover the roots completely, then tamp the mix firmly in place around the plant. Water thoroughly until water runs freely from the pot’s drainage holes.

When combining several plants in one container, allow enough space between plants for them to grow and thrive. Remember that a 3-inch seedling can easily reach 2 feet tall by midsummer. Space according to the plant’s mature size: Smaller plants such as sweet  alyssum or dwarf basil need less pot space than, say, rosemary or comfrey.

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