Herb Container Gardening at Home
The use of herbs in cooking and for medicinal purposes has been around for centuries. The value of herbs particularly in our cooking to enhance the flavors of the food has grown steadily. We now look to other countries to expand our range of dishes and with this comes a whole array of different ingredients. Many Mediterranean dishes call for the use of basil or garlic. Even our humble Sunday roast would not be the same without rosemary for the lamb and of course mint sauce. Yes you can buy all the herbs you need from the supermarket, dried, fresh even frozen, but having your own selection of herbs on your back door step or windowsill is a great way to always have fresh herbs whenever you need them. Therefore, container gardening with herbs is the best way to achieve this.
Growing your own herbs is something anyone can do, even if not a keen gardener. Container gardening with herbs is especially useful if you don't have a garden. Most herbs are suitable to be grown in containers. In fact mint which is a very popular herb is better grown in a pot as it is very invasive and can take over a patch of garden in no time.
Herb containers are best suited to sunny patios, balconies or the kitchen windowsill, mainly for convenience to be handy when you are cooking. But also so they will be easy to attend to. When deciding on what to grow, most herbs can be grown from seed, but if you want a more instant result, it is easier to buy ready rooted plants from garden centers. If considering buying the pot-grown herbs from supermarkets, beware. These are often grown under glass and are too tender to adapt to outdoor conditions. These however are ideal if you are making an indoor container herb garden.
While most herbs are suitable for container gardening, there are a few that are rather delicate to grow such as basil, marjoram and coriander. These should be started off in a heated greenhouse and planted outside when all risk of frost has gone. Some herbs on the other hand are very hardy and are well suited to growing outdoors all year round once they are established. These hardy herbs include: mint, rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano. These can either be sown indoors as with tender herbs or sown outdoors later in the year around May.
Once having selected the herbs you want to grow, you next need to decide on the container. This will largely be determined by the space you have and where it is to be placed. You may want a container for decorative reasons as well as culinary. Also the type of container you choose for outdoors will be very different from an indoor container.
You may want your herb container to be decorative as well as useful, many herbs have decorative flowers such as chives, which have beautiful round purple flowers. Lavender and rosemary also have attractive purple or white flowers. Lavender also has many other attributes such as it's scent, it attracts bees, looks pretty as well as being used in cooking. While chamomile has pretty yellow-centered white flowers. And for a real splash of color, pot marigolds vibrant orange add to compliment the dominant greens of a herb container.
Choosing a Container.
If choosing herbs such as rosemary or mint they will need a fair amount of space as opposed to thyme which is very low and spreads across rather than up. If you decide to plant a bay tree, this will need it's own individual pot and be clipped to shape on a regular basis. If buying a particularly large container make sure it not only fits the space you want to put it, but bare in mind that if it is heavy it may have to remain there permanently. Large containers are often best put on a suitable base with wheels in case they need to be moved in winter.
When choosing your herb container choose one that gives the herbs a deep root run. This means they not only have space to grow but can be left undisturbed eliminating the need for repotting. It is also worth buying a container that is frost hardy. Glazed pots not only look good, but will protect your herbs roots from freezing in winter and the pots cracking. Wooden planters also make excellent containers for herbs.
Planting Your Container.
Once you have selected both your herbs and you container, you are now ready to start planting. You will need some gritty, well drained compost. Up to 25% of the volume should be course grit or perlite to loam based compost. The compost should be kept moist, but never let it become soggy as this can lead to your herbs rotting. A balanced fertilizer should encourage leafy growth as opposed to potassium-rich fertilizer which promotes flowering.
Large perennial herbs such as rosemary and sage can remain in their pots for many years but some herbs may need repotting from time to time. This can be done by taking generous pieces of root and putting them in rich potting media. The cuttings should not be put into too larger container as this can cause stress to the plant. The best way to judge if your herbs need repotting is if they look straggly. Repotting is also a good way to give herbs to friends and family by making them up a herb garden container as a present.
Your Herb Container In Winter.
Most herbs will look after themselves in winter providing they are in a position where they will not get frozen. Some die back such as mint and tarragon and will re grow the following year. To protect more tender herbs in winter they are best placed in a sheltered spot or in a cold frame. A sheet of plastic, glass or plywood will keep off heavy rain and frost or use garden fleece to cover them up. Basil is one of the herbs that will not survive outside in winter and can only be grown inside. Containers are prone to becoming waterlogged, so stand the pot on feet or bricks to allow ample drainage.
Having your own fresh herbs everyday to add flavor to your cooking or growing them just for their scent and beauty is very rewarding. They are mostly very simple to grow even for the absolute novice. Container gardening with herbs is also a fun activity for children to join in with especially if they have their own tubs of herbs indoors to care for and watch grow and then enjoy their flavors in your cooking. What better way to introduce them to gardening and cooking.