Whether you don't have the space to plant herbs in the garden or you just want to brighten up a deck, patio, or the front stoop in a fun (and useful) way, container gardening offers you the chance to always have fresh herbs on hand. Although many herbs grow well in containers, growing in a pot is not like growing in the garden. Here are some tips to help get you started:
You will want the pot you choose to be attractive as well as functional. The two most common types of containers you'll encounter are clay and plastic, and each has its advantages and disadvantages.
Clay pots are beautiful, but they are more porous than plastic and will dry out more quickly, which means more watering. Plastic pots are inexpensive, durable and lightweight. They will also lose water much slower than their clay counterparts. If you want to have an upscale look without the added work of monitoring a clay pot's water supply, you can always slip a plastic pot inside a clay one for the best of both worlds!
Other types of planters such as wooden boxes, tubs, or barrels will fit well in almost any setting and provide a folksy ambiance. One of the best herb containers you can use is an old-fashioned half whiskey barrel. It gives you plenty of space for a collection of herbs, good drainage, dark color, and very little evaporation.
Whichever container you choose, good drainage is the number one priority. Herbs do not like sitting in standing water, so holes in the bottom of your pot is a must. If you have the perfect pot and it doesn't have any holes, drill them yourself!
Once you have chosen your pot, you then need to consider which potting soil to use. Garden soil alone is not a good choice because it packs down, forming a dense mass that roots cannot penetrate. Starting with a bagged soil is a good idea, but for the best results, a mixture of nutrient-packed materials such as perlite, vermiculite, coarse bark mulch, and sand will help immensely. A couple of handfuls of each plus some composted manure or old compost will create a mix that your plants will thrive in.
For best results when gardening in containers, choose plants that suit your climate, give them the right light, and protect them from strong winds and intense heat and cold. Although plants need sun, remember that they are sensitive to the intensity of sunlight. Some like full sun all day, some morning sun, some do best in partial shade and others full shade. Check your tags, our online gardening catalog, or consult one of our garden professionals to make sure you're placing your new plants in the right spot.
Intense amounts of any element is generally not good for your plants. Strong-stemmed herbs may not mind harsh wind, but plants like basil have large, soft leaves and need to be protected from strong winds. In the fall, guard against frost by covering your plants or bringing them in. If your plants freeze, shift them to a cold (not freezing) spot where there is bright light and let them thaw slowly - they may just revive.
Before removing your herb from its container, water the soil thoroughly. Moist soil will clings to the roots, helping to hold the rootball together. To remove a plant from a pot, invert the pot and tap it gently on the bottom. If it doesn't come out, run a knife around the pot's inside edge and try again. Check the root ball after it comes out. If the plant was pot bound, score the roots lightly with a sharp knife, and loosen the roots by teasing them with your fingers.
Prepare your container by laying a cushion of moist soil mix in the bottom so that the top of the rootball is about 1" below the pot's rim. Position the plant in the middle of the container and fill in more moist soil mix around the plant's sides, pressing it in firmly so as to plug air holes. Do an initial watering from the top, or put the pot in water and let the soil seep up the moisture. Set the pot in a spot protected from the sun and wind for about a week. The plants should be repotted when you see roots coming out of the bottom drainage holes.