Herbs are plants valued for their usefulness. Cooking with herbs certainly comes to mind, but they are also used for fragrance, decoration and to attract or repel insects. Citronella may be used to keep mosquitoes out of the patio area while fennel, dill and parsley attract butterflies and beneficial insects. Before the mid-1800s, all dyes were plant based. At one time, herbs were the only source for medicines. Today almost a quarter of our medications are derived from plants.
Few plants are better suited to container gardening than herbs. This allows the gardener to tailor the growing environment to suit the herb while making them convenient to harvest and use. Whether you have the pots on pavement or leave them standing in the garden, clay pots are preferred to synthetic because they allow for better drainage.
Drainage is critical to successfully growing many herbs. If you use saucers under the pots, empty them of any standing water. It may be necessary to elevate the pot so that it can drain rapidly during a heavy rain event. A friend of mine lost several pots of herbs sitting directly on her driveway after a downpour. Many herbs want to be “evenly moist” which means the top half inch of soil should be dry before watering the plant.
Some of our most popular perennial herbs are native to the Mediterranean where rain is rare in the warm season. Not only have they adapted to dry summers, their native soils are stony, alkaline and lean, which is to say low in nutrients such as nitrogen. Lavender, oregano, sage and rosemary all are in this category. Containers can be a great way to grow them.
Choose a pot large enough for the mature root system. I use cactus mix potting soil along with some gravel or smaller chunks of chert. I set my herb pots on bricks or pavers to ensure that they are never standing in water.
Mint is at the other end of the moisture-loving spectrum and is probably best grown in containers. Unfettered, it reproduces along the stem material and so often scampers among other plants or onto the lawn and has been known to crawl out of a container's drain hole as well as over the rim to do so. This is one herb to keep on the patio or pavement to prevent rambunctious behavior.
When growing annual herbs in containers, let your imagination run wild. One can combine a patio tomato with basil, parsley and chives for pizza or pesto theme. How about a pot with all the different basils that one finds in the garden center? Go for fragrance. There are many lemon-scented herbs on offer as well. Of course, herbs can also be combined with annual flowers. This is a short-term relationship so don’t be shy.
The majority of herbs need full sun. Chives and mint can tolerate partial shade but prefer more sun. Full sun means a minimum of six hours direct sunlight. If the site gets only morning sun, seven hours are necessary for the plant to photosynthesize enough food to flourish. If the site receives the intense afternoon sun, five hours is sufficient.
Container gardening is growing in popularity because it allows busy folks to play in the dirt, growing a few flowers and veggies without a huge investment in time. Spice up your container plant mix with herbs. They grow well with others and offer
wonderful fresh flavor for summer.
Master gardener Ann Bartlett never lets escaped mint raise havoc in the ornamental beds around her home.