One of the easiest ways to start growing your herbs is to use a pot or container rather than the garden. Many herb gardening beginners start by using containers such as plastic ice cream or yogurt cartons and wooden boxes lined with plastic sheeting.
However, I recommend using clay pots. They aren’t expensive these days and they last longer than plastic or wood. They will also help to keep the soil in your pot cool on a hot day.
Planting herbs in pots and containers isn’t a new thing. Hundreds of years ago the Romans, Greeks, and Egyptians grew their herbs in pots or containers, and more recently the Victorians were big fans of container herb gardens.
In fact, the Victorians were very good at manufacturing clay pots for their gardens, and it’s still possible to get hold of great looking Victorian garden pots in antique shops and at antique fairs.
If you want to make your container herb garden rather special try and find an antique Victorian garden pot. The one shown opposite is a very superior example, but there are also lots of less impressive and cheaper pots around.
If you decide to use clay herb garden pots you’ll find lots of different types and shapes to choose from and your local garden center.
You’ll find that the styles range from modern to classic (like the one in the photograph), so you’ll need to use your imagination to select a pot that’s right for the herb garden you plan to create.
If your imagination doesn’t stretch that far, take some pictures of different sorts of pots and ask your friends for their opinions.
Choosing Your Herb Garden Pot
Make sure that you get a clay pot that’s big enough to take a reasonable number (five or six at least) of herbs. A 12″ diameter pot is a good size to start with, although I can guarantee that after your first year of herb growing you’ll want to get a larger pot and expand your choice of herbs.
In the picture opposite the herbs have been planted in wooden troughs up against a sunny wall.
It’s not always a good idea to put all your herbs together in one pot. Some herbs such as mint and chives are best grown in individual pots.
Mint, in particular, has a strong and vigorous root system and has the habit of taking up more than its fair share of soil space wherever its planted. For this reason, lots of gardeners choose to plant their mint in its own pot alongside all their other herb garden pots.
When you are choosing the pot for your herb garden make sure you get one that doesn’t have too narrow a top. Those wonderfully-shaped Ali Baba-type garden pots might look fantastic, but if you want to plant more than a couple of herbs in them they are not ideal.
I use Ali Baba pots for my lavender plants. Each Ali Baba pot contains just one lavender plant, and when they are fully grown and in flower, they look fantastic – and they are really appreciated by the bees.
Preparing Your Pot
The soil in your herb pots has to have the right texture to allow the roots of your herbs to expand and air and water to get in. You can use ordinary garden soil, but soils in different locations can vary such a lot that it’s best to make up your own soil mixture.
The ideal mixture is a combination of good quality compost (which contains the necessary plant nutrient) mixed with a gritty/sandy material that will help with drainage and breathing.
Any good quality compost will do, and I recommend mixing Perlite with it to get the ideal soil mix for your herbs. Perlite is easy to get hold of from garden centers and DIY stores. If they don’t have Perlite ask for a similar alternative.
Use 1 part of Perlite to 2 parts of compost and mix them thoroughly together. There are lots of different views on how to make an ideal soil mix for herbs, some of them quite complicated. I find that the compost and Perlite mix works very well.
Before you put the compost mix into your pot, make sure that you lay some stones or stony gravel over the hole in the bottom of your garden pot. This is done to help with drainage. I use old broken pot pieces, but the stones are fine.
One big advantage of growing herb plants in containers or large pots is that you can move them around to catch or avoid the sunlight in your garden.
Unfortunately, once your herb garden pot has been planted with herbs it will be quite heavy and difficult to move, but you can make it movable by buying or constructing a wheeled platform for the pot.
The one shown in the photograph is an elegant iron one, but a simple wooden base with wheels similar to those on an armchair will do the job just as well.
Fill your pot almost to the top with your soil mixture, and then plant your herbs making sure that they are at the same depth as they were in the pots they came in.
Also, make sure that there is sufficient space between each plant to avoid overcrowding as they grow. These distance requirements vary from herb plant to herb plant because some herbs can grow very large and over-shadow and stifle smaller less vigorous herbs.
Looking After Your Herb Garden Pots
In general herbs like lots of sunlight and water. You should water your herbs once a day but avoid over-watering. The disadvantage of watering container-grown plants a lot is that the water leeches the nutrients out of the soil mix.
A lot of composts you can buy have added nutrients (fertilizer), but the soil in your pot or container needs to be provided with additional fertilizer regularly to make up for the nutrients that are washed away.
To make up this nutrient loss either use liquid fertilizer (ideally once a week) or lightly fork a solid fertilizer into the soil around your herbs.
The solid fertilizer doesn’t need to be used so frequently. I use a granular general-purpose fertilizer which helps to keep my herb plants healthy throughout the growing season.
When you next visit your garden center or DIY store look on the shelves of different fertilizers to see what’s available. If you are uncertain about what to choose to send me an e-mail and tell me where you are located and I’ll try and help.
At the end of the growing seasons, many of the herbs in your herb garden pots will have grown very large. If you intend to continue growing your herbs in pots or containers the best thing to do is to throw these plants away after you have harvested them and start afresh the following year.
However, when you get more experienced you will be able to take stem and root cuttings from some of your herbs and use these to create a new herb garden the following year. Another alternative is to transplant these overgrown herbs in your garden (if you have one).
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