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There are many combinations of herbs that work well in containers and varieties that you can grow for taste as well as for their ornamental properties. Many can be easily grown from seed or cuttings, but to if you haven’t propagation facilities herb plants are readily available from garden centres or specialist growers.
Having a potted herb garden that you can harvest year round is a chefs dream come true. However Herb Gardening in containers is relatively easy and most varieties can be grown successfully on a windowsill, a patio or a balcony.
TYPE OF CONTAINER
Let your imagination run wild when considering what container to grow herbs in. Just about anything will work, but keep in mind, most varieties prefer fast draining medium ie John Innes no3 compost. As long as the container you choose has adequate holes and drains well you should be in good shape to successfully grow herbs. Some of the most popular container choices are made of terracotta, wood or modern day plastic. Although herb gardeners prefer terracotta because of its natural wickling properties, if you are looking for style as well as practicality, try using a strawberry pot. You can grow a variety of different herbs in a small space on a balcony, decking or patio area.
Another thing to remember when choosing containers is that size does matter. The pot must fit the plant-or plants-that will be growing in it. If the container is too small your herbs may quickly become rootbound. On the other hand, if the container is too large, your plants may spend all its energy on root production and not grow the way they should.
When growing herbs in containers its vital you provide the plants with a growing medium that is well drained but retains moisture and food in dry spells. An open and loose compost is also essential for the herbs to develop a healthy root system. A loam based medium such as John Innes no 3 is ideal but there are several composts with peat and loam mixed which are also suitable for successful container herb growing.
While most herbs require little fertiliser, you do need to pay close attention to container grown herbs. Because the amount of soil around the plant is limited to the size of the container, it dries out faster and requires more nutrients than soil grown herbs. For herbs, usually all that is needed is a good all natural organic fertiliser which can be mixed in with the potting mix prior to planting.
If your plants loose colour or look a little peeked during the growing season apply a good liquid fish fertiliser at half the recommended strength every 14 days during the growing season. Apply fertilisers sparingly to herbs. Heavy applications will produce large plants, but the essential oils that produce the flavours and aromas will be greatly reduced.
When it comes to watering, containerised herbs dry out faster and require more attention than border grown herbs. How much you water depends on several factors, including:
- Type of soil or potting mix used
- Amount of exposure to sun, rainfall and wind
- Average temperature
- Size of your plants and containers
Many herbs prefer dry conditions therefore they dont have to be kept as moist as say tomato plants but this doesn’t apply to all herbs.
The essential oils, that give herbs their flavour and aroma, are produced in the largest quantity when they receive plenty of light. For best results, most herb varieties require at least 6 hours of sun per day. If growing indoors, many herbs will thrive on a south facing window sill.
PEST AND DISEASE MANAGEMENT
Herbs grown in containers can be attacked by insect pests and diseases. Inspect the plants periodically for common pests like aphids, spider mites and white flies and spray with a contact and residual insecticide to prevent further infestation. During wet periods fungal diseases can attack young and mature plants and should be treated immediately with a recommended fungicide
OVERWINTERING HERBS IN A CONTAINER
Some herbs die back in Winter eg french tarragon and mint. These and most herbs will look after themselves if placed where they cannot be frozen, saturated by rain or allowed to become too dry. Suitable places include in the rain shadow of walls, in a coldframe or even in an open fronted shed. Use pot feet or stand containers on bricks to avoid water logging. If very cold weather is forecasted protect containers from freezing by wrapping in bubble polythene.