Growing your own herbs is something that everyone can do even if you don't have a garden. Most herbs are suitable for container growing, in fact some such as mint are better grown in a pot as it is very invasive. Herb containers are well suited to patios, balconies or even the kitchen windowsill. You can design your herb container to suit the space you have available as well as your taste.
Providing the conditions are suitable, the choice of herbs you grow is up to you, but there are one or two rules regarding the siting and design. A collection of herbs in containers in a convenient sunny place is a great asset for the kitchen. The downside is that many outdoor pot-grown herbs die out in winter. However, they can be harvested in autumn and stored for use throughout the winter season.
Most herbs can easily be sown from seed, but for more instant results it is often easier to buy ready rooted plants from garden centres. Beware of the pot-grown herbs offered in supermarkets, as they are usually grown under glass and are often too tender and stressed to adapt well to life outdoors. These however can be used if you wish to make an herb container indoors.
While most herbs are suitable to grow in containers, some are a little more delicate to grow such as basil, marjoram, coriander, and tender perennials such as French tarragon. These should be started off indoors or a heated greenhouse and planted out in spring when all risk of frost has gone.
Some herbs can live outside all year once they are established. These hardy herbs include; mint, oregano, rosemary, thyme and sage. These can be sown indoors as with the tender herbs, or sow them outdoors in May in containers.
It is very tempting to rush out to the garden center as soon as spring comes to buy your plants, but you should not buy herb plants until the weather warms up in late spring. Winter planted herbs are vulnerable to root damage in the cold wet potting media.
Before selecting your herbs you should consider not only your favorite herbs you wish to grow, but how they will look in your container if you want them for decorative reasons as well as their culinary purposes. Many herbs have decorative flowers such as chives which have lovely purple flowers. Lavender and rosemary also have purple or white flowers. While chamomile has pretty yellow-centered white flowers. Pot marigolds provide a wonderful splash of bright orange summer colour to compliment the mainly greens of a herb container.
Choosing a Container
Once having decided on the herbs you wish to grow, you next need to decide on the container you are going to plant them in. If growing herbs such as rosemary or mint, they do need a fair amount of space as opposed to an herb such as thyme which is very low and spreads across rather than up. If planting bay, you might want to grow this in it's own individual pot and clip it to shape on a regular basis. This way you will not only have fresh Bay leaves for your cooking, but a lovely tree to admire. Also when choosing a container, choose one that gives your herbs a deep root run where they can be left undisturbed. Long tall pots have the required depth and look good massed together. It is also worth buying a container that is frost hardy. Some glazed pots may look good, but will crack if frozen. For this reason, wooden planters make excellent containers for herbs.
Planting Your Container
Once you have chosen your containers you can now pot them out. You will need some gritty, well-drained compost, adding up to 25 percent by volume of coarse grit or perlite to a loam based compost. The compost should be kept moist, but never let it become soggy. Use a balanced fertiliser to encourage leafy growth, rather than potassium-rich fertiliser that might promote flowering. The herbs can be replanted frequently, using generous pieces of root, into rich potting media, taking care to avoid over potting by putting your cuttings in too bigger container. The best way to judge if your herbs need re-potting is if they look straggly, lift roots and repot into fresh compost. Larger perennials such as rosemary and sage can be left in the same containers for several years before they need repotting.
Over wintering herbs in a container
Some herbs die back in winter, such as French tarragon and mint. These and most herbs will look after themselves if placed where they cannot become frozen, saturated by rain or allowed to become too dry. To protect more tender herbs in winter they are best placed against a sheltered wall away from wind and rain or in a coldframe or even in an open fronted shed. A protective sheet of glass, plastic or plywood will keep off heavy rain and protect from frost.
To avoid your container becoming waterlogged, stand it on pot feet or stand containers on bricks. If very cold weather is forecast, protect containers from freezing by wrapping in bubble polythene or garden fleece.
Basil is one of the herbs that will not survive outside in the winter and can only be grown if brought indoors into a warm, bright frost-free greenhouse, conservatory or a sunny windowsill.
Growing your own herbs is very simple and satisfying to do. If you select your herbs carefully you can be sure of fresh or dried herbs for much of the year.