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Nutritionista How-To: Grow an Herb Garden -- Almost Anywhere!

Posted Jun 30 2010 11:00am

With the help of my mom, I recently planted both herbs and annuals on the little patio outside my apartment. It’s amazing the difference a few potted plants can make! The patio looks so pretty now — and it’s also quickly become a CATIO . My sister’s cats absolutely adore it!

I haven’t yet sampled any of my herbs, but I have a feeling they’ll be a wonderful addition to just about anything I make.

Because I’m pretty clueless when it comes to gardening, I asked my mom — a master gardener! — to write a guest how-to for any aspiring herb gardeners out there. Here’s her detailed tutorial:

  • Think about what herbs you use most frequently for cooking. Before you go out and purchase these fragrant and tasty plants, the pots, and soil, make sure you have a sunny spot for them.  Most herbs will need 5-6 hours of sun each day in order to thrive. 
  • Common and easy herbs to grow in pots are the more compact ones: basil, parsley, chives, sage, tarragon, rosemary, and thyme. You can grow herbs from seed, but because early July is considered late in the growing season, it is best to buy seedlings from the farmer’s market, local nursery or big box garden center.

    In the pot: oregano, Thai basil, and parsley

  • Look for plants that are sturdy, rather than lanky or leggy, without tons of roots coming out of the bottom of the pack. It’s okay if the herbs are short (meaning young). Seedlings usually come in plastic packs, either 2 or 4 plants to a pack. 
  • Get some potting soil. It is best not to use the soil found in your garden.  In any garden center or big box nursery section you will find “potting mix.”  Some of these mixes already have fertilizer integrated into the mix.  If you have a choice, get a potting mix that does not include fertilizer.  This keeps your crop organic. If you can only find a soil that includes fertilizer, you can still grow the herbs. With the regular potting mix, you can fertilize the plants once during the season with compost or manure (also found at the garden centers), putting several spoonfuls into each pot, so that it covers much of the top surface of the soil.  You will not need to do this if you have the soil that includes fertilizer. 
  • Herbs will grow in almost any container.  Consider the common clay/terra cotta, plastic, or ceramic pot.  You can grow them in tubs or buckets.  The most important thing about the container is that it has at least one hole at the bottom for drainage. No plant likes its roots sitting in water! 
  • Depending on the size of the container, you can plant 3-4 herbs in each pot.  You can estimate that each plant will need about a gallon of soil, and a 12” container holds about 3 gallons.

    You can even plant flowers and herbs together, like I did here with the basil!
  • When planting the herbs, you want the level of soil to be no higher or lower than it was for the plant in its little plastic holder. You will usually have to fill the bottom of the pot with several inches of potting mix, then place the herbs so that when you fill in the soil around the little squares of soil, it will go to about an inch below the rim of the pot, but just level with the soil around the plant. Leaving space from the rim will keep the soil from spilling out every time you water.  If the plants have many roots circling the soil, you can use your fingers to unravel them a bit from the sides or bottom.  It won’t hurt the plant; it will help spread its roots. 
  • After you pot up your plants, be sure to water them.  The soil should be moist, not drenched.  Keeping your herbs watered well can be challenging.  If you water too much, you can get bacteria in the soil. If you under-water, they will wilt, which decreases their vigor.  If you really ignore their need for water, they can easily die. Water them until you see the water just trickling out of the drainage hole. You can test the plant’s need for water by putting your finger into the soil.  If you go about 2” deep, and it is still moist, you can wait.  If it is dry, it is time to water.  If your plants are in a really sunny spot, you might even need to water more than once a day!  These containers can dry out quickly.

    A big ol’ stalk of rosemary!
  • To use your herbs for cooking simply cut the stems that contain the amount of leaves you need for your recipe, leaving stems and leaves at the bottom of the plant.  The plant will continue to grow, sometimes getting bushier rather than taller.  That is fine.  Before the first frost, you can bring your herbs in to dry or freeze.  It’s great to bring the basil in and make batches of pesto for freezing. 
  • Enjoy!

Thanks, mama! I’ll definitely enjoy my fresh herbs.

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