How to Grow a Herb Garden in a Pot
This Tasty Garden Is All About Flavor
Flavor, Fragrance and Flowers
Herbs make a great starter garden for the beginner
. And they reward you with their fragrance, flowers and flavor. No backyard? No problem! Create a herb garden in a clay pot. Your herbs will thrive in a pot on the balcony, the fire escape, the back step or inside at a sunny window. With a herb garden in a pot, you’re on your way to a lot of enjoyment and good cooking. Here you'll discover the best herbs, how to plant them, how to cook with herbs, how to dry and freeze them.Happy gardening!
A herb garden is a good way for the novice gardener to get a successful start. Fresh herbs add more kick to your cooking and lots of vitamins for your health. Herbs grow vigorously and tolerate growing conditions that are not ideal. Creating a herb garden is quick, easy and inexpensive. In just a few steps you can grow your own herbs that will last all summer long.
People always ask how to pronounce the word “herb”? Is it “an urb” or is it “a herb”? The experts are divided on that. Say it anyway you want, herbs are easy to grow, and fun to use.
For your first herb garden in a pot, try favorites like sweet basil, oregano, thyme, rosemary and chives. These herbs are easy to grow, indoors or outside, and just a pinch makes a world of different in a stew or salsa.
Let’s get started on our herb garden in a pot
- Choose a large container with a diameter of about 20 inches. Any plastic or clay container will work as long as it has a drainage hole. Select a location that gets full sun at least 5 hours a day or more. Cover the drainage hole loosely with gravel or broken pottery to keep the soil from coming out. Some instructions say to soak your clay pot overnight in water first, but soaking is optional. Some glazed ceramic pots may contain lead in the glaze, so avoid them.
- Your herb garden will do best outdoors, but you can place it at a window that gets direct sun most of the day, usually a southern or western window. If your pot will remain indoors, it should sit in a saucer to catch the water. If your indoor herbs get “leggy”, tall and spindly, they need more sunlight.
- Fill the container about two-thirds full with organic potting-soil mix. Use a good sterilized potting soil.
- Now choose your herbs. Rosemary, thyme, parsley, basil and oregano make good companions. Place rosemary in the center because it's taller. Add parsley, basil and orange thyme or lemon thyme around the sides. These herbs work well because they all need at least 5-6 hours of direct sunlight daily. As you plant your herbs, loosen the soil gently around each root ball. Cover with more soil, and fill the pot with soil about 2” from the top. Give them a good first watering. Don’t worry whether you’re doing it right. Herbs are very forgiving.
- Water the plants well, but don’t let them stand in a saucer of water. Before watering, check the soil by inserting your finger 1 inch into the soil. If it feels dry to the touch, it’s time to water. Allow the soil to dry out before watering again. Clay pots need more water than plastic ones. Outdoor pots usually need more water than indoor pots.
- A very light feeding of an organic fertilizer once a month will help your crop.
- In a few weeks, the herbs will be ready for you to enjoy. They can be cut as soon as the leaves are ready, and they will produce all year long. Fresh leaves may be picked as long as the plant has enough foliage to continue growing.
- Dried herbs from a jar have a stronger flavor than fresh herbs. With fresh herbs, you can use about three times as much as your recipe calls for.
- If you have cold winters, bring your herb pot indoors for the winter.
- To use herbs, wash them, with the leaves on the stems, lightly in cold running water to remove any soil, dust, or bugs. Strip the leaves off the stalks and remove any blossoms.
- You can maintain an indoor herb garden indefinitely by periodic light feeding, yearly repotting, renewing the annual herbs, and occasionally pinching back the plants.
- Very few diseases or insects attack herbs. Sometimes, in hot, dry weather, red spider mites may be found on low-growing plants. Aphids may attack anise, caraway, dill, and fennel.
How long do herbs live?
Some herbs are annuals
, like basil, coriander, sill, anise and summer savory. They must be replaced every year. The perennials, like chives, marjoram, tarragon, thyme, fennel, lovage and winter savory, will winter over and return each spring. A few herbs, like caraway and parsley, are biennials that bloom their second year and then die off.
Which herbs should I plant?
- Sweet basil is one of the most popular of all herbs for cooking. Add it to tomato sandwiches, salads and sauces. Pesto, an Italian green sauce for pasta and meat, uses lots of basil with pine nuts and olive oil. Basil grows about 18 inches tall and has small white spikey flowers. Try purple basil, too.
- Be sure to try parsley, either the curly leaf or the Italian flat leaf variety. Two tablespoons of parsley gives you your daily requirement of vitamin C, along with lots of vitamin A and iron. It enhances any flavors and is useful as a garnish. Parsley freshens your breath because it has a high concentration of chlorophyll. Parsley goes great with fish and is an important ingredient in tabbouleh, the national dish of Lebanon.
- Oregano, with its wonderful sweetness and fragrance, is the herb that gives Italian cooking its unique flavor. You’ll want to use it on pizza, in any sauces, as well as lamb and steak. It is a hardy, sprawling perennial with small pink or white flowers that can grow 2 feet tall. Surprisingly, oregano originated in Greece, where the word oregano means “joy of the mountain.”
- Chives are small plants with a mild onion flavor, that grow in clumps reaching about 10 inches in height. They are a hardy perennial with decorative, light purple globe flowers. As kids we ate the chives that grew wild in the fields. It is said that Marco Polo discovered chives on his travels in China and brought them back to the West. Chive is a natural pesticide because its onion scent will keep bugs away from your flowers.
- Rosemary is popular for meats and dressings. You can also soak rosemary stems in water and uses them for vegetable skewers. Its oil is used in medicine, and it can also be pruned as a decorative topiary. In areas with mild winters, rosemary is a hardy evergreen shrub. The narrow leaves feel like leather and smell like spice.
Rosemary is the stuff of myths. In olden days, it was burnt at shrines to drive away evil spirits and illness. It was believed that a fresh twig beneath your pillow would keep away nightmares. A necklace made from rosemary is said to preserve your youth, and is also supposed to attract elves.
- Sage is a woody, hardy perennial plant with long, wooly, gray-green leaves. Sage grows 2 to 3 feet tall with a tendency to sprawl. This strong, aromatic herb is good in stuffing for poultry, rabbit, pork, and baked fish. It also can be used in sausage or meat loaves. Sage dressing with pork or turkey is a traditional favorite.
- Sweet marjoram, usually grown as an annual, is one of the most fragrant and popular of all herbs. Its growth habit is low and spreading, and it reaches a height of about 8 to 12 inches. It has small, oval, gray-green leaves that are velvety to the touch. It enhances many, many foods.
- Thyme is a low-growing, wiry-stemmed perennial with many varieties like French, lemon and English thyme. It grows only 6 to 10 inches tall, and can be planted along a garden walk to release its fragrance when you step on it. The leaves are small, oval, and gray-green in color. The lilac flowers bloom in small clusters and the leaves are very aromatic. Thyme is used in gumbos, bouillabaisse, clam chowder, poultry stuffing, and slow-cooking beef dishes. Oil of thyme is used in medicines and perfumes.
- Peppermint is a perennial plant with spreading roots that grows about 2 feet tall. Its dark green leaves have a characteristic warm, spicy scent. Tiny purple flowers appear in spikes. The leaves can be used as flavoring in tea, fruit drinks, mint juleps and candy. Oil from the plant is used in making chewing gum, confections, toilet water, soap, and liqueur. Because all the mints grow vigorously and spread rapidly, put them in a pot by themselves. Grown out in a garden, the mints will take it over.
- Lavender is one of the most famous of all herbs for the fragrance of its dried flowers and the oil distilled from them. Lavender is a woody, perennial plant that can grow 3 feet tall. Although it is edible and can be used as a tea, it is grown mostly for its fragrance. It can be used in sachets and perfumes, as well as potpourris. Crushed leaves can be rubbed on the skin to repel mosquitos. Sprigs of lavender in the linen closet will give bedding a memorable fragrance. Lavender attracts hummingbirds, butterflies and bees.
How to Dry Herbs from Your Garden
Herbs are at their peak flavor
just before flowering, so this is a good time to harvest them for drying and storage. Wash and inspect the leaves well. You can dry them in the oven or in the microwave. They can also be air-dried the traditional way. Your herbs can be frozen, too. Dried herbs should be stored in glass, ceramic or plastic containers, but not paper or cardboard.
The traditional way to dry herbs
is to tie the stalks tight in bunches and hang them upside down in a dark, warm, clean area. After a week or two, when the leaves feel dry and crumbly, store the leaves in a clean airtight jar. Another method for drying herbs
is to spread the leaves in a layer on a cheesecloth screen in a dark room to dry.
Herbs with a high moisture content
, like mint and basil, can turn moldy when air-dried, and are best dried in the oven.
To dry herbs in the oven
, place the leaves in a layer on a cookie sheet. Put them in the oven with the door open for about 2 to 4 hours at 180 degrees. When they feel crumbly, store them in a clean, airtight jar.
Microwave ovens can be used
to dry the leaves quickly. Place the clean leaves on a paper plate or paper towel in the microwave oven for 1 to 3 minutes, mixing them every 30 seconds.
After you dry the herbs
, check the jars of dried herbs the next few days for any sign of moisture. If you see any moisture in the jars, remove the herbs and repeat the drying process. Herbs will become moldy in closed jars if they are not completely dry.
How to Freeze Herbs
Herbs can also be frozen
. Blanch the clean leaves in boiling water for 1 minute. Cool them quickly in ice water and then package and freeze them. Dill, chives, and basil can be frozen without blanching.
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