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Horticulture and Home Pest News
Horticulture & Home Pest News is filled with articles on current horticulture, plant care, pest management, and common household pests written by Iowa State University Extension specialists in the Departments of Entomology, Horticulture and Plant Pathology.

Growing Herbs in Containers

This article was published originally on 6/7/2006

Herbs are a wonderful addition to any garden. They can be grown in vegetable gardens, in flower gardens, or in containers. Growing herbs in containers is a great way to have fresh herbs close to the kitchen for cooking. Some container grown herbs can then be moved indoors when the growing season is over for further enjoyment.

Herbs can be grown in various types of containers. Terra cotta and clay pots are popular. Clay pots work well because they provide a stable anchor and allow air to move through the root zone. Plastic works well too and is lighter and therefore easier to move around. Hanging baskets and window boxes can also be used. Be sure the container has sufficient drainage holes in the bottom. Several herbs can be grown in one container or each herb can have its own container. Some perennial herbs can be taken inside and grown during the winter, so consider that possibility when selecting the container(s) for your herb garden.

Herbs grow best in well-drained soil. Select a well-drained, commercial potting mix or combine potting mix, peat moss, and perlite in equal parts.

The water requirements vary depending on the species of herb being grown. Some herbs need to dry out between watering while others prefer to stay moist. Herbs grown in clay containers may require more frequent watering because they tend to dry out faster. Plants should be watered before they begin to wilt severely. In the heat of the summer, this could be as frequent as once or twice a day. When grouping multiple herbs in one container, be sure their water requirements are comparable.

Herbs require full sun whether they are grown indoors or outside. Place the container in a location where it receives at least 4 to 6 hours of sunlight each day. Perennial herbs grown inside over the winter may require supplemental lighting.

Although herbs do not require as much fertilizer as other container plants, they will benefit from periodic light fertilization with a dilute fertilizer solution. Rampant or spindly growth can be controlled by pinching.

Leafy annual herbs should be harvested when the flower buds first appear. This is when the flavor from the volatile oils is best. Remove the top leaves and stems with a sharp knife or shears. Cut just above a leaf or pair of leaves. Leave 4 to 6 inches of plant material on annual herbs. Perennial herbs can not be harvested as heavily as annual herbs. Remove only the top third of the plant or the leafy tip growth on perennial herbs. Harvest the herbs as needed in the kitchen.

Below are some container herb groupings to try.

Italian cuisine: parsley*, basil*, oregano, sage, rosemary, thyme

Aromatic herbs: lavender, hyssop, chamomile, pineapple sage, lemon verbena

Teas and Beverages: chamomile, catnip, spearmint, peppermint

* These plants are annuals.

Herbs
 
Page References: 
62-63
Year of Publication: 
2006
Issue: 
IC-495(13) -- June 7, 2006