Planting Herbs in Containers

Herbs are annual, biennial, perennial or woody plants, grown mainly for their flavour and aroma. You can plant one type per pot, or make a mini-herb garden in a large tub, a window-box or even a wooden wheelbarrow.

Most herbs have modest flowers, but Chives, Nasturtium, Bergamot and Borage have colourful blooms. Herbs with small flowers often attract butterflies, and some have variegated leaves, so you don’t luse out on colour!

Herbs are ideal patio plants: attractive, easy to grow in pots and trouble-free. Learn how to plant them correctly, so they get off to the best possible start.

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Growing herbs indoors

You can grow herbs in pots on a sunny windowsill indoors. The kitchen is most convenient, in terms of cooking, but a cool, well ventilated spot, such as a light porch, is ideal. Try to put herbs out in summer, even just onto a windowsill, to give them light and fresh air. Wait until spring frosts are over, and harden off the herbs first, by placing them outdoors during the day and bringing them in at night or if the weather turns cold. If you put them onto a windowsill, make sure they can’t be accidentally knocked over – reproduction wrought-iron window-boxes are ideal for holding individual pots of herbs.

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Whitefly may attack herbs, especially Basil, grown indoors. At the first sign of a problem, spray with an insecticide suitable for crops, and always allow the time recommended by the manufacturer to pass between spraying and harvesting.

For fresh herbs in autumn and winter, you can bring in pots of Chives, Parsley, Basil and Mint, once frosts threaten, and place them in a sunny, cool spot– a well-lit, frost-free garage is fine. If you have more than one pot of any type of herb, bring pots in one at a time, for ‘successional’ harvesting, like bringing in your forced bulbs a pot at a time, to get the longest season of display.

Seeds or plants?

It’s cheaper raising herbs from seed, especially if you need large numbers. Some, such as Nasturtium, are hardy, quick and easy to grow from seed, but tender herbs, such as Basil, need starting off indoors in early spring and careful tending until it’s warm enough to put them out.

It takes years for woody herbs grown from seed to make a show and provide leaves for picking. On a patio, you’re likely to want only one or two of each herb, so buy them as plants in pots.

Garden centres often have a special area for displaying herbs; if in doubt, ask. Some small herbs are sold in trays or boxes, like bedding annuals, and are economical if you want several.

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Planting guide

  • Avoid buying or planting herbs in frozen or windy weather, and plant out tender annual herbs, such as Basil, well after the last spring frost.
  • Place some drainage material in a clay pot. Strawberry pots need a central core of drainage material.
  • Place a layer of soil-based potting compost over the drainage material or directly into a plastic pot.
  • Place the rootball in the centre of the pot and check that the top of it is 2.5cm (1 inch) below the rim of a small pot.
  • Dribble compost between the rootball and sides of the pot. Firm and place in a sunny position.

Keys to success

  • Keep herbs in containers well weeded. Covering the potting mixture with a layer of grit keeps weeds down, conserves moisture and looks attractive.
  • Water regularly until settled in, but don’t overwater, especially grey-leaved herbs such as Rosemary.
  • Feed every two weeks with dilute liquid fertilizer in the growing season.
  • Pick leaves little and often, and combine picking with pinching out the growing tips, to keep plants compact.
  • Pinch out the tiny flowers of such herbs as Tarragon, Basil and Chervil, to encourage fresh growth, and young, well-flavoured leaves.
  • Lift and divide clump-forming herbs such as Chives every two to three years.

Decorative ideas for planting

  • In a potted herb garden, place a tall-growing shrubby herb, such as Bay or Lemon Verbena, in the centre; lower-growing ones, such as Sweet Basil around it; and trailing herbs, such as Nasturtium, round the outside.
  • Use Parsley or Chives to edge a window-box or tub filled with colourful flowers.
  • Grow a collection of Mints in a tub: Apple Mint, Spearmint, Pineapple Mint, Peppermint, Ginger Mint and Begamot Mint. (Never mix mints with other herbs, as they are invasive.)

Using herbs in cooking

Herbs can transform food with their wonderful flavour and aroma, and when used as a garnish they can make a simple dish look very attractive and appetizing.

When grown in pots in the kitchen they not only look attractive as house plants but they can be freshly picked to add flavour to food.

Basil complements any pasta dish, either in a tomato sauce or on its own, tossed with the pasta and some olive oil. Parsley will enhance most fish dishes and freshly cut chives can be added to soured cream for a delicious topping for jacket potatoes. Rosemary, sprinkled over a lamb joint and then roasted, is delicious.

FAQs

Can I grow herbs on a shady patio?

Mint and Chives will thrive in light shade. Parsley and Chervil prefer light shade in summer, otherwise they ‘bolt’, or run to seed.

Are there any colourful herbs for a window box?

Try the deep-purple Basil, ‘Dark Opal’; the variegated Lemon Balm, ‘Aurea’; or the multicoloured Sage ‘Tricolor’.

Herbs to grow

  • Angelica
  • Bay
  • Bergamot
  • Borage
  • Bush Basil
  • Caraway
  • Chervil
  • Chives
  • Fennel
  • Lemon Balm
  • Lemon Thyme
  • Grow Parsley on a sunny windowsill and nip off flowers to prolong growth.
  • Lemon Verbena
  • Marjoram
  • Mint (Mentha species)
  • Nasturtium
  • Parsley
  • Pot Marjoram
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Summer Savory
  • Sweet Basil
  • Tarragon
  • Thyme
  • Winter Savory

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