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Tiny gardens: tips for planting container herbs

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Simon and Garfunkel sang a great song about parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but these herbs are also fabulous to grow and use in your meals. While many individuals do not have green space to grow a full-fledged garden, with a little time, effort and love many can be successful at growing container herbs.

Growing herbs such as basil, chives or cilantro in pots allows you to have them close at hand, perhaps right on the kitchen counter or on a window sill, patio or porch. Not only will these herbs provide you with ingredients for your foods, but they will also add greenery to your living space.

Below are a few tips to get you started on growing your container herbs.

  1. Light. Sun is crucial for growth. Most herbs originate from sunny regions and thus will need exposure to sun for at least eight hours a day. If growing the herbs inside, identify your south-facing window and place your containers to receive the most of the sun through that window. If planting outdoors, place in a sunny spot, protected from the wind.
  2. Seeds or plants? Despite the late arrival of spring, you might be better off starting your herb garden from plants. That means you may have to purchase small herb plants that are ready to go outside or be transplanted into a container for growing indoors. Starting from seeds is less expensive, and you can start seeds right in the pot you will be growing them in. However, these should be started two months in advance of spring, in full sun.
  3. Drainage. The container you will be growing your herbs in must have a nice size hole on the bottom so excess water can drain out. The last thing you need is water-drenched herb roots that will end up rotting.
  4. Size. The size of the pot makes a difference. The bigger the pot, the slower it will dry out. Planting several herbs in a large pot may be better than planting each one in smaller individual pots.
  5. Soil. For planting in pots, you are better off using a potting mix rather than potting soil. The mix is lighter and your herbs will thank you!
  6. Water. Potting mix dries out quickly, so keep an eye on the herbs and water them frequently. Any time the potting mix feels dry, it is time to water again.
  7. Fertilizer. Use a houseplant fertilizer at half strength every three weeks or so.  Do not use a fertilizer to encourage flowers, since we eat the leaves of the herbs, not the flowers.
  8. Harvest. Harvest your herbs to keep plants producing leaves and to discourage flowering. Snip the old leaves and stems individually with a scissors.

Growing your own herbs can be a wonderful experience. It gives you the pleasure of savoring delicious herbs and spices and in almost every case the flavor and texture of varieties you can grow far exceed the best grocery store produce. With these tips in mind, you could get started today!

About Julia Salomón MS, RD, CD

Julia is the corporate dietitian at Affinity Health System and also a nutrition educator. She works at various sites throughout the organization working with Affinity’s employee wellness program. She earned her Master’s degree in nutrition science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1996 and became a dietitian shortly thereafter. Julia has worked on several nutrition projects abroad as well as domestically. Before joining Affinity Health System in June of 2011, she worked as a college dietitian and later in the school nutrition field. She has earned certificates of training in adult and childhood weight management. Julia has a special interest in nutrition, public health and wellness.

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