Saturday, April 15, 2017

Growing Herbs in Containers - Design and Layout

The design and layout of the plants will depend on the container you choose or the space you have available.  You can plant your herbs in individual containers, artfully arranged or group them in pots. We discussed the coordination of thriller, filler and spiller yesterday, so today we will give you some specific designs and ideas. 

When you plant in individual containers, you get to control the soil mixture and adjust it per plant. When you group them into one container you do need to place plants with similar soil and water needs together. Thinking about this in advance will give you successful container planting that provides a great harvest or pretty appearance.

Almost all of the herbs listed here will be available at the Garden Club of Villa Park Annual Plant sale (May 12 & 13, 2017).  For details and preorder forms (due April 20), check out the club website.

Choosing plants

Flowering Plants for Sun

1.      One of the most popular container flowers is calibrachoa, also known as million bells. This plant comes in about a million spectacular colors that range from pure white to different shades of pink to deep purple.  Calibrachoa look great in almost any container garden. The prolific blossoms attract hummingbirds and butterflies and will go strong all summer with regular feeding.  They don't need deadheading but they do need consistent watering and good drainage - no soggy roots for these guys.
2.      Verbena is a great container garden plant for sun because it will flower like crazy all summer long and into the fall. It plays well with others - looking good by filling in spaces and spilling over edges with its densely clustered blossoms. There are many colors of verbena to choose from - brilliant red to deep, dark blue. These profuse bloomers are extremely forgiving. They are drought tolerant and only need an average amount of water.
3.      I like a good flower with radiating petals.  To fill this bill, try cape daisies or ostiospermum. These plants are cheerful, forgiving (they are hardy to 25 degrees) and come in a variety of and handsome colors from a deep pink to melon, purple and white. 
4.      Pot marigold, Calendula, is another easy to grow flower and you can harvest the flowers for use in lotion and salves.  They begin flowering late in June and continue until frost.
5.      For a taller plant I recommend borage.  The flowers are unique five pointed stars of deep purple with dark black pistils in the center and hair leaves and stems.  They add color and texture.  You will want to keep them trimmed as they can grow leggy.
6.      My husband loves petunias.  Since he rarely states a preference about plants I pounced on this to use them in window boxes and round containers all over the place. They come in a ridiculous assortment of colors and sizes and they now self-deadhead, which is great, because deadheading petunias is not my idea of a good time. They love lots of sun, but don't love too much heat so depending on your climate, you may need to give them some mid-day shade.

Herbs for Full Sun
1.   Basil, a beloved Italian annual herb, grows best in full sun and fertile, moist soil. Once the root system is established, about six weeks after sowing, it tolerates short periods of drought. Basil is a good companion with parsley, thyme, and other herbs when grown in a pot that holds at least 5 gallons of soil. For small containers, choose a compact variety such as 'Spicy Bush'.
2.   Chives are grassy, clump-forming perennials with hollow leaves. Essentially tiny onions, chives are grown for their leaves and blooms rather than their bulbs. Their fragrant pink-purple spring flowers are also edible. Plant them in well-drained potting soil that's rich with organic matter. They can tolerate light shade but do best in full sun. Chives grow well in container gardens. Because they're hardy in Zones 3-10, you can leave them outdoors year-round.
3.   Cilantro, also known as coriander, can be used for its tangy leaves or its dried, ground seeds. Plant this annual herb in well-drained soil. Cilantro grows best in sun, although it tolerates some shade. Because it has a long taproot, place it in a container garden that is at least 12 inches deep.
4.   Lavender is a bushy perennial shrub that does best in full sun and well-drained potting mix. Keep it on the dry side and avoid fertilizer. Lavender hardiness depends on the variety; the toughest are hardy in Zones 5-10.
5.   Lemon balm, an old-fashioned favorite that spreads freely and self-sows readily, is perfect for container gardens so it doesn't take over the yard. Plant in partial shade or full sun and in moist, rich, well-drained potting mix. Zones 3-10
6.   Lemon verbena is a tropical shrub (hardy in Zones 9-10) that's commonly grown as an annual in container gardens. Plant nursery-grown plants in pots filled with well-drained potting mix. Avoid fertilizer; lemon verbena grows best with few nutrients. It prefers full sun.

7.   Marjoram, an oregano relative, has a sweeter, milder flavor and aroma than its cousin. Grow it in full sun and well-drained potting mix. It's perennial in Zones 8-10, so gardeners in colder areas can grow it in container gardens indoors over winter.

Plants for Shade

1.      Coleus are really good-natured shade plants, not at all fussy and some will even thrive in full sun. The color choices are jaw-dropping and the leaf shapes are varied and exciting. Even an ordinary coleus, when paired with a good companion in a nice container can be spectacular.
2.      Torenia, also known as wishbone flower, is an elegant and cheerful plant which will flower all summer even in full shade. It is heat tolerant and really easy to take care of. It will thrive with regular watering and fertilizing until frost and you don’t have to deadhead it. Wishbone flower is great in combinations or, in the right container, can be beautiful on its own. You can use it in hanging baskets, window boxes or in any container with good drainage.
3.      Mint, especially pineapple mint or apple mint.  You get good scent and texture contrast and the shade keeps the habit of spreading in check.  Mints produce runner and can cascade over the side of a container too.
4.      Although Chives prefer full sun, they will grow well in part shade and the tall nature makes them a good height plant.
5.      If you want a golden low growing foliage plant, try golden oregano.  Most oregano need full sun, but Golden will burn in full sun, so give it part shade and watch it flourish.
6.      Thyme is another full sun plant that will also grow in part shade if needed.  The low growing trailing habit makes it popular along the edge of a window box.
7.   Tarragon can grow well in shade.  The first year it is a slow grower and be perfect in a container, but the second year it springs from the root and gets very tall so plan to transplant it.
7.      Perilla also called shiso, is an herb from the mint family that can take some shade. Red perilla has an anise-like flavor, while green perilla tastes more like cinnamon.  If you like the idea of color like coleus, but want something scented and edible, this is a great substitute.

Herb Plants that thrive together

Parsley & Basil
Both of these fragrant and familiar herbs enjoy more water than their woody brethren. Chives, nasturtiums, hot peppers and cherry tomatoes also make great container mates for these guys.

Rosemary & Sage
These are perfect examples of what we’re talking about when we refer to “woody herbs.” They prefer more sun and drier soil than the leafier varieties, which is why it’s a better idea to plant them together than, say, with a basil plant, which will need a lot more water.

Oregano & Thyme
These semi-woody varieties keep good company with their sun-loving cousins, rosemary and sage. So, if you’re at a loss for space, go ahead and house them together.

Mint & Mint

Yes, you read that correctly. All types of mint tend to take over a pot. They’re not the most neighborly plant. You're best off growing them separately from other herb types. And even alone, you’ll want to leave plenty of space between each of them so that all the different fragrances and flavors don't meld.

Designing Containers

Single Plant Containers

This is mint becoming the hair on a Greek Head.

Elfin Thyme 
Basic Plans

Layout a simple rectangle with tall dill in the center, chervil and parsley in the four corners and calendula or nasturtiums in between to fill in.  The nasturtiums will cascade over the side and look very attractive.

This example has thyme, sage and even a tomato plant.

Nasturtium. Jewel Mix

A circle of  three plants will always be easy to craft as the triangle shape allows you to put plants in any order and turn the container to show each off as you want.

You can group indoor plants like bay, rosemary, lemon scented geranium or the same species like tricolor sage, purple sage, and golden sage.

Window Box Herb Garden 
My favorite way to grow herbs in containers is a narrow window box shape.  You have linear space, the ability to plant a number of varieties in one long container and they look great on a railing, a window ledge or even on a deck or raised bed edge.

This design is 5 feet wide, but can be divided into two or even three smaller boxes.

1. Curly-leaved parsley (Petroselinum crispum) 1 plant; 8" tall; bright green curly leaves useful as a garnish or in combination with thyme and bay for a bouquet garni. Biennial.
2. Flat-leaved, or Italian, parsley (P. crispum) 1 plant; 8" to 12" tall; flat dark green leaves, with stronger flavor than the curly-leaved type. Biennial.
3. Common thyme (Thymus vulgaris) 1 plant; 8" tall; evergreen shrublet with trailing stems bearing ¼ inch-long gray-green leaves that are aromatic.
4. Variegated lemon thyme (T. x citriodorus 'Silver Queen') 2 plants; 6" tall; green shrublet with tiny, strongly lemon-scented leaves, grayish-green bordered with white.
5. Chives (Allium schotnoprasum) 2 plants planted singly; 12" to 15" tall; very slender pointed dark green leaves, with mild onion flavor. Perennial.
6. Tricolor sage (Salvia officinalis 'Tricolor') 1 plant; up to 2' tall; 2"-long leaves variegated with cream, purple, and green; pungent flavor. Evergreen shrub.
7. Purple sage (S. officinalis 'Purpurea') 1 plant; up to 18" tall; pungent 2" -long purple leaves. The color is best on the young growth. Evergreen shrub.
8. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) 1 plant; up to 4' tall; dark green needlelike leaves with a pungent, piney fragrance. Evergreen shrub, with small pale blue or white flowers. Can be trained as a topiary if desired.

Hanging Baskets

You need to be aware that a hanging basket can get neglected and try to use plants that are drought tolerant or so showy that you cannot ignore them and will water regularly.

Hanging baskets love spillers, so weight them heavily with things that crawl over the side.  Million bells, nasturtiums, elfin thyme, and pansy will all look stunning in a hanging container.

We will next follow up with how to prep soil and plant and care for your containers.  This is the next post on planting the actual containers: Planting a Container (It will be live on Monday.)

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