Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Growing Herbs in Containers - Tips for success

For the past several posts I have shared how to choose, design and plant containers.  This is a wrap up of tips to successful container gardening.

Tricks for a Successful Container Garden
ü  Don't fill a large container in the wrong place: Ever tried to lift a large container garden filled with dirt and plants? It can be overwhelmingly heavy. When using a large or unwieldy container make sure to place your pot where it will live and then fill it – you’ll save your back! 

ü  Make a large container lighter: If you know you are planting shallow rooted plants in a very large container (for example, herbs, annuals, succulents), you can fill the bottom third with empty plastic bottles and cover them with plastic screening, or create drainage with Styrofoam peanuts. Not only does this make the container lighter, but also less expensive because you won't need as much potting soil.
 ü  Don't Drown Your Plants: To avoid over-watering your container gardens, use containers that have drainage holes – lots of them.  Also, make sure to read the moisture requirements for your plants and then follow them. Before you water, check if your soil is moist. To do this put your finger into the soil up to your second knuckle. If the soil at your fingertip feels dry, water your plant.

If you do over-water, leaves may turn yellow and fall off, or your plants may get limp. If your soil is too wet, move the container to a dry, breezy spot until it dries out. If you have the room, you can also move your container garden into a garage or sheltered spot to dry it out, particularly if the weather is continuing to be wet.

ü  Don't Under-water: Most container gardens need watering at least once a day in the heat of the summer. Many, especially hanging planters or small containers, need watering even more often because there is less soil to hold moisture. When you water, make sure to really soak your plants – if you just give them a sip, the water will only wet the top layer of soil. Water until you see it coming out of the bottom of your pot.  Lots of people use water crystals but they are expensive and some tests have shown that they aren't particularly effective.

If your plants do dry out, don’t despair; even the most pathetic, limp, plant might revive with a good drink. If the container is small enough, submerge the whole thing in a bucket of water until the air bubbles subside. For a large container take a skewer or stick and gently poke holes deep into the soil to allow water to reach the roots. Then water generously.

ü  Awkward plant to pot ratio: Make sure to consider the proportions of your plants to your container. A large container stuffed with short plants can look stunted. If you need a rule of thumb (and remember that rules are meant to be broken) try to have at least one plant that is as tall as the container. Also try plants that will spill over the sides.

 ü  Don't buy weak or sickly plants: Buying plants at a reputable local nursery is a good place to start in your quest for healthy plants. You have a greater chance of getting plants that are disease and pest free and well cared for than at a big box store. At a nursery, you can often get a wealth of information and advice from knowledgeable staff. Don't be afraid to ask someone to help you pick out a good plant.

ü  Fear of pruning / Trim your herbs: To keep your basil bushy, use it often or clip it back - the more you use the more you'll have (of course within reason). Cut back parsley and dill before it flowers. When your container gardens start looking leggy or ragged, don’t be afraid to cut them back. You may want to put them in an out-of-the-way spot until they re-bound, but chances are they’ll come back healthier and happier with a good haircut.

ü  Keep Like with Like: Make sure that all the plants in your container garden share the same sun, soil and water requirements. You can find out this information from your seed packets or plant labels. Or get a book on annuals, perennials and herbs from the library.

ü  Feed your Containers: Most potting mix has very few of the nutrients that plants require to grow and be healthy so you will need to add those nutrients to the soil. There are many fertilizers to choose from and flowering plants have different needs than vegetables and herbs. In container gardening what nutrients there are in your potting soil are either quickly used by the plants or are washed out with repeated watering. Fertilizing container gardens with flowers regularly is a key to their success. Add a diluted, liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, every couple of weeks. Don't use too much fertilizer with herbs, it can effect the taste of the herbs.

ü  Know when it its okay to say goodbye: After you’ve tried everything, short of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and your plant still looks dreadful, cut your losses and toss it on the compost pile or in the trash. If only one plant in your container garden is icky, just pull out that plant and replace it.

ü  Don't have unrealistic expectations: Before you make your container gardens, evaluate how you live. Do you travel a lot during the summer? If so, either get self-watering containers, an automatic drip irrigation system, enlist some help to keep your plants healthy and alive while you’re gone or get plants that don't need a lot of water.

ü  Garden how you live. Are you casual or formal? I take a relaxed approach to gardening because it fits well with my personality. I like big overflowing containers with riotous colors and luxuriant blossoms. Some people like neat, well-planned, formal containers.

ü  Give plants protection and environment they need.  Many plants don’t like being whipped by the wind. Big, broad leaves can easily get battered or act like a sail and pull even a big pot right over. Some plants with heavy flowers or fruit, can bend or break delicate stems in a stiff breeze. Conversely, a protected area can act like an oven, retaining heat and cooking plants that don’t like the heat. So choose the location and the plant combination to fit the location your plants will occupy.

Just a few last herb container tips:
1.   Chose containers with trays or get trays and fill them with pebbles.  Herbs do not like to have wet feet, but they also like to have a bit of water to draw on in the heat of the day.  Placing the pot in a tray will keep you from watering twice during the hot days of summer.
2.   Don't let your herbs flower, unless you want to look at rather than eat them.  Herb flavors change when they create flowers, so cut those flower heads off to preserve the best flavors for cooking and tea.
3.   Throughout the growing season pinch back the ends of the branches to promote more branching and the production of more leaves to harvest. 

4.   Check daily for dryness and water when the soil is dry about 1" depth.  Do not overwater and provide good drainage.  To test soil for dryness, poke your finger into the soil: If it feels dry to a depth of one-inch in a 12 inch pot and two inches in a 24” or larger pot, water it.

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