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Spice up meals by growing herbs in containers

Fresh herbs make a wonderful addition to meals even if one is not the best cook. And it's easy to grow a few herbs in containers.

Using containers is also a great way to have kitchen herbs close by for snipping while cooking. Some herbs, such as mints, are actually more convenient to grow in containers to easily contain, what at times, can be out-of-control growth. Also, mild frost can damage some herbs. A container of herbs is easy to move under cover should the need arise.

Most kitchen herbs grow well in containers. If a pot is large enough, such as a half barrel, more than one variety can share the area. Thinking of using containers for an herb garden? Keep the following things in mind.

Herbs need full sun, which means a minimum of six hours a day. Make sure containers are large enough to house a mature plant. A good size container is usually 10 to 12 inches deep with one or more holes for drainage.

Don't use garden soil. It's too heavy and often may have pests or diseases. Instead, use a good soil-less potting mix. Gardeners can also use compost pile or rotted manure. A half and half mixture with the potting soil should do the trick. Soil-less mixes containing fertilizer work well but often cost more than just adding fertilizer to potting soil.

The amount of water necessary will depend on the type of containers, soil and herbs planted. Clay pots require more water than plastic pots as they dry out quickly. Smaller pots also dry out more quickly than larger pots, and containers under cover, such as on an enclosed lanai, will not receive rainwater and will require more frequent watering.

Not unlike other container plants, the herbs will require fertilizing. Slow-release fertilizer is probably the easiest. Just add the pellets to the top of the soil every three to six months. When watering the plants, fertilizer will slowly and consistently seep into the roots. Water-soluble fertilizer works well also and is easy to use. I use about half strength every week or two.

Herbs grow best if gardeners snip them on a regular basis. If you aren't using them for cooking, you may want to cut a small bouquet of branches periodically to keep them in shape. Place the cuttings in a small vase and enjoy the aroma.

Growing herbs indoors is a bit more challenging because of the lack of light and dry conditions. Remember most culinary herbs thrive in the hot and sunny Mediterranean, and do best in such conditions. Mediterranean winters are moist, but central heating keeps the air very dry.

This indoor hot, dry heat makes the herbs less flavorful. They need heat and sun to create the aromatic oils that make them zesty.

A south-facing window works best. In its absence, add supplemental lighting. With indoor plants, expect slower growth and smaller, less frequent yields.

Although indoor herb plants require less water, mist around the plants to add moisture to the air. Water when the soil feels dry about an inch below the surface.

It is more difficult to grow kitchen herbs indoors but is certainly worth a try if one has no outdoor space.

If outdoor space abounds, use a container or tuck in a few plants here and there in existing beds. They are easy to maintain and reward growers with great taste.

Spice up meals by growing herbs in containers 07/02/09 [Last modified: Monday, November 7, 2011 5:53pm]
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