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University of Illinois Extension

Growing Herbs in Containers

May 28, 2013

When you stop to think about all the herbs that you use to cook with, how many of them have you ever grown and used fresh from the garden? Growing herbs can be a satisfying endeavor and a lovely addition to the garden or if you don't have an in ground garden or space for herbs you can always grow them in containers.

Growing herbs in containers can be beneficial as you can place them anywhere as long as they are getting 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. This may mean that you put your container of herbs that the container closer to your kitchen door which would provide easier access and encouragement to use in your cooking. Also, by growing herbs in containers it allows you to easier control growing conditions for herbs that may be pickier about their soil and watering requirements. Growing in herbs in containers allows for easier over wintering of herbs that are not able to survive the winter, such as Rosemary, by allowing portability to bringing the plant indoors. Finally, it may encourage you to try a new herb since you do not have to dedicate garden space and with potentially easier access you are more likely to remember it!

Almost all of our common herbs – basil, oregano, thyme, marjoram, sage, rosemary, tarragon, summer savory, winter savory, parsley and chives require 6-8 hours of sunlight per day. So be sure to choose a sunny location that you will remember - avoid putting them in an easily forgettable space. Nothing is sadder than finding a plant that was not watered and is too far gone to be saved. The one downside of container gardening is that in the heat of the summer you may be needing to water once or even twice a day depending on how hot the day is, the size of the container, and the type of container.

When choosing containers for growing herbs part of the decision is determined by what type of herbs you are growing. If you want to grow herbs like Rosemary or Lavender in containers, I would recommend terracotta unglazed pots. Both of these plants prefer drier conditions – and may prefer the soil to dry out between watering. Compare those with plants like basil or parsley which prefer to have evenly moist soil that doesn't fully dry out – plants that would be better in a plastic container that provide some assistance in minimizing the rate of moisture loss. Also, make sure to choose a pot that will be able to accommodate a fully grown herb plant. Whatever pot you decide to use, the pot must have drainage holes to allow excess water to escape. Choose a good quality potting mix for use in your containers and use the following guidelines for container selection as well as recommendations for combining herbs in a single container.

Herbs that prefer drier conditions

These herbs prefer more evenly moist soil:

When it comes time to use your homegrown herbs in your cooking remember the following. For annual herbs you can remove up to 3/4 of the plant, but for perennial herbs only remove 1/3 of the plant in any one cutting. Make sure to give the plants time to regrow and rejuvenate before harvesting more. The easiest method is to only harvest what you need. When cooking with fresh herbs here are guidelines for use:

1 Tbsp of finely cut fresh = 1 tsp of dried crumbled herbs = 1/4 - 1/2 tsp ground

Source: Kari Houle, Extension Educator, Horticulture, khoule@illinois.edu

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