As Promised, Creating Your Herb Container Garden

There’s no shortage of Youtube videos on creating your container Herb Garden, so I’m not going to reinvent the wheel. Here’s one that covers all the essentials–Susan Doherty on six minute style.

So I’ll just make a few comments both on what Susan Doherty said, and what she didn’t say:

Pots:

The bigger the better. I’ve said this quite a few times now, but for a bunch of reasons I usually go too small when it comes to containers, and I’d like to save you the headache of failure. I’m not very big or strong and so I’d rather not have to move a 100 kg (filled with wet potting mix) container; I’m cheap so I’d rather not pay for a large (beautiful ceramic) container; I don’t have much space, so I’m not sure where to put a large heavy beautiful container. All bad reasons for going small. In fact there are not many good reasons for going small.

Using strawberry pots is often recommended for herbs, but there are a few problems with them, which of course I’ll explain:

http://gardenwithpassion.com/tower-herb-garden/

Cute as anything “herb tower”, but…

As you can see in the picture, each of the side pockets houses one plant. Which means that each of these plants has a very small, terracotta (read “dries out quickly”) pot. So keeping these outside plants adequately hydrated is a little tricky. And when you water from the top, the water tends to pour out the pockets rather than going all the way to the bottom. There are ways of preventing this–for example, using pvc pipes with lots of holes drilled–but IMHO the advantages aren’t worth the work. Choosing ceramic instead of terracotta is a little better for the first problem, but none at all for the second.

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It’s difficult to gauge scale here, but at about 16″ tall and 18″ in diameter, this would be ideal for any combination of herbs.

Watering:

Your big container won’t need watering all that often. Even in the heat of summer, a lot of potting mix will hold a lot of water, and your herbs are not big water guzzlers. (Other container-happy plants ARE big water guzzlers, so this won’t apply to them.) Expect to water once a week, but check more often than that: push a chopstick into the soil about 2-3″, and if it comes out still pretty dry–not much soil sticking to the chopstick–it’s time to water.

When you do water, make sure you see water escaping the bottom through the excellent drainage holes you drilled before you started. Did you drill excellent drainage holes? Did you check your pot to see how many and how big the drainage holes were? All you want is safe drainage–you don’t want stagnant water. I love this picture from Winsford Walled Garden.

The tiny pot has four LARGE holes, the MUCH bigger pots has a lot of TINY holes. Take a drill and make those small ones much larger.

The tiny pot has four LARGE holes, the MUCH bigger pots has a lot of TINY holes. Take a drill and make those small ones much larger. For ceramic pots use a “spear-point” drill bit or a “core” drill bit.

And incidentally, you don’t want to do what was always recommended (and unfortunately still is), that is to put broken crock (clay pots) or pebbles in the bottom of your container to “aid drainage”. For I can’t remember what  scientific reason (and Google is stubbornly resisting me here), water wants to stay in its comfort-zone rather than going somewhere else. So your styrofoam peanuts or gravel or broken pots or crushed pop cans or plastic milk jugs, or what ever you’ve put at the bottom of your pot for whatever reason, is going to HINDER drainage, not AID it. The water will stay in the soil, not drain into space, so your pot will get actually waterlogged instead of draining freely, and your plants won’t like it much.

Where Is It?

In most cases, your container garden will be positioned with an unequal amount of sun front and back. The plants on one side of the pot will get more sun than the plants on the back. Not a problem! Tall things at the “back”, short things at the “front”. Or more shade tolerant at the back, less shade-tolerant at the front. Or put the pot on a lazy susan and rotate every few days. That’s my own preference, because it also lets me move the container whenever I want. You can buy container lazy susans, (pardon the unintentional plug for Home Depot), but they’re not very durable, and the wheels are a bit small. I made one myself years ago with 2×4’s that is still working just fine, and the key element was large castors.

Now besides what plants get how much sun, the other question here is, Is it on a balcony? Will your neighbours be upset if your draining container is pouring down onto their balcony? You’ll want to have a nice big saucer to collect all that draining-out water. Some will (reasonably) recommend that you not let your pot sit in water for more than an hour, but emptying that saucer from underneath a 100kg pot is easier said than done. So yes, water until you see drainage out the bottom, but only as much as will fill your nice big saucer. And don’t worry too much about standing water, you won’t likely see mosquitos breeding there, and the roots of your plants are nowhere near the water level, so they’re not going to rot.

One Last Really Important Thing…

…Make sure your plants are all well hydrated before they go into the large container. Remember water not wanting to leave its comfort zone? If you water the newly planted container, but the individual plants’ soil is dry, the new water will not want to invade the plants’ dry zone, and it will take some long period of time (maybe days?) for the dry zone to wick up water from the wet zone, meanwhile the plant is panting for water and may not survive the ordeal.

So it’s not rocket science. And whether you get it all right first time round or not, never worry, just enjoy the process. Next year you can do things a little different.

Comments? Questions? Leave a reply, share to your preferred social media site… And stay tuned for the next post. You may want to click on the “Follow” button.

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More Tips for Container Gardens

When I posted 6 Tips for Container Gardens, I neglected to mention one of the most important considerations: Annuals or Perennials. 

For some reason, many people are intimidated by perennials. Do they seem to be more work? Is there a fear they won’t come back? Are they too expensive? Is there not enough all-season flowering?

Here’s a very basic primer on plant longevity.

Annuals…

…are plants that in our region usually die off completely at the beginning of winter. They may live forever in South Africa, but in BC, not so much. So the Gloriosa rothschildiana (Climbing Lily) I just bought would come back year after year in Atlanta, but in Burnaby I’ll just get one summer from it. (All images clickable incidentally.)

Pardon the price tag that I couldn't get off the bulb package!

Pardon the price tag that I couldn’t get off the bulb package!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Biennials…

…are an unusual group of plants that grow lots of leaves the first year they germinate, then die back over the winter, and in their second year they make flowers, set seed, drop their seeds all over the place, and then die. And because they drop their seeds all over the place, there will always be new first year plants. Hollyhocks, foxglove, forget-me-nots are all biennials.

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And finally Perennials…

…these are plants that are hardy in your area–wherever “your area” is.

If a plant comes back every year for more than two years, it’s a perennial.

“Herbaceous perennials” will appear to die, or disappear, come winter, and then reappear the next spring. “Evergreen perennials” don’t disappear–like hellebores, for example (Lenten Rose or Christmas Rose–aren’t those the most delightful names?)

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OK, now a few more semi-accurate generalizations about annuals and perennials:

Annuals are very hungry and very thirsty, no matter where they’re planted. Perennials much less so, but will still need more feeding and watering in containers than planted in the ground. 

Annuals’ chief advantage is that in general (hence the “generalizations” in the heading), they flower most of your summer season. Some will find the heat of summer more than they can take and languish until it cools down in later August, but they will pick up again as the nights cool down. Delphinium is one of those.

.Delphinium, maybe "Pacific Giant"?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Perennials in general have a shorter flowering season, but have a lot more foliage interest than most annuals. (Exception is the coleus I mentioned in the last post–Ahhh, the beautiful coleus…) And some perennials’ shorter flowering season is still really long, like the Black Eyed Susan, Rudbeckia. Blooms for at least 5-6 weeks.

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Annuals are usually cheaper to buy, but have to be cared for through the growing season, and have to be replaced every year (unless you want to get into overwintering, which can be a lot of fun, and the subject of another post…) 

Perennials are more expensive, but it’s a several year investment, since they’ll come back at least two more years, as long as you treat them right.  

So are you an instant gratification kind of person, or does the idea of seeing a favourite plant that “died off” last Fall resurrect in the Spring fill you with delight?
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Let me know! Leave a comment here, or share to Facebook. And definitely let me know if you need help to create your masterpiece.