Cooking with fresh herbs is growing in popularity. Not everyone has room to grow a full garden, but almost everyone has room for a planter box of herbs. The box needs to be at least a foot deep so that the roots of the plant have room to grow. Two feet deep is better, if you have the room. You can plant some of the most common culinary herbs in a planter box outside your window sill or on your porch or balcony. Here is a snapshot of how to grow basil, rosemary, and mint in your planter.
Mint is an invasive herb and should be grown in is own container. Otherwise it will take over the entire herb box. There are some 600 different varieties of mint, but spearmint and peppermint are the most common.
The easiest way to start mint is from a plant or cutting. Mint doesn’t really grow from seeds. It sends out runners and the nodes on the runners become new mint plants. You can usually buy mint at a nursery.
Mint can tolerate partial shade and likes things a little cooler than many plants. It will tolerate poor soil as long as it is kept moist. Once it flowers, the essential oils in the leaves decrease. If you plan on harvesting the leaves, you should cut the flowering stem off as soon as you see it.
Mint will grow itself out of a home. When the planter gets too crowded, disease and pests can set in. The remedy is to cut the mint ruthlessly down to the ground. Water and fertilize it good. Mint will then grow renewed and happy for a while. This process will have to be repeated periodically to renew the bed.
Basil is considered the king of herbs because of its many uses. This basil has been allowed to flower, but that is actually a no-no if you are using the herb because the essential oils in the leaves of the plant lessen greatly when the plant flowers.
You can start basil from seed, but it is easier to buy a plant from a nursery. Seed needs to be planted 1/4 inch deep and then the area needs to be kept at 70 degrees After about 3 days, the seedlings will come up. They are prone to damping-off, so air circulation is crucial. Water from the bottom to avoid getting water on the leaves of the seedlings. Do not transplant outdoors until the temperatures stay above 50 degrees even at night.
Basil grows slowly after being transplanted because the roots are developing. When it gets bushy and bigger, usually about six weeks after being transplanted, you can start harvesting it. Never prune more than one third of the plant at a time. Basil will flower and die at some point, no matter what you do. Enjoy it while you have it, then replant for the next year.
Rosemary has antiseptic and astringent properties. It is used for medicinal, culinary, decorative and cosmetic purposes. It is a good herb to have around, especially if you like poultry.
Rosemary is, however, hard to propagate from seed. It has a low germination rate and seeds from the same plant may have different characteristics. This is one herb it is best to buy as a plant from a nursery.
Rosemary looks like a miniature pine tree. It is actually a shrub and can grow quite large if not trimmed. For home use, clipping sprigs off as needed will not hurt the plant. Rosemary should be pruned in the winter by cutting no more than half the plant. When you prune the plant, save all the cuttings. They can be dried and used for decorations, to deodorize draws of linens, and similar uses. At the very least, you will have enough rosemary for your yearly cooking.
With all the herbs, keeping the soil moist but not squishy is crucial. Herbs are very vulnerable to fungal infections, so water in the morning if possible. Is you can use drip irrigation or a soaker hose, so much the better. Avoid getting water on the leaves if at all possible. In any case, watering in the morning lets the herbs dry out more quickly in the sun.
Herbs need fertilizer, as well. Water soluble fertilizer that is applied with the water makes life easier. Any balanced fertilizer will do so long as you follow the directions on the label.
Growing your own herbs assures you that they are there when you need them. If you grow them, you know what fertilizer they have had, whether they have had pesticides used on them, or whether they are pristine. Enjoy your herb planter box.