Growing herbs is easy, fun and very rewarding. The luxury of fresh rosemary, basil or chives on your doorstep is an opportunity that shouldn’t be missed. Follow these tips to ensure you have healthy plants and delicious, plentiful herbs.
Basic Requirements for Growing Herbs
Wherever you grow your herbs, there are some common factors they will need in order to survive:
Light – herbs require as much light as possible and some (such as coriander and basil) require some direct sunlight. It’s important to avoid extremes, however, and a fair amount of shade is necessary. Try to opt for a happy medium of light, such as full sun in the morning and partial shade in the afternoon when temperatures increase (if the herbs get too hot they can wither and run to seed).
Water – don’t over-water your herbs but don’t under-water them either. Wait until the top of the soil feels dry before adding more. If you grow your herbs in the garden they will need watering less often. If you grow them in containers you may need to water them every day in the height of summer. Always ensure good drainage. Line the base of containers with stones or grit. Add organic matter (such as well-rotted animal manure or homemade compost) and grit to heavy soil in herb beds to allow excess water to drain away.
Soil – the ideal soil should be fertile and free draining. If you have a sandy soil, add plenty of organic matter such as well-rotted animal manure or homemade compost. This will help bind the large soil particles and retain water. Conversely, adding organic matter will help break apart fine soil particles in heavy clay soils and will help water drain away. Organic matter is rich in nutrients and will help boost the fertility of the soil, helping your herbs to grow better.
Growing Herbs in Containers
A container can be anything from an old bucket to a window box or hanging basket. Even an old olive tin will do, and can look quite fetching on a balcony. It doesn’t matter what it looks like, but it must be free draining. This means there should be holes at the base of the container so water can escape. This prevents the roots from becoming waterlogged, which can impair growth. It’s also a good idea to line the base of the container with stones or grit. This prevents the soil from leaching out of the container.
Ideal herbs to grow in containers include:
Invasive herbs such as mint and lemon balm should not be planted in pots with other herbs. They are likely to swamp the other herbs and take over. Grow them separately instead. If growing herbs in containers it’s important not to over-fill it, or plant herbs that will out-grow the pot, or swamp the other plants. All perennial plants (such as rosemary, sage and thyme) will keep growing and will need dividing at the end of each year. Simply remove them from the pot and take a section of the plant and root ball from the main plant and place the smaller section back in the pot with fresh compost.
Annual herbs (such as basil and coriander) will need re-sowing every year in fresh compost. You can either buy fresh seed or try saving seed from your old plants in autumn.
It’s a good idea to use a soil-based compost in containers. This replicates the ideal natural conditions for growing herbs. Soil-based composts also retain water better than peat-based composts, so the containers are less likely to dry out in hot weather. If you are planting your herbs in terracotta pots, line them with plastic bags. An old compost bag is ideal. This will prevent water evaporating from the sides of the pot and prevent the plants from drying out.
Saving Herb Seeds
Annual plants are genetically programmed to produce seed at the end of the growing season. This is their way of ensuring future generations of the plant. To save seed, simply wait for the seed heads to develop. This occurs after the plants have flowered. When the flowers wither and turn brown the seeds should be ready. Cut the stems off and place them (heads first) in a paper bag so they stick out. Then tie the bag around the stems with string and hang upside down in a dry place such as an airing cupboard. After a few weeks you will simply be able to shake the bag. The seeds will have come loose from the dried flowers and will be ready in the bag for you to sow the following spring.
Herbs are not difficult to look after, but if you follow the steps listed above you should have no problems!