Do’s and Dont’s For Maintaining a Potted Herb Garden

There is nothing lovelier than planting seeds or young plants and watching them grow as you nurture them. It’s even more wonderful to be able to use those plants in things that you cook and meals you provide for your family. One of the best ways to liven up your food and get a great deal of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants is from herbs. Growing your own herbs is somewhat of an art and in this article I will attempt to provide valuable information for successful growing, particularly in relation to the most common herbs used in households today.

Do’s:

1. Ensure you use pots which are going to be deep enough for the plants to grow healthy roots comfortably. You don’t want them to be all squished together and unable to grow, they will most likely die.

2. Provide the plants with a deep setting of good quality potting soil. The key is that it must be good quality. You can buy good quality potting mix from nurseries and even some supermarkets. It should be dark and smell strongly of fresh, organic soil. It is also beneficial to supplement the potting soil with compost. This can be in the form of mushroom compost (fantastic for plants but ensure it is completely degraded or it will ‘burn’ the plants) or in the form of compost you’ve generated yourself from household scraps. This supplementation will give the seedlings a little boost.

3. Provide lots of water in the early stages. The most crucial point for the development and survival of herb seeds is to receive plenty of water. Don’t worry too much about ‘drowning’ them, just give quite a heavy watering as soon as the seeds or seedlings are planted and then water twice a day every day for the first week. After that, you can cut down to once a day.

4. Provide supplementation in the form of a fertilising agent. The best thing on the market I have come across is Seasol. The product is eay to use. It is made from a seaweed base so it smells a little like salmon but it does wonders for a growing plant. Include Seasol or a similar product in one of your two daily waterings during the first week and after that cut down to once a week on the Seasol. A good example of what does very well with Seasol is wild rocket. If cared for as described above in the initial stages, before long you will have an endless supply of wild rocket ready to be plucked from your garden at any time and tossed into a salad. Beautiful!

5. Provide ample nutrition when required. The only thing I’ve ever really needed to ‘feed’ was tomatoes. I include them in this herb article because their growth patterns and the ease with which they sprout up is similar to a herb. Tomatoes are exceptional growers and respond well to lots of TLC. Ensure they are staked in the early stages so the roots aren’t disturbed once they are established. Once they start to flower mix tomato food in with your watering routine and they will really take off. Any other herbs that seem to be struggling can do with a dose of general plant food, or an extra hit of Seasol every now and then.

6. Keep an eye out for hungry friends. Caterpillars love rocket and basil and will devour an entire crop of well nurtured and tended to herbs overnight. This is always very annoying. By checking daily to make sure your plants don’t have a slimy friends you can save your crop. Don’t think you will notice when they’ve taken one bite, I’ve had one very large green caterpillar consume three large rocket plants in one sitting with no signs of it’s presence developing beforehand! Check under the leaves of the plants as that’s where slugs, caterpillars and snails like to hide out.

7. If planting from seed, you will inevitably plant far more seeds than plants you will require or than will be able to fit in your pot. Once the seeds have started to sprout give them a week or so to determine which ones are the strongest and which ones are struggling. Generally the ones in the corners of the pots will not do as well as they will not have as much light and will feel a little cramped. Once you know which ones are stronger and seem to be doing better, thin the plants out. This involves simply removing the smaller, weaker plants (be sure to pull up the roots). Also, make sure that the ones you are leaving behind are well spaced so they will each have room to grow and develop as required.

Dont’s:

1. Be careful when determining where to place the plants, not to scorch them. For herbs, it is best to provide an undercover area that has some sunlight that can reach them. They should not be left right out in the sun as they will scorch. It should be a shady area that recieves afternoon sun. If the herbs are allowed to grow in the most ideal location they will thrive and will do so very quickly. This environment applies in particular to basil but with the same environment tomatoes, oregano, rocket and rosemary will do very well.

2. Don’t get too excited when your crops start to grow and start enjoying them too early. Wait until they are well and truly established before you start plucking leaves off of them to add to your salads. Rosemary is fine to start plucking as soon as you get sprigs but in the case of basil, definitelywait until they are more established.

3. Don’t scimp on potting soil. Providing shallow bedding will inhibit the ability of the roots to establish themselves properly and therefore inhibits their ability to receive nutrients and grow efficiently. Rocket in particular needs a nice deep soil to establish their quite large roots.

4. Don’t be afraid of overwatering the herbs in the early days. Your are far more likely to kill them from dehydration than to drown them. Provide ample water and they should shoot up in no time!

The most important thing is to enjoy yourself. There is a certain thrill in eating something you yourself have grown and cultivated. Don’t be disheartened if you come up against problems, it’s easy to start over and just follow the simple do’s and dont’s above. Happy herbing!

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