Pointers for growing culinary herbs in containers

My gardening hobby has piqued the interest of some of my friends, and quite a few of them have sent me personal messages about it. They’ve asked questions that range from simple identification of species to tips on how to grow vegetables. But one of the most commonly asked questions is how to grow culinary herbs.

I am not an expert gardener, so what I will share here are all based on my personal experience and things I have picked up from reading a number of different sources. Take note that I practice container gardening, because we have very little space to plant directly in the ground. I will just give some general pointers on the factors that you should consider when planting culinary herbs in containers.

1) SOIL. I cannot overemphasize how important good soil is for your garden to be successful. The soil should be loamy (not too coarse, not too fine), with a loose texture that drains well. To test, try saturating it with water, and if it gets waterlogged for more than 1 minute, then it is not loose enough. You should mix in organic material, like compost or cow dung to improve drainage. Too much sand, pebbles, and rocks is also bad, as it won’t hold water. It should be a nice dark brown color and should smell good. Stunted growth is one of the signs of poor soil conditions.

2) SUNLIGHT. Most herbs require lots of sunshine to be healthy. Make sure that you place your plants in an area that will get at least 6 hours of direct sunlight everyday. Your plant will slowly lose its leaves and eventually die out when it doesn’t get enough sunlight.

3) WATER. Make sure that your soil does not get dry for extended periods. Since we’re suffering from El Niño in the Philippines right now, I suggest that you water twice daily (morning and afternoon).

4) POTS. Depending on the herb, pot size requirement could vary. So to be on the safe side, use pots that are at least 20 cm tall, and could hold at least 2 liters of soil. This is to help make sure that the soil does not dry out too quickly. If you are using recycled water bottles or the like, I suggest making holes on the sides (at least 3 cm from the bottom), and not at the base, so that some water can accumulate at the bottom. I obviously sometimes don’t follow my own advice, and use tiny pots for my herbs. Smaller pots mean smaller plants, and more frequent waterings, so skimp on pot size at your own risk.

5) SPECIES and VARIETIES. Some herb species just won’t grow in your area because they are not adapted to the climate. Many culinary herbs prefer cooler climates, so here in the Philippines, which is a tropical country, you’re lucky if you live in Baguio or Tagaytay. If you don’t, that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try experimenting with different species and varieties. You never know, you might chance upon a mutant that can acclimatize in your area. In my case, I live in General Trias City, and the herbs that I’ve grown successfully from seed include basil (sweet and Thai varieties), parsley, coriander/cilantro (wansuy in Filipino), green onion, and chives. From cuttings, I have been able to propagate tarragon, mint (different varieties), rosemary (not highly successful though), oregano (Plectranthus aromaticus, not Origanum vulgare), and stevia. I’ve tried planting seeds of marjoram and thyme, but haven’t been successful so far. Maybe I’ll try from cuttings one of these days.

So those are some of the main things you should consider when planting culinary herbs in pots. Other things to think about include fertilizing and keeping your herbs pest free. I will write another post about that later on.

Do you have any other pointers and suggestions on growing culinary herbs in pots, especially here in the tropics? Please share them with us!

Follow me on Instagram (regielene) to see photos of my herb and vegetable garden. Happy gardening!

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