You don’t need a multitude of garden beds to grow fresh herbs; pot those puppies in containers
Top 10 potted herbs for small spaces
The great thing about herbs, apart from their divine flavour and wonderful nutritional value, is that most of them are able to grow in all sorts of places – rocky slopes, coastal gardens and, of course, space-saving containers.
Indeed, people have been growing herbs in pots, baskets, troughs and other containers for centuries. Convenience plays a part – after all, what could be handier than a pot of herbs by the back door? But another reason for container cultivation is that herbs don’t all necessarily like the same soil type, nutrients, sun exposure, moisture levels and so forth. Plant them in pots and you can give each of your herbs its ideal conditions, all within a small footprint. If you’re unsure what to grow, here are our favourite container herbs:
Basil is an annual herb (only lives for one season) and ideal for growing on a sunny deck, terrace or window sill. Sow seed, or plant seedlings, in spring into a standard potting mix and keep in a warm spot until well established. Pots need to be deep as basil has a long taproot. Water well during dry weather but not at night as damp leaves can be susceptible to fungal disease.
An evergreen tree that can become enormous if left unpruned, bay needs a large, deep pot and protection from frost. Feed in spring with a liquid fertiliser and water well during summer.
To grow your bay tree as a standard topiary, choose a plant with a straight stem, remove the lower side shoots and trim the rest to the shape you want.
Chives are perfect for a window box or small pots on a ledge. They prefer soil to be fertile and moist so give them some shade in summer to avoid pots drying out. Liquid feed in spring, and if aphids attack wash the leaves thoroughly. Chives are perennial (plants will live for several seasons) but die down in winter.
A frost-tender annual, coriander is best in a large, deep pot in a sunny spot with plenty of moisture in summer. It hates being transplanted but is easy to grow from seed – just sprinkle on top of potting mix and cover with a thin layer of compost. Pick leaves regularly and harvest seed by picking the flowers as soon as they start to produce a scent. If you’re a coriander fan, keep your supply up by sowing seed in another pot three weeks later.
Lemongrass thrives in pots if the compost is kept moist during summer. In frosty places move pots to shelter in winter and expect plants to become dormant; in warmer areas lemongrass will remain in leaf. Harvest fresh leaves and lower stems in summer and liquid feed weekly during warmer months.
There are many different mints apart from the common variety, including apple, pineapple, lemon and peppermint. Most are frost-hardy perennials that spread easily, which is why they are best grown in large pots, not the garden. Keep compost moist at all times and feed with a liquid fertiliser throughout the growing season. Part-shade is best.
Inside or out, parsley will thrive in pots if kept moist, harvested regularly and given a liquid feed occasionally. A little shade is best in summer and a sunny spot in winter. Remove any flowers to ensure plants produce leaves not seed. Both common and flatleaf parsley are biennial (only live for two seasons).
You need a large pot for rosemary as plants can reach a metre in height and spread. Good drainage is essential and rosemary needs very little water, especially during the colder months. In colder places position the container against a sunny wall and mulch around plants or move to a sheltered spot during winter. Trim after flowering to keep it in shape.
Common sage, the one used most often in cooking, is frost tolerant, evergreen and perennial. Plants reach 60cm in height and spread so select a reasonably large container that is not too shallow and has good drainage. Use a mix of composted fine bark and soil-based compost. Trim back after flowering in summer and avoid over-watering.
There are many different thymes to choose from, all frost hardy, evergreen and perennial. Some are very low-growing, others will reach about 30cm in height, and they all do well in containers provided soil is well drained and they get plenty of sun. Avoid fertilisers and keep watering to a minimum.
Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Peter Tarasiuk, Claire Takacs/bauersyndication.com.au