Size - and drainage - matter when it comes to growing herbs in containers. Cuteness does not.
My 24-year-old daughter, like many of her generation, has rediscovered the simple delights of domestic arts. When she isn't out trying to conquer the world, she cooks, creates and decorates.
Lately, she's become enamored of the utilitarian Mason jar. She uses these humble vessels to hold everything from her homemade barbecue sauce to bouquets to Q-tips. She even freezes them for frosty cold cocktail glasses.
But when she told me she was going to grow herbs in Mason jars, the master gardener in me had to say something.
After I rattled off a few necessary growing requirements for herbs -- you know, things like adequate sunlight and drainage -- she insisted, "But I saw it on Pinterest." I logged on, and, sure enough, there was a photo of Mason jars clipped onto a weathered board at a jaunty angle. Planted in the jars were cilantro, oregano and rosemary. It was really cute -- and completely impractical.
Petite potted herbs make great table decorations or party favors, as long as you don't expect them to thrive or produce a bounty.
I got my daughter to give up on the Mason jars. Now her patio is filled with a variety of good-sized containers full of healthy, delicious herbs ready for her favorite recipes.
Here's what swayed her:
Let the sun shine
Herbs do well in pots. In fact, they're among the plants best suited for growing in containers. Even if you don't have a garden, you can grow herbs on a balcony, patio or window sill. However, most herbs -- especially ones of Mediterranean origin like rosemary, oregano, thyme and lavender -- need lots of sun, typically 6 to 8 hours a day.
Room to grow
While many herbs are described as drought-tolerant, that doesn't mean they can go without water. When planted in small containers (Mason jars, tea cups and other cute little vessels), they can dry out quickly. That's why it's important to pick a container of adequate size. A 6-inch pot is the smallest you should use for herbs, and then only if watering is one of your favorite hobbies.
Instead of planting a single herb in a too-small pot, consider planting three herbs of the same variety in a 10- or 12-inch pot. A larger pot allows for more time between waterings and also allows more room for the roots to develop, resulting in bigger plants.
Too-small containers also can cause plants to become root-bound, which keeps the plants smaller and can stress them, triggering early flowering, something not desired when the leaves are harvested for use in the kitchen.
Poor drainage is the kiss of death for herbs. If you plant them in containers without drain holes, you might be able to maintain them for a few weeks doing a delicate dance between supplying small amounts of water and letting them dry, but why bother? Go for cute containers if you must, but make sure they have drain holes.
And don't forget to feed your herbs. When grown in pots, herbs need regular fertilization, whether you choose an organic or a synthetic solution. (Here again, those drain holes help. They allow salts that accumulate with frequent fertilizing to leach out of the soil.)