Let’s Plant Some Herbs – Selecting Containers, Soil Mixes for Containers

Selecting Containers:

Decorative pots, barrels, and tubs are beautiful and convenient, and there are multitudes of styles. They lend instant color and provide a focal point for space, whether indoors or out. The only tricky thing is getting a sense of how large a pot you’ll need for a particular herb, so check each herb to determine its mature size. For outdoor growing, keep in mind that it’s easier to grow plants in large containers than small ones because large containers hold more soil, which stays moist longer and is less subject to temperature fluctuations. For most herbs, the ideal container provides enough room for the herb to grow in one season. {For example, place a herb purchased in a 4-inch pot into a 6- to 8-inch pot.} Check the herb’s profile to see how big it’s going to get during the season, and use that as your guide.

You should also consider the size and shape of a plant’s root system, how rapidly it grows, and whether it is a perennial, annual, or shrub. It is especially important to check your pots occasionally to make sure the root systems haven’t outgrown their lodgings. Root-bound plants, which have filled up every square inch of the soil available, dry out rapidly and do not grow well.

Of course, the sizes of the containers you use will be limited by the space you have available {especially indoors}, what structures or furniture will support the containers, and whether the containers will need to be moved.

Whichever container you choose, drainage holes are essential. Without drainage, soil can become water-logged and plants will suffer. With the exception of ceramic-type pots, you can always drill drainage holes yourself. There are also self-watering, double-walled containers and pots on the market, and these are ideal for smaller plants that need frequent watering.

When choosing pots for herbs, you also need to take into account the differences between plastic, clay {such as terra-cotta}, glazed ceramic, and wooden pots. Plastic warms up fast {not an advantage outdoors in areas where summers are hot and dry} and thus dries out quickly, but it’s lightweight and inexpensive. Terra-cotta containers can be attractive and inexpensive; they do transpire moisture through their walls, but they also dry more evenly than plastic. You’ll need to protect terra-cotta pots in colder climates because they can crack or break as they freeze and thaw. Glazed ceramic will retain moisture but can keep plants soaked with water if the drainage holes are not adequate. Wood is natural looking in an outdoor setting and can protect roots from rapid temperature extremes. Polyurethane foam pots are gaining in popularity because they resemble terra-cotta pots but are considerably lighter. However, we do not recommend growing your medicinal plants in this type of material because the toxic hydrocarbons emitted by the foam can enter your herb’s roots. There is one thing to remember, no matter which type of pot you choose: Start with small pots when the plants are young and small, allowing for at least one season of growth.

Let’s Plant Herbs:

Once you’ve made decisions about the placement and possibilities of your setting, you’re ready to select soil mixes and plants. Maybe you already know which herbs you would like to grow or you’re inspired to try a new plant.

Soil Mixes for Containers:

A soil mix needs to do two things: hold the plant’s roots in place and retain the nutrients and moisture it needs. As you learn about herbs you would like to grow, you will notice that they differing nutrient and moisture needs. Herbs that originate in four-season climates and the tropics will appreciate rich soils mixes, and desert or Mediterranean plants will respond better to lean soil mixes.

You can create your own soil mix with just a few garden components. Start with a base of whichever you have on hand, either good topsoil or purchased potting soil. Mix the ingredients in a large tub or wheelbarrow, or on a tarp, and then transfer it to your containers.

Rich Soil Mix:

You can purchase all of these ingredients {except the garden soil} at garden or farm supply stores. Coir {shredded coconut hulls} is a great substitute for non-renewable peat, but coir dries out very quickly, so make sure it is moistened before adding it to your mix.

2 parts garden soil or purchased organic potting soil

2 parts compost

2 parts coir, composted fine bark, perlite, or moistened vermiculite*

1 part horticultural sand

Optional: 1 to 2 parts aged manure, for outdoor mixes

  • Reduce by half if you’re using potting soil

Lean Soil Mix:

2 parts garden soil or purchased organic potting soil

2 parts sand, perlite, or vermiculite

Optional: 1 to 2 parts coir or another tilth-building ingredient, such as coffee grounds or peanut or rice hulls

A variety of “soilless” mixes are available. They often contain peat, which is an endangered, nonrenewable resource {although it’s a superior component of soil mixes}. Check before purchasing soil-less mixes, and always buy a certified organic mix unless you trust the source. You can also make your own soil-less mixes.

Rich Soilless Mix:

2 parts coir, moistened

2 parts compost

1 part sand

1 part aged manure or a combination of blood meal, fish meal, bone meal, or seaweed meal

Optional: 1 part perlite or vermiculite

Lean Soilless Mix:

4 parts coir, moistened

2 parts sand

Optional: 1 part perlite or vermiculite

Moisten with fish emulsion, algae, or seaweed liquid {such as Maxicrop}.

Potting Up Herbs:

If you have purchased plants, fill your empty container half full of your soil mix and gently lift a plant out of its nursery pot by cradling the base of the plant stem between two fingers, turning the pot upside down or sideways, then tapping, squeezing, and easing out the plant. Set it in place in the container. Fill the pot with soil mix, making sure that the soil level is at least an inch or two below the rim of the container and the soil is even with, or slightly higher than, the original soil level of the plant. Firm the soil around the plant.

If you’re starting herbs from seed, fill seedling trays, nursery or paper pots, or clean, recycled containers with seed-starting mix, and directly sow seeds into the mix, following the directions for each herb profile.

Caring for Container Plants:

Once you’ve invested time in planting containers, you will want the herbs to grow well and look their best. Follow these tips for great results.

  • Do not place a layer of gravel or broken pottery at the bottom of your container, as many sources recommend. That practice actually worsens bad drainage, instead of improving it.
  • Water container plants thoroughly, but do not over-water! It is sometimes tricky to determine whether more is needed, but you should keep in mind that most herbs in containers should nearly dry out between watering. You can’t always tell by feeling the soil surface whether the soil throughout the container is dry, but you will want to let the plant get {almost} to the point of wilting before you douse it.
  • Container plants need regular feeding. If the herb likes rich soil, water it with a liquid fertilizer every week or two, just until the fertilizer begins to drain out of the bottom. If it thrives in poorer soil, feed it once a month.
  • Remove dead leaves and spent blossoms, and prune back plants that get leggy or stop blooming. Do not be afraid to dig out or remove plants that do not grow well or that succumb to diseases or pests.
  • If the roots of a plant start to emerge from the drainage holes at the bottom of its container, it’s time to repot! Use a pot that is the next size up, fill it halfway with your soil mix, place your plant in the pot, and continue filling until the soil level is a little bit higher than the original soil level of the herb. Firm the soil around the plant. Sprinkle a little bit of compost on the soil surface, then drench it with a diluted fish emulsion, seaweed, or algae fertilizer; you can also apply compost or comfrey tea.
  • Plan to repot your perennial herbs every year. Each spring, remove the entire plant and its soil from the pot and shake off any soil that comes away easily. If no soil comes off easily {or if you see the plant’s roots coiled tightly around the edge of the root-ball}, it’s time for a bigger pot. Trim away any old, dead plant material and gently loosen any visible coiled roots. Put some new soil in the bottom of the pot [or, if you are transplanting into a larger pot, half fill the new container}, set the plant on the soil, and add more soil around the sides of the plant. Then water the new transplant with liquid fertilizer.
  • If your plant is too big to repot, tend and feed it yearly. Using a trowel, break up the surface of the soil and water it with comfrey tea, compost tea, fish emulsion, or other liquid fertilizer. Then apply a fresh layer of compost – as much as possible, while making sure that your soil level remains at least an inch or so below the rim of the container.
  • In autumn, cut back perennial herbs and reduce your watering schedule. Remove the top layer of compost from your pots and replace it. Bring your tender plants inside before the first frost date. You can leave hardy perennials outside, but group them together against a sheltered wall and mulch them. If severe weather is predicted, cover the entire group of pots with a thick layer of straw or leaves, string with non-LED Christmas lights, or use blankets or other protection.
  • Hanging baskets make great herb containers, but be sure to place them in an easy-to-reach spot so they do not suffer from neglect. They are best located where they will not get full sun all day and won’t experience high winds. Creeping herbs, such as Gotu kola and oregano, are the best choices for hanging baskets. Check them every morning and evening to see if they need water.

Create A Living Herbal Apothecary Outside Your Door

Whether you’re an experienced farmer or completely new to the world of gardening, medicinal herbs offer a unique growing experience. In this article, you’ll learn the steps you need to take to create a living herbal apothecary outside your door. If you have the area to cultivate and would like to grow your own herbs, start right here.

Herbs From the Ground Up:

Gardening begins with the soil; it’s the “ground of our being,” to borrow a phrase. If you take care of the soil, the soil, in turn, will nourish and feed the plants you grow for healing and health.

Soil Types:

An important first step in growing outdoors is to find what kind of soil you have. Take a handful of soil from a couple different places in your yard or on your land, make sure each one is somewhat moist, squeeze it gently in your fist, and then examine it. If the soil in your hand is somewhat sticky and holds together in a ball, it is clay soil. This type of soil is high in nutrients but can be heavy and waterlogged. If the herb you want to grow needs good drainage, you should add sand, gravel, or organic matter to the soil to lighten the texture. But if your herb needs rich soil and moisture, clay soil may be fine.

If your sample is grayish and gritty and falls right through your fingers, it is sandy soil. This soil type drains well, but it allows nutrients to wash away easily so it is considered the leanest soil. It warms up earliest in the spring so it may allow you to get a head start on the growing season. If the herb you want to grow needs rich conditions, you’ll need to add amendments {such as compost, organic fertilizers, and other sources of organic matter} to improve the texture of sandy soil and boost its nutrient content.

If your sample is a rich brown color, smells sweetly earthy, and crumbles easily, it is loam soil. This is the ideal soil type because it holds nutrients and moisture, yet it’s well aerated, so roots can easily expand and grow. Depending on the herb you are planting, you might add sand or gravel for better drainage or compost or aged manure to further enrich the soil.

Your site may have more than one type of soil or even a combination of all three types. But no matter which you have, you should pay attention to the level of organic matter your soil contains. Check to see if the sample in your hand looks like it contains bits of dark-colored humus {organic matter, such as composted plants, tiny pieces of bark, and worm castings}. If your soil is lacking humus, consider working in materials such as finely chopped leaves or compost.

pH levels:

Soil’s acidity or alkalinity is measured by its concentration of hydrogen ions or pH {the power of hydrogen}. You can test a soil sample yourself or send it away for testing to determine its pH level. Most herbs and vegetables prefer pH levels to be in the neutral range {6.5 to 7.5}, but some varieties are tolerant of more widely acid or alkaline soils. Excess acidity or alkalinity {below 5.5 or above 8} will make it difficult for a plant to take up nutrients. Sandy soils are often acidic {below 7}, and chalky or limey soils are alkaline {above 7}, but your local conditions play a role, too. You can buy fairly good, inexpensive testing kits at garden stores if you want to do it yourself, or you can ask your local Cooperative Extension Service about their testing service. They may perform several types of analysis, including measuring levels of organic matter and nutrients, and they will make recommendations for amending the soil to create ideal growing conditions for your plants. For example, if your soil is too acidic, you can add amendments to increase alkalinities, such as limestone, calcium, and wood ashes. If your soil is too alkaline, add sulfur, pine needles, leaf mold {composted leaves}, and even highly diluted urea.

Nutrients:

Plants have nutritional needs, just like we do. The three major nutrients, which are usually included in commercial fertilizers, are nitrogen {N}, phosphorus {P}, and potassium {K}. In purchased fertilizers, you’ll see them represented on the label as three numbers separated by dashes: 5-10-5 {meaning 5 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphorus, and 5 percent potassium}. Plants need smaller amounts of other micronutrients, such as boron, calcium, copper, iron, manganese, and molybdenum, and these are often included in fertilizer mixes, too.

Nitrogen is necessary for plants to develop healthy leaves, and you can provide it in several ways. Good sources of nitrogen include compost, aged manure, blood meal, grass clippings, and fish emulsion. Cover crops, also called green manures, are another.

Phosphorus is important for seed, flower, and root development in plants. Good sources are a bone meal, phosphate rock, compost, and fish emulsion.

Potassium {sometimes called “potash”} helps develop roots and fruits and helps plants take up nutrients. Good sources of potassium include wood ashes, comfrey tea {which is also high in calcium, iron, and manganese}, algae powders {such as Maxicrop}, granite dust, and fish emulsion.

How do you know if a plant needs fertilizer? Even without soil test results, you can follow these simple clues: If your herb is stunted and the stems are thin and stiff, or if the leaves are small, have yellowed, or have even begun to fall off, you may need to add nitrogen {N}. If your herb has leaves that are turning purple on the undersides or at the tips, or if the stems are thin and the plant is growing slowly, you may need to add phosphorus {P}. If your herb begins to look “scorched” at the leaf margins or has bleached spots, the stems are weak and wilting, the leaves are curling, and the growth is stunted, you may need to add potassium {K}.

We garden organically and always have. Over the years, we’ve experimented with various soil amendments, but we always come back to the tried and true, slow acting, self-generating superstar – compost. We apply a few inches of it each year. When you feed the soil according to the needs of the herb in question, the plants will be stronger and better able to stave off disease and pest issues.

If plants show signs of nutrient deficiency, that’s the time to top-dress with a few inches of compost or to water with liquid fertilizers, such as comfrey tea, algae liquid made from commercial powders, or fish emulsion and seaweed fertilizers. Start with a watering can full of liquid, follow the directions on the commercial product {if applicable}, and slowly water the soil around the plant until it begins to run off or the soil appears to be saturated.

If you’ve performed a soil test and you know that you have nutrient deficiencies, you can work in any of the dry nutrients at the rate recommended on the label, depending on the needs of the individual herbs. Or you can simply sprinkle the powder on the soil surface, cultivate the soil to work the fertilizer deeper into the ground, and water well.

Mulch:

Mulch is simply organic material that you lay on top of the soil around your plants. It can be wood or bark chips, dry leaves, straw, crushed rock, or grass clippings. Mulch provides a barrier between the soil and the air, which helps to keep moisture in the soil, and it gradually breaks down to provide organic matter to the soil. Keep in mind that different materials may have varying levels of acidity or alkalinity, and most should not come in contact with the stems or trunks of your plants. If your summers are humid {which means that fungal problems are an issue}, be judicious about adding mulch, because some organic materials can introduce pathogens. Sand, gravel, and stone may be better options for you. You can also use agricultural or landscape fabric; just fasten it down with stakes and cut holes for your plants. These fabric {and black plastic or polyethylene, which we do not recommend} are used as weed barriers and water conservation aids. They have their place, particularly if you live in a dry climate or need to discourage a massive preexisting population of an intractable weed or undesirable plant, such as Bermuda grass, but natural mulches usually do the job just as well.

Light:

Most herbs and vegetables need 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight a day to thrive, but this is a general guideline only. Some plants will tolerate a wide range of light exposure, and their sunlight requirements may vary in your local climate, as well. Each herb has its own individual needs.

Water:

drip irrigationHerbs require water to grow, but how much is enough? Growing powerful medicinal herbs is a playful dance between simulating wild conditions {giving plants the same environmental situations that they would encounter in their homeland} and providing cultivated amenities that might improve their potency and health.

Let’s look at essential oil content. Many of the herbs we grow for medicine {and food} are valued for that constituent, and we might want to pay attention to what increases it. Many members of the Lamiaceae, or mint family {basil, catnip, oregano, peppermint, and thyme} come from Mediterranean climates, where summers are hot and dry and winters are mild. They have adapted to dry conditions for much of the year. It stands to reason that, at some point, their essential oils can be diluted if they are over-watered. Yet research has shown that some supplemental water given to these plants increases their foliage yield and essential oil levels.

Where you, the grower, come in is in determining when you’ve given your plant enough water, but not too much. You’ll want to remember that clay soils hold water longer, sandy soils drain faster, and gardens on sloping hillsides lose moisture {which mulch can help retain}. You’ll have to assess water needs based on your conditions and the season, as well as the needs of the individual plants.

If you plan to garden on a larger scale or have limited garden maintenance time, you may want to consider an automatic watering system that consists of overhead sprinklers, drip irrigation, or a combination of the two. These systems are both time- and work-savers, relatively inexpensive, and often sold in easy-to-use kit forms. Overhead watering mimics nature, of course, and we’ve noticed that plants in a hot, dry environment appreciate the humidity it provides. But overhead watering in the later part of the day can set up ideal conditions for fungal diseases to develop, and it also tends to waste water. Drip irrigation can deliver water where it is needed – at the roots of the plants – through a series of tubes and emitters, but the equipment can be easily damaged and requires a fair amount of maintenance. Talk with a garden center about your needs and read product reviews online to be sure that the system you’re considering is a good match for your needs.

Temperature:

This element comes into play in several different ways. How do you know when to sow seeds or set plants into the ground?

First, of course, there’s the temperature of the soil. Some herbs germinate best in cold soil, some in warm. Then there’s timing: You’ll want to learn the last frost date for your local areas so you’ll know when you can safely plant those tender spring seedlings. You can ask your local Cooperative Extension Service or, of course, do an online search. Armed with this information, you’ll be able to choose herbs from our recommendations wisely.

Let’s Plant Some Herbs – Propagation

Seeding is our favorite form of propagation. A seed is a repository for all the genetic diversity of the ancient wildness of these potent medicinals. When you are looking for medicine in a herb, you want to use the purest, strongest strain of the species you can get; in other words, you want the original, unchanged, wildest form available. So you will not, in most cases, choose a hybrid, which is indicated by a multiplication sign between a plant’s genus and species name or by a proper name within single quotes, like ‘Jenny’. And you won’t choose varieties developed for a wide array of flower colors or disease resistance. Seeds of unselected, wilder species will give you the full range of biodiversity possible for the herb – which makes it perfect for use as herbal medicine.

Most of the herbs featured in this website can be easily sown from seed. You will find instructions for the propagation methods {stem cuttings, root cuttings, root division, and layering} within this article. Our favorite seed sources are listed in the page ‘Buying and Ordering Plants’. We recommend that you seek out certified organic sources or get to know the seed company’s practices personally. We support small, local seed exchanges and regional seed houses whose activities are transparent, and we avoid those that trade in genetically modified or engineered seeds or plants.

Starting Seeds:

There are a few herbs that germinate best when they are seeded directly in the garden. However, most get a better start when sown indoors or in a greenhouse. You can start seeds in purchased seed trays or flats, recycled plastic nursery pots, or just about anything you have available that’s an appropriate size and shape: egg cartons, half clamshells, or paper cups, for example. If you can, start seeds in containers with individual cells. That way, when it’s time to transplant, you won’t have to disturb the seedlings’ roots as much as you would while separating seedlings started in a large container.

Seed-Starting Mix Recipes:

You can purchase an organic seed-starting mix at most hardware or garden stores, or you can make your own. Here are a few sample recipes.

Seed-Starting Mix 1

1 part organic potting soil

1 part perlite or vermiculite

Seed-Starting Mix 2

1 part garden soil

1 part well-sifted organic compost

2 parts horticultural sand or a combination of sand, perlite, vermiculite, and coir

Seed-Starting Mix 3

1 part well-sifted organic compost

1 part perlite or vermiculite

1 part coir

How to Plant Seeds:

Follow these instructions for sowing and nurturing your newly planted seeds.

  1. Make sure your mixture is moist but not soggy. Fill your clean, disinfected containers with the mix, and lightly tamp it down to settle and firm it.
  2. Make a shallow indentation with your finger or a pencil or chopstick and drop several seeds. Unless you’re planning a huge garden, do not sow all of the seeds in a packet; save some for a second sowing or the next season. In most cases, the average individual or family will only need 5 to 20 plants of a particular herb.
  3. Cover the seeds lightly with the seed-starting mix to a depth of two to three times the diameter of the seed. Very small seeds will get just the barest cover or will be pressed into the soil surface.
  4. Water or mist the flat or container gently, label it with the name of the herb and the date and place it in a warm location. If you are starting seeds early in the spring and the seeds need warm soil to germinate, you may want to purchase heating cables or pads {available online} or place the containers near a radiator or heater. A bright east- or west- facing windowsill with indirect light can suffice for germination. Most seeds germinate best between 60 and 80 degrees F.
  5. Label each herb container or tray with the herb name and the date. Keep the seedlings gently watered or misted so they remain moist but not soggy. {And if you will be gone for the better part of each day, cover the containers or trays with sheets of plastic wrap or plastic bags to keep in warmth and moisture. Once the seeds have germinated, remove the covering.} Make sure new emerging seedlings get 6 hours of sunlight daily. If they do not, you will need to supplement with fluorescent, LED, or grow lights. Germination times vary from several days to several weeks.
  6. The first leaves that emerge with germination {called the cotyledons} will be followed by the “true leaves,” which will look more like the mature leaves of the herb. You can transplant a plant to its own container or an outdoor bed after the true leaves have appeared, but it’s best to wait until there are several sets of true leaves and the plant looks healthy and strong.

Transplanting Outdoors:

If you are starting seeds indoors, sow them 4 to 6 weeks before the last spring frost date in your area. Once the frost date has passed, you can safely transplant seedlings into outdoor pots or beds.

As you notice that the young plants are ready, take them outdoors in their seed-starting trays or containers for a few days, and bring them back inside before nightfall. This process is called “hardening off,” and it helps the plants become used to the temperatures and conditions outside. After several days of hardening off, leave the plants outside overnight. Then transplant them into beds or containers, preferably in the late afternoon or on a cool day. If they are going into the ground, dig a hole bigger than the seedling and place a handful of compost or aged manure at the bottom. Place the seedling into the depression and firm the soil around it, burying the main stem slightly deeper than it had been growing in the seed-starting medium. Water it gently.

Stem Cutting:

If you have access to a mature plant of the species you would like to grow, in many cases, you can propagate by stem cuttings. Cuttings will result in a new plant in a matter of weeks, and you’ll have a success rate of 50 to 90 percent, depending on the herb. Cuttings are best taken in spring or early summer.

Here is how to propagate from stem cuttings.

  1. Make a mixture of 1 part sand and 1 part perlite, or 1 part sand and 1 part moistened coir, with an optional smattering of compost tossed into the mix, and moisten it until it is wet but not soggy. This will be your rooting medium.
  2. Fill clean, sterilized pots with the mixture, leaving an inch or so at the rim of the pot. Use your little finger, a pencil, or a chopstick to poke a 2-inch-deep hole in the mix for each cutting you will be starting.
  3. Snip a 4- to 6- inch section of a healthy stem, and remove all leaves from the bottom one-third to one-half of the cutting, leaving the only naked stem on that portion. You may also pinch off the tiny tip of the cutting.
  4. As an option, you can dip the lower half of the stem cutting into rooting hormone or a strong tea made from willow bark or twigs. Insert the cutting into the hole you have poked in the rooting medium. Make sure the area you stripped of leaves is below the soil.
  5. Check the moisture level of the rooting medium once or twice daily. You can also place a plastic bag over the stem cutting, making sure it doesn’t touch the leaves. {Insert a bent coat hanger, chopstick, or another support around and above the cutting.} Then cut slits in the bag to allow fresh air to reach the plant.
  6. Place the cutting in the bright but indirect light. If the air temperature is going to fall below 65 degrees F, consider adding bottom heat {in the form of heating coils or pads} for greater success.
  7. Stem cuttings will form roots in 2 to 4 weeks. After 2 weeks, check to see if the cutting has rooted by gently tugging on its top leaves to see if there is resistance, which is a sign that roots have formed.
  8. As soon as possible after you verify that the cutting has rooted, transplant the seedling into a pot or its permanent location in the ground.

In the fall, you can take hardwood cuttings from woody plants during their dormant period. Mid-autumn id often the best time to collect and plant cuttings, because the plants will have time to form roots before buds begin to grow.

  1. Make a mixture of 1 part sand and 1 part perlite, or 1 part sand and 1 part moistened coir, with an optional smattering of compost tossed into the mix, and moisten it until it is wet but not soggy. This will be your rooting medium.
  2. Fill clean, sterilized pots with the mixture, leaving an inch or so at the rim of the pot.
  3. Collect 4- to 8- inch cuttings from vigorous, 1-year-old wood, a few inches below the tip of the branch or stem. Make a sloping cut at each tip, slightly above a bud, and a straight cut at each base, slightly below the bud.
  4. Place the cuttings 2 to 4 inches apart in the medium, with the top bud of each about 1 inch above the rooting medium’s surface. Be sure the cuttings point upward, and double-check that you have stuck the ends with straight cuts into the medium.
  5. Place the cuttings {along with their rooting medium mixture} in a “nursery” trench that you have dug in the ground soon after you harvest them from the mother plant. This trench will allow them to overwinter before they are planted individually in the ground. Cover the cuttings with 6 to 8 inches of mulch.
  6. Keep the cuttings moist over the winter. Remove the mulch and move your rooted cuttings to their new homes in the spring.

Root Cuttings:

Plants that have taproots {like carrots} are best divided by actually taking slices from the root of the mature plant. This method also works well for plants that have long, creeping roots, rhizomes {underground stems with a root-like appearance} or runners.

  1. Dig the root carefully and gently brush off any excess soil.
  2. If the plant has a taproot, cut off 1-inch slices. If you have a thin creeping rhizome, notice the growing nodes {bumps or lines on the root} and divide the rhizome into sections that each has at least two of these nodes.
  3. Using the same potting mix that you would for stem cuttings, fill a pot one-half to two-thirds full. Lay the taproot or thin root sections on the surface and cover it with more potting mix, to just below the rim of the pot. Do not compress the soil.
  4. Label your new starts and water them well.
  5. When you notice a new plant emerging from the soil surface, you can transplant it into its permanent home.

Root Division:

Sometimes the best way to gain a new plant is to take advantage of someone else’s excess! There are quite a few plants that expand and spread by runners {underground stems} and others that self-seed profusely and form massive plantings. These can be lifted out of the soil and divided, and the resulting sections can be replanted. The same process can renew an older plant that has died out in the center. It’s done with perennial herbs that have fibrous roots {as distinguished from taproots} anytime during the growing season, but is perhaps best done in the fall, when the plants are beginning to die back, or in the early spring, when growth is starting to explode. Of course, check the individual herb to make sure that the herb you are working with is suited to this technique.

  1. Carefully dig and lift up the whole plant, making sure to get as much of the rootball as you possibly can. If the plant is large or unwieldy, you may want to prune it to a manageable size first.
  2. Shake off any excess soil and gently tease the root mass apart, sensing where it most easily wants to separate.
  3. If the root is large, hard to separate, or very dense, you can use a weeding tool, a digging fork, or even clippers or scissors to separate the roots.
  4. Replant all sections immediately, either into pots or in the garden. If the herb likes a richer soil, fill the new holes with compost to give the divisions some nutrition for the journey to maturity.
  5. If you haven’t already, prune the above-ground portions by at least half so that the newly disturbed roots won’t have to feed as much plant matter.
  6. Water thoroughly.

You can also use the same technique to separate offsets and side shoots from parent plants. Remove younger, smaller shoots from the outer edges of a rootball by breaking or cutting them off, making sure that each piece you remove has its own root system. Replant the offshoots immediately to the same depth as the original plant, and water it thoroughly.

Layering:

This is the oldest method of propagation, and it’s one that happens naturally as certain herbs age. The long, leggy stems of some plants droop down and rest on the soil, and when they touch at a node {a raised area on the stem where the leaf attaches}, roots will form. You can mimic this process by layering selected plants to create offspring.

  1. Choose a strong, healthy stem, and notice where it will easily dip to the earth. Remove all the side shoots and leaves from a 6- to 12- inch section at the point of soil contact.
  2. If you wish, you may use a knife to gently scrape the underside and outer woody portion of the stem for 1 to 2 inches at the point of soil contact.
  3. Fluff or rough up the soil where you plan to bring the stem into contact with it, mixing in a thin layer of compost or watering with liquid fertilizer.
  4. Press the stem to the earth. Anchor the stem with a stake, a U-shaped piece of wire, a stone, or something similar. Mound a layer of soil over the anchored section of the stem.
  5. Keep the area moist. Layering is a long process, but if you start in the spring, you should be able to separate your new plant in the fall.
  6. When roots form, snip off the portion that connects the new plant to the mother plant. Pot up the new plant immediately. If it’s going into the ground, transplant it in the fall, or keep it in a sheltered spot and wait until the following spring.

You can use this same technique to layer potted plants, too. Pull a runner or a long stem from the mother plant, and set it on top of the soil of a new pot. Make sure it is secure, as directed above. When it roots, you have a new potted herb already nestled in.

Let’s Plant Some Herbs – Explaining Propagation Terminology

Seed-starting is one of the easiest and enjoyable parts of herbal gardening, but some seeds require special consideration and procedures to ensure germination.

Cotyledon: The first leaf or one of the first pair of leaves to unfold as a seed germinates. Cotyledons generally do not resemble the plant’s actual leaves.

Damping Off: A fungal disease that causes seedling stems from shriveling and collapsing at the soil level.

Dark-dependent germination: Seeds that need a light barrier in order to germinate. Most times, if there’s not quite enough darkness, the germination level may be reduced, but many seeds will still germinate.

Germination: The initial growth of a seed.

Inoculant: A bacterial microbe, usually found in powder or liquid form, that is applied directly to seeds in the Fabaceae {legume} family to improve germination.

Light-dependent germination: Seeds that require light to germinate. These seeds are pressed onto the surface of the soil and kept moist until germination occurs.

Multi-cycle germination: Seeds that require a warm cycle, a cold cycle, and another warm cycle before they germinate. This can sometimes require more than a year for germination.

Rooting hormone: A synthetic version of a natural plant hormone that can encourage root formation on stem cuttings. Commercial rooting hormones are available in garden centers and online in powder form, but they are not approved for organic use.

Scarification: The process of abrading the seed surface to make it more permeable. Some seeds have hard seed coats that need to be broken down so that they can germinate. In nature, this happens when they pass through the digestive tract of an animal or are exposed to rough, changeable weather conditions. You can mimic this process by gently rubbing the seeds with sandpaper, nicking them with a sharp knife {if they are large enough} or dropping them in boiling water and then letting them cool to room temperature.

Seed: A plant embryo and its supply of nutrients, often surrounded by a protective seed coat.

Seedling: A young plant grown from a seed.

Stratification: Exposing seeds to a period of cold to break dormancy. Cold stratification helps germinate seeds that would naturally go through freezing temperatures in the winter. You can either sow in the fall and leave the flat outdoors, where it will experience the natural rise and fall of the seasonal temperatures, or, if your winter is not frigid, you can artificially create those cool conditions: In a plastic bag, mix the seed with moist sand or vermiculite, label the bag, and place it in the refrigerator for at least 3 to 4 weeks. You can also place the bag in the freezer occasionally to simulate winter weather.

Growing An Aromatic Herb Garden

The first or original aromatic herb gardens were developed by the Persians sometimes over 2,000 years back in the courtyards of their residences. Generally, these herb gardens were of square or rectangular shape and usually they were separated into four by streams that originated from a centrally located fountain. These enclosed scented herb gardens were called pairidaeza, which was derived from the word ‘paradise’. The Persians are known to be outstanding gardeners and their ‘paradise’ essentially included three major features – running water, aroma, and shade.

In fact, the Byzantine church was mainly instrumental in making the concept of such scented herb garden popular in the western regions of Europe, earlier in the structure of cloister gardens, which were soon found in all monasteries in the region. The concept of a walled, scented garden was readily accepted by the traditional Christianity during the medieval times. In effect, it was something familiar to observing the entire creation in a representational term. By now, the references in the Bible, since the Garden of Eden to the Song of Songs, had corroborated gardens like these in the form of illustrations of the Paradise itself.

Way back in 1260, a Dominican monk Albertus Magnus spelled out the prerequisites for developing ideal pleasure gardens. He specified that the scented herb gardens ought to have a fountain plus a lawn, comprising all perfumed herbs, for instance, sage, rue and basil and similarly, include every type of flowers, counting lily, violet, rose, columbine, iris and those similar to these blooms. In addition, Albertus also recommended that there ought to be a vast assortment of aromatic and therapeutic herbs at the back of the lawn. At the same time, he emphasized that the flowers should not be there just to please the sense of smell by their fragrance, but also to enliven the sense of sight by their color and beauty.

The crusaders had already introduced the rose into the western regions of Europe. Actually, the original connotation of the term rosary is said to be an encircling rose garden that is devoted to the Virgin Mary. While the initial rosaries were developed on the sacred or hallowed ground, paintings from the 16th century depict that the pattern was espoused in gardens owned privately, wherein the rose gardens, as well as arbors (retreats), were developed by the rich and royals.

Lilium candidum (Madonna lily), attractive and extremely perfumed, was among the other blessed flowers that were grown by the Christian church in the earliest times. On the other hand, in the gardens of the monastery, lilies and roses were grown in concert along with particularly fragrant herbs like rosemary and lavender. Historians who specialized on gardens are of the view that the medieval romance garden, as well as the Renaissance love garden, were mainly rose plus herb gardens, which were held in high esteem both for their visual features as well as their efficacy.

The era of Queen Elizabeth I’s sovereignty is considered to be the prime of such scented herb gardens. During this period, people took delight in pleasantly aromatic food, clothes, and rooms. It is documented that the mistress of one manor house during the Elizabethan reign cultivated aromatic flowers as well as fragrant plants in a private formal garden generally fenced by rose briers plus fruit trees for enjoying a walk as well as sitting in the garden. In addition, the aromatic herb garden was also utilized to supply the ingredients for the mistress’ still room. In her still room, the mistress made ‘sweet waters’ using rose petals and flowers of rosemary as well as curative lotions using the stems of the spikes of lavender and the Madonna lily. Scented herbs, such as rue and hyssop, were cultivated to cover the floors of rooms with a view to disinfect the air, while they’re dried up flowers were packed into pillows and cushions to support sound sleep.

A contemporary herb garden also comprises herbal plants, which are esteemed for their fragrant attributes. In fact, a scented herb garden is a place which you may possibly want to visit to relax yourself following a hectic day. Such a garden may perhaps be made up of a small number of pleasingly aromatic herbs grown in containers and placed in one corner of the porch, a vast garden having sitting area, or simply comprise numerous aromatic herbs grown along a preferred pathway in your courtyard.

It may be noted that the majority of the aromatic herbs usually emit their fragrance more when someone brushes against them or touches them. In addition, a pleasant waft will also transport the fragrant scent of the herb throughout the yard and to you. Remember this aspect when you are deciding on the place where you desire to have your scented herb garden. It would surely be an excellent idea to have it close to your home.

When we are talking about aromatic herbs, you may choose from a wide variety of them. Take into account that simply for the reason that a herb is aromatic, it does not imply that you will alone take delight in its fragrance. Prior to selecting as well as planting your desired scented herb garden, you need to take the aroma of every plant with a view to ensure that its scent gives you pleasure.

Fragrant Herbs for the Garden

As mentioned above, there are assortments of aromatic herbs from which you may choose for your scented herb garden. Below is a list of such scented herbs which most people believe have a delightful fragrance. However, this list should never be considered to be a complete or final catalog of scented herbs, as there are a great many amazingly aromatic herbs which may be compiled in a list in this article. It is advisable that before you purchase any herb, you should personally examine every herb by rubbing a leaf of the plant and inhaling its aroma to ensure that it releases an aroma that you may find to be delightful. The fact remains that the same aroma is not preferred by everyone and this is something which makes the world revolve.

Generally, people consider basil to be a herb that is mostly used for cooking. However, the irrefutable fragrance of this herb is pleasing as well as comforting. Catnip is another herb which emits a pleasant aroma, you ought to be conscious that the kitties in your neighborhood would also get pleasure from this plant and may perhaps result in some kind of a untidiness in your desired scented herb garden.

Cultivating catmint has a special reward and that is the loaded scent of cinnamon. This herb is really an attractive addition to any scented garden. While Nepeta Grandiflora comes to flower first and is generally incorporated in early collections, Nepeta siberica flowers during the later part of summer and is generally incorporated in the later classifications. Following the blooming of both these herbs, cut them to a height of a couple of inches, as this will encourage fresh growth as well as flowering for a second time. Several beneficial butterflies and insects visit these plants, which are frequently used in the form of an under planting for white as well as pink roses.

While most people usually think that the herb chamomile is used for preparing tea, it may be noted that this herb is also attractive and the flowers, as well as foliage, have a marvelous scent enlivening your garden.

Special mention needs to be made regarding Roman chamomile, which is among the small plants that are loaded with the aroma. Having the aroma that has a resemblance to a Jolly Rancher bitter apple candy, Roman chamomile makes a fragrant vivid green cover for the ground in places having cool summer climatic conditions. In England, this herb is frequently used to jam the fissures between the blocks of the pavement. In addition, Roman chamomile, which is also known as the English chamomile, is also used in the form of a path cover or maybe in the form of a soft cover for a bench.

In addition, you may also use Roman Chamomile to prepare an aromatic alleyway or a pleasant scented amaze grown among other plants in the garden. In case the herb is able to push its way against other plants in its vicinity, Roman Chamomile may even grow up to a height of a foot when it is in bloom.

Feverfew is another herb that has gorgeous flowers, but the majority of the plant’s aroma is released by means of its foliage and making it a pleasant inclusion in any scented herb garden. On the other hand, lavender has always been a preferred herb for gardeners growing scented herbs. The leaves, as well as the flowers of lavender, give off a potent, but comforting aroma.

The herb lemon balm derives its name from the plant’s leaves, which possess an aroma similar to that of lemons. Numerous herbal gardeners actually admire the fresh fragrance of this plant. Recognize the value of the fact that lemon balm multiplies very fast and has the aptitude to invade your garden rapidly provided its growth is not kept under control.

Mint is also an aromatic herb which may be somewhat invasive, but still, it is favored for its fresh fragrance. There are various species of mint and you may choose from spearmint, peppermint, orange mint or chocolate peppermint for growing in your scented herbal garden. Provided you restrict the growth of the different species of mint in different areas of your herbal garden, each species will be capable of releasing its distinct aroma.

Scented geraniums do not blossom very frequently nor are they eye-catching like their cousins, which are just known as geraniums. However, they emit an amazing fragrance which makes this species among the most excellent plants to be grown in any scented herbal garden. In fact, there is an assortment of scented geraniums for you to choose from for your garden. The wide variety of scented geraniums comprises cinnamon, apricot, lemon, apple, ginger, orange, nutmeg, rose, strawberry, and peppermint are only among a few of them. One needs to touch the leaves of this plant for them to emit their rich fragrance, therefore ensure that you grow these scented plants close to the boundary of your scented herbal garden. It may be noted that scented geraniums are subtle plants and in most places, they would require moving indoors during the winter months.

Anise hyssop is neither a mint nor a genuine licorice, but this herb certainly enhances the fragrance of licorice candy to your scented herbal garden. In addition, licorice mint (anise hyssop) is a wonderful culinary herb and may be used for cooking or dried up to prepare a tea. You may try to infuse some amount of this herb in milk and freeze it to prepare an ice cream. Usually, shear licorice mint returns to the ground following flowering during mid spring and again appears in the form of a small green hedge for the remaining growing season. Alternately, you may allow the plant to provide for little birds and disperse the seeds of the plant for a crop of seedlings to appear voluntarily during the subsequent spring. Whatever you may do, this plant will keep on enhancing the aroma of the herbal garden till frosting. Generally, the plants wither away and return to the ground when it frosts. Ensure that you mark the place where you are growing this plant so that it is not removed prior to its re-emergence during the next spring.

This list is likely to help you to start work on your scented herbal garden. However, always bear in mind to spend some time to personally inhale the smell of the entire herbs that are obtainable from your neighborhood gardening center prior to deciding on the specific herbs you would like to grow in your personal scented herbal garden. In fact, it will not be a very easy task choosing the herbs you would prefer to grow because there are far too many varieties available.