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Versatility of Container Gardening for Medicinal Herbs

I hear from those of you who live in apartments or have no yard, poor soil, or can't get down on the ground any more... Can I still grow my own herbs? Absolutely!

Let's talk container gardening. It's a lot of fun and gives you flexibility and added space. It locks in those aggressive spreading plants like mints and keeps your herbs close to your door where you can quick grab some herbs to cook with or make a tea. There are some basic rules for successful container gardening and some tips and tricks.

First, let's select the right container. If you purchase a clay or terra cotta pot, be aware you will need to water more often. If you choose a metal container, it will get super hot in the summer and may need to water more than once daily. Plastic pots are great, just have a shorter life span while glazed ceramic planters retain moisture and look great but are heavy (if plan to move plants around or in and out doors) and expensive. Wooden planters can be found in large sizes and have great water retention. Choose your style, look for containers you can repurpose and get them ready.

All containers should have drainage holes and if recycling a container, make sure to quickly sanitize it with a 1:9 bleach to water solution.

While selecting your container, consider what you are growing and what size container it needs to be. It is generally better to have a deep container than a shallow wide container. Again, this depends on what you are growing. If you want to grow low growing plants like violets, thyme, gotu kola, you can use shallow and wide pots. I find most of my medicinal herbs work best in a larger, deeper container and require less frequent watering.

There are different soil considerations when container gardening. You want to use a potting mix or potting soil. Do not use top soil or dirt from your garden.

Sometimes I use organic potting mix and add my own additives, other times I make my potting mix. If potting in a large, deep container, I first crisscross sticks in the bottom to take up some space and provide some air flow. I also like to raise my pots off the ground with a plant trivet, corners or brick. There are many recipes for making your own potting mix, but first consider what you are growing. If it is a plant requiring a dry, arid environment (like Aloe vera or sage or lavender, for example) I would add coarse sand, vermiculite and/or pine bark fines to the soil mix. If I wanted to grow a woodland herb in my container (like goldenseal, or blue cohosh or Solomons seal), I would add composted leaves and peat moss to my potting mix.

A recipe for potting mix from Juliet Blankespoor in her book, The Healing Garden, is:

1 part composted manure

1/4 part worm castings

organic fertilizer

She recommends removing the top fourth of the potting soil at the end of the season to add fresh potting mix for the next growing season.

Eric Bergeson of Bergeson Nursery in Fertile, MN recommends potting in sedge peat. Again, this depends on what you are growing. This would be beautiful for your annual flowers or woodland and shade herbs, but not so enjoyed by your arid plants.

Prairie Homestead makes their potting soil with 2 parts coconut coir, 1 part compost and 1 part perlite. There are lots of recipes out there, but I would definitely be including some organic fertilizing additives to this recipe.

Alrighty, so we have the correct containers and potting mix. What are we planting?

One reason I like container gardening is it allows me to grow herbs from different climates than mine. For example, I can grow white sage or lavender, Lemon grass or Rosemary, Lemon verbena or Aloe vera here in MN. I adjust the potting mix to their liking (they don't like rich soils) and then I place them in a sunny spot and put them under the eaves if it is a high rain summer (haven't had those in a few years here in North Central MN).

Or maybe you don't have enough shade for the herbs you want to grow like, Black or Blue cohosh, golden seal, gotu kola or wild geranium. You can adjust your potting mix and place these on a shaded porch or deck.

Here are some ideas of herbs I enjoy placing in containers that do really well for me:

Lavender, Gotu kola, Lemon grass, Lemon verbena, Rosemary, Horsetail, Skullcap, all the kitchen herbs (oregano, thyme, basil, marjoram, etc), Catnip, Spilanthes, Patchouli, Vetiver, Calendula, Self heal, hot peppers, St. johns wort and Lemon balm. Really, you can grow most herbs in a container if you want to.

Containered plants need consistent watering. Stick your finger into the top inch of the soil, if wet, do not water. If it is dry, water. Some recommend a water soluble fertilizer with each watering, but I don't find that necessary. I usually add some organic fertilizer once a month, for some of my plants.

All right, you have about 2 months to source your containers and get them ready for planting in May. Consider adding some medicinal herbs to your home medicinal chest this year that you thought you couldn't grow in your yard. It is exciting.

Have fun!

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