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Best Comment on Whether to Plant Herbs in Containers or Ground, Solo or with Company


response to a question re whether to plant herbs alone or together, in ground or in containers (obviously I’m trying to make this decision today, and will prob. do a mix of in ground and in planters based on this)…

RE: herbs in containers vs in the ground


I was once told by an old and very experienced horticulturist that ‘God didn’t make pots, and he didn’t make houses, either!’. Which was his way of saying that neither is a natural ‘home’ for plants.

I’ve learned that he was right – up to a point. Herbs WILL grow in pots, as long as you remember that pots are high maintenance.

They need special potting mix, not garden soil which will compact down to rock-hardness very quickly. They need more water, more fertiliser and occasional repotting either to replace dead soil, or to allow the plant to spread a bit more. You see, keeping plants in pots is not unlike keeping a canary in a cage. It doesn’t have the space to spread out as far as it would do in the garden, and that means it will rarely or never get to optimum size, and it will never become truly independent of your care.

Now, my experience is that those multiple-planted pots you see in plant nurseries are very nice for gift-giving, but they are only very temporary arrangements. Plants, like people, like their own space, especially when it’s limited, and they’ll fight for it. One plant will always out-compete another over time – either by its roots choking out the others, or by more successfully accessing the water and nutrients. So it’s something I never recommend.

For a beginner, especially, you need to learn about the individual requirements of all your plants – things like room to move, sunlight, water, fertiliser etc. This is easiest to do if you have one plant per pot.

Another thing is that most beginners are surprised to learn just how BIG most herbs can get! Take a look at this picture (link below), with my rosemary in the background. It has grown considerably since the photo was taken, and gets a regular drastic haircut to keep it to manageable size in my very small garden. My basils get almost as big.

Plants have an effective way of telling you when they’re not happy. They sulk, then they die, just to spite you! Watch them, and listen to them as individuals. One might be perfectly happy in a pot (for a while), while another will hate it. One might be very comfortable on your back porch, while another might really yearn to be out in the garden doing its thing.

You’ve started off wisely by giving them large pots. The babies might look a little lost at first, but you’ll be rewarded in the end by much happier plants. Don’t force friendships between them, however – keep each plant in its own separate housing arrangements! The plant world is a very competitive one, and they fight to the death!


Here is a link that might be useful: rosemary

4 responses to “Best Comment on Whether to Plant Herbs in Containers or Ground, Solo or with Company

  1. Ralph ⋅

    Most of my herbs have been container grown. A couple like my over wintered scallions and basil stay on the same west facing window sill they were on all winter. I also grow basil in the ground and they grow quite a bit larger there. The rest of my herbs are container grown and reside on the top deck rails right outside the back door. As I’ve heard quite a few times, if herbs are easy to reach (close at hand) they are more likely to be used. I’ve been known to take a quick dash outside in the rain to grab a few. I would think twice if I had to go down to the garden.

    Last year I intentionally put some of all my herb seeds (except spearmint) in a single pot. Once they got growing it became obvious that their different growth rates was going to be a problem. A few (red clover comes to mind) grew so fast they crowded and left smaller plants fighting for sunlight. With careful selection I may have had better results, but limiting a pot to 1 or 2 varieties at most works much better and is easier to manage. 1 or 2 varieties in a pot seems to work best for me. I had an idea to make a long box with actual dividers to split the soil into smaller areas for different herbs, but I have yet to make it.

    I take the soil in most of my pots and just dump it in the garden at season’s end replacing it with new soil the next season. A couple, like spearmint and strawberries which just keep growing back when it starts warming up I have left in the same pot and soil for multiple years. It may not be the best idea but they don’t seem to mind it too much.

    Also true is containers being high maintenance. In very hot weather some required a couple waterings per day or they would droop. Also, in high winds containers have blown off the rails, so I need to put them on the ground. On the up side, for things which like lots of sun, containers are easy to move around and maximize sunlight. Some of mine get moved around regularly for that reason.

    So, containers or in the ground- a definite YES. Both have advantages, and if there is little or no in the ground space containers are a good alternative. A few years my containers outperformed my in ground plants, so if possible give both a try. Containers can be store bought, or even re-purposed food containers. I have a number of plants growing in takeout soup containers and old plastic Tupperware like food storage containers. Punch a small hole in the bottom and they’re good to go. Recently I started putting a few leaves in the bottom to cover the hole so soil doesn’t come out with excess water. I’ve even used an empty cardboard butter container to start tomato seeds, but don’t over water or it will fall apart.

  2. Ralph ⋅

    In spite of having ordered seeds for them, I bought small pots of spearmint, rosemary, oregano, and thyme. I figured the starters would make up for my late start planting seeds. I did plant some stevia in a pot, this time being careful not to let them get too much sun which is what killed them last year. I still have some left over stevia seeds which I may plant too.

    My in ground wormwood from last year bent over and is laying flat on the ground, but all the stems are growing straight up off the main stem. Tke main stem is about an inch in diameter and looks like a tree branch. I hate to kill it since I seen how effective it is at getting rid of ants- and probably other critters.

    The bamboo is growing like crazy, liking it’s new home. At last check there were about 9 new culms, the first over 8 feet tall. I can understand the warnings about putting it in open ground without taking precautions to contain it.

    As far as containers, I would strongly recommend them. They overcome many problems by being portable and easy to access. It is easy to keep plants separate, move them into or away from heavy rain, control the amount of sun they get, easy to water, and seem to have less weed and insect problems. They do need to be watched as they tend to dry out faster, but depending on what’s in them that can be a good thing.

    Containers can be inexpensive, even free. I use everything from empty yogurt containers to quart size take out containers, and those pastry size containers with fold-over covers make great small greenhouses for seed starting. Many have plastic wrapping with all the printing which can be removed leaving a plain white container. Smaller sizes fit on window sills. I use all of them. They are food grade and will last quite a while. Putting them to use is better than putting them into landfill too.

    • Revel

      I did the same thing – buying small plants because I’ve thought I got the seeds in too late. I like to recall something a neighbor friend, who had worked in the Parks Dep’t for many years, told me when I asked him when he thought it was too late to plant something. He said it’s never too late, which probably technically is true if you’re willing to not have everything in the ground. You’re right – there’s a real beauty to using planters in that they are definitely more flexible. Bring them in if it’s too cold; put them out when the weather’s right. There is, of course, a certain ease to having your plants in the ground and not even have the responsibility of moving them about. But, if you don’t mind passing the time moving them around, making sure they don’t dry out, and generally keeping them happy, the effort is well worth it.

      Would you recommend any place in particular for wormwood? I think it would be great to keep ants away from the peach tree this year. It’s had ant problems for a while, including last year when I tried using chalk around the the stone border at the base of the tree. It had an impact at first — at least it seemed to — but the chalk washed away with the rain and even dry, the little critters were still back in a few days if I didn’t keep applying more chalk.

      During the year, I save yogurt containers and egg cartons for seed starting. Although I’m trying to move away from the use of plastic in the garden altogether, it’s hard to deny the convenience of the yogurt containers. I like the idea of using the pastry size containers with fold over covers — that’s what I like about the egg cartons too. I keep the lid to close it at night if it’s too cold.

      Look forward to hearing more about what’s growing in your garden this year. Go ahead … gimme the dirt!

  3. Ralph ⋅

    Glad to have you back writing again. You’re right, I forgot about the egg cartons. As far as the plastic goes, food containers are food grade plastic, typically HDPE or LDPE (High/Low Density Poly Ethylene) and do not emit chemicals link vinyl and many other plastics. I don’t have a problem with food grade plastics, they have been produced before I got them and I put them to use rather than throw them out. It’s a personal choice.

    As for wormwood, I can tell you in the ground they survive through the winter, wind, rain, snow and keep growing next season. Since my soil is full of rocks it’s hard to get a stick deep enough to be sturdy, so my attempts at holding my wormwood up have failed. BTW, there are a number of different types of wormwood. I have artemisia absinthium sometimes called grand wormwood. Mine fell over, kept growing and now covers a space of about 3×3 feet because the main stem is laying flat on top of the ground- and it looks healthy. In the ground I would keep it away from your main garden space because it does get big, and I suspect the mass of small yellow flowers will produce lots of self seeding. I cut most of the dried flowers off mine last year. So far I haven’t been over run with it so I can’t say for sure if it’s invasive. The main stem of mine is about the diameter of my thumb. I do have some in a pot at work but it does not seem to like only artificial light. Reminding me about those flowers, I will sprinkle them on some soil and let you know what happens- you’re welcome to them if they grow (and a Red Ti since I still have a few of those). Wormwood is also medicinal, back to 1600BC in ancient Egypt if I recall. I got my seeds from Seed Savers Exchange, they are small. Some internet research on it will prove interesting. I eat a small piece of mine every now and then.

    From what I’ve read, lots of ants are an indicator of a food source for them, possibly aphids which ants actually protect or maybe just the sweetness of the peaches. Short of identifying their food source wormwood ‘tea’ has worked wonders getting rid of ants. I’ve tried using cheap talcum powder on them. Same idea as chalk, it is like sharp glass sand to them, but as with your chalk once wet it becomes it’s ineffective.

    Having not answered your question, I would plant it away from the main garden or in a container. I haven’t noticed it yet, but supposedly it’s roots emit a chemical that keeps other plants away. For a tree you could make a tea, put the leaves in hot water, let them steep, and spray the strained liquid. The left over leaves can be put on the ground around the tree along with plain picked leaves. I’ve done this with tomato and spearmint and aside from the ants disappearing it had no effect on the plants- the wonders of Mother Nature!

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