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Container Herb Gardens

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If you have dreamed about an herb garden, you can make your dreams come true with very little effort, space, time or energy.

Plants like basil, dill, parsley, cilantro, chives, oregano, and thyme all do well growing in containers. Buy kits or already-planted pots, or create your own garden by buying containers or window boxes and selecting your favorite seedlings.

Create a specialized herb garden. Try a Mediterranean garden with a mix of basil, oregano and parsley. Or a pickle garden with cucumber, dill and garlic. How about a salad garden with lettuces, spinach or chives? The possibilities are endless depending on your desires and imagination.

Start out small to make your garden a pleasant success. Determine plant requirements from the seed packet or plant label. Plant each herb in its own container or mix herbs with like sunlight and water requirements together in a larger container. Move to a sunny window indoors when winter comes.

Basil is a favorite container-grown herb. It needs well-drained soil (a container with multiple drain holes) and six to eight hours of sunlight. Harvest your basil frequently; it responds to pinching off leaf and stem tips by putting out new growth. Pinch off flowers to prevent seed production and diminished leaf flavor. Basil adds flavor to salads and pasta.

Oregano is easy to grow, thriving in containers big or small. Leaves are packed with flavor; add them to pizza, chopped tomatoes in salad, salad dressings and marinades or as a topping on warm bread.

Pull rosemary leaves off the woody stems, finely chop and add to meats and potatoes while cooking. Use the woody stem to skewer vegetables for the BBQ. Add a bunch of stems, with leaves on, to the coals to add a nice smokiness to your meal. Rosemary likes its soil with a little less moisture.

Try accent herbs like parsley, cilantro and chives. These can be snipped to add to your dinner plate. All three like sunshine and do well together, making a pretty green pot with different textures.

Make herb butters from extra fresh herbs. Finely chop any flavor combination that sounds good to you and mix into a softened stick of butter. Form into a log, wrap in wax paper and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Cut into medallions to put on fish or meats, breads or vegetables.

Don’t forget about mint. Mix several different “flavors” like spearmint, peppermint or chocolate mint in the same container. The mint family prefers moist soil and is well suited to container growing; it is an aggressive grower and will easily fill your container. Add whole leaves to summer drinks or winter hot teas. Chop into fruit salads or on ice cream. Add lemon balm to your mint pot for a lemony flavor for fish, fruit salads, and ice cream.

To create a container herb garden, match the container size to the number of herbs to be planted in it. Size, shape and container color allow for personal expression. Drainage and a good potting soil are key. Containers need six to eight hours of sunlight and easy access to water. Harvest often by pinching off plant tips. Enjoy the taste of your fresh home-grown herbs.

Diane Miller is a University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener of Tuolumne County.