It’s been a gorgeous summer and my container garden is thriving. This year, it includes several large herb plants I successfully overwintered for the first time ever. Even the lemon verbena I forgot for weeks at a time during the winter sprouted plentiful leaves from its sticks. My jalapeno from last year is still going strong and I’ve sprouted many new herbs and salad greens from seed.
Today, I received questions from a friend who would love to know more about gardening but is feeling a bit overwhelmed. Her questions mirror many I’ve been answering since I started paying more attention to my plants.
How do you know all this stuff? How do I learn?
Growing up gardening and cooking has probably given me a bit of an edge, but that didn’t magically make me great with plants. Over time, I grew to appreciate (and water) them more. I manage my urban container garden through experimentation as well as plenty of advice from fellow plant lovers and Google. It’s amazing what great answers you can get when you enter a decent description of something you found in your soil!
What can I start right now?
Being late summer, I wouldn’t recommend flowers, fruits, veggies, or anything you’re not going to overwinter this late in the season. The exception is that you should plant spring bulbs in the fall.
Herbs are great for immediate green thumb gratification year round. They’re easy to grow and most bugs and critters will leave them alone. Actually getting to enjoy the fruits of your labor will make you a much happier gardener. You can also seed salad greens now. There is nothing like homegrown arugula harvested minutes before dinner.
My plants are sun lovers that enjoy hot, dry, southern exposure outdoors in the summer, and sunny windowsills in the winter (South, East, or West), but many of them would tolerate a bit more shade and water. All of these herbs have done well for me: mint (in its own container ONLY, mint is invasive and will take over), oregano, rosemary, lemon verbena, basil, lemon basil, lemongrass, sage, and dill.
The one herb I have found challenging to keep alive is cilantro because the heat makes it dry out and bolt (blossom) more quickly than other herbs.
Should I get plants or seeds?
A few weeks ago, I planted Genovese basil, lemon basil, dill, and arugula seeds for a late summer crop. The plants are looking great but delicate. Approaching September, you’ll be better off getting plants because they’ll be stronger for winter.
As soon as you buy herb plants, be sure to transplant them. This is probably the biggest mistake most of us make with container plants, but it applies to any house plants you get from the store. Gently massage their roots when you transplant because they’re usually already root bound and need to breathe to thrive. Give each plant a larger container with more soil immediately, and give them as much outdoor time in their new containers as you can before autumn.
When the season gets cooler and darker, plants start responding to the change in light and temperature, so late September or mid-October is a good time to bring them indoors. I like to select my strongest plants and upgrade their pots a month or two before bringing them indoors to really maximize their summer growing season. Doing this improves their chances of staying healthy through winter.
By overwintering (growing indoors during the winter), you can enjoy fresh herbs year round and get a jump start in the spring with full grown plants.
Happy planting! What are your favorite gardening tips?