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coolJ,

You have so many options! Herbs are one of the easiest kind of plant to grow.

Since you "have no idea where to start"... and since it's so late in the season, I would highly recommend going to your local greenhouse or nursery or even Lowe's or Home Depot or your local farmer's market. Find one with a good selection of starter plants. (You can call ahead and make sure they have them in stock.) Many of them will have them discounted now because it is later in the season. This way you'll have an instant garden. Seed would be cheaper but you'd have to wait a month and a half to even begin harvesting.

Herbs make great container plants. You'll want the pots to be at the very minimum 6" deep so as to give the roots enough room to grow. Herbs to not prefer fertilizer. This decreases their oil content which give them such aromatic scents and flavors.

If you grow them in pots, it will be very easy for you to weed. You probably won't have much trouble at all - if any. You could always cover the top of the soil with a light "mulch" like woodchips, pea gravel, etc. This will not only prevent weeds but also retain moisture in the soil so they don't dry out so quickly and you won't have to water as much. Also, there are clay, glazed porcelian, and plastic pots. Clay is breathable and will dry out quicker, not to mention the pot heat's up quicker in the sun. The other two won't dry out as quickly. Make sure you have plenty of drainage holes in the bottom of your pot. Herbs are happier when they can "dry out" as opposed to being moist all the time. This is why they are so hardy and good for poor soils. So make sure you don't spend $1.75 on a 40 pound bag of top soil [EVER]. That stuff is made mostly of ash and will suffocate the root system (Imagine adding a little water to ashes and how clay like it gets.) [And, if you ever want to make a raised bed or just bring in topsoil, call around to local landscaping places, ask their recommendations for a supplier for topsoil for a garden. They can give you names of reputable dealers who won't shortchange you. For $10 you can get a bunch of good, processed topsoil with 25% coffee grounds added as compost.]

My favorite is "Nutribase" it is a soiless growing mixture and I can't speak highly enough about it, it comes in a yellow bag. If you can't find that, Miracle Grow has really good stuff. What you want is a big huge bag for about $7.00 - $9.00 that looks a lot heavier than it is. This means your soil is light and will be able to breathe. Those roots need oxygen as much as they need water.

The bigger your pot and the more room your roots have to grow, the bigger your plants will be. Last year, I had a wide variety of herbs in clay pots that were 9" deep. They looked wonderful clustered together and I could bring a plant in anytime I wanted to so I could pick off what ever I wanted to cook with. (of course, you can always pinch them off outside, less exercise that way.)

A window box would be great outside your kitchen window if it is condusive to you being able to water it and pinch off what you need. Also, as far as containers, you can also use found objects, like a wheelbarrow, a large old metal container, etc. You can also use a strawberry planter, this way you'll have a single container with a multitude of herbs.

Herbs love full sun, heat, & plenty of drainage. "Full sun" means a location that receives constant sun exposure for six to eight hours every day. This is extremely important for herbs. The more sun, the better. If you want them to grow indoors, I would highly recommend a grow light. They are very inexpensive ~$5-7 and you can find them almost anywhere. Or you just need a portable light fixture and a bulb specifically for this purpose (bulbs will run ~$1.00. Either way, this also makes them dry out quickly so be sure to water them every day (unless you use some type of mulch).

Since you're new at this, I would recommend getting your feet wet with the basics: dill, oregano, chives, basil, rosemary, Italian flatleaf parsley, thyme, sage, lavender, and mints. If you are an experienced cook and have favorite herbs you consistently use, look for those.

The more you get into it, and once you have your first year of experience, you'll enjoy branching out into the different varieties of each type of herb, for instance, there are ~20 different edible types of basil alone. Or the more delicate herbs like chervil, cilantro, and watercress. I'm primarily talking about culinary herbs but there are also the ornamental and medicinal herbs as well.

How much is it going to cost? You can find small starter plants for anywhere from 75 cents each to $2.50 each. Typically, you get what you pay for. If you're on a budget, a little more TLC and patience is needed. You usually get bigger, more established plants, the higher the cost. When you think about it. It costs $2.50 for a packet of a fresh herb cutting at the grocery store. So a plant is an investment that will keep on giving.

When you go and purchase the plants, look underneath the container it is planted into. Make sure it is not gushing with roots at the bottom. If it is, this means it is root bound and hasn't had anywhere to grow (when you pull it out, the roots will be in the shape of the pot growing round and round along the sides of the container), and that the place is not keeping up with their plants. Ideally, you want to look for the tips of the roots just coming out the holes at the bottom. If you don't have this choice, use common sense and look for healthy plants: no yellowing, no dying leaves, no rotted leaves, no extra long stems with very few leaves.

How much will pots be? At garage sales you can find them for ~$0.25 a piece give or take. Places like Wal-Mart will have big ones for ~$2.00-$3.00 each. It all depends on how much total you want to spend in the end. If you take care of them, they will last you for years to come. If you find used ones, be sure to soak them in hot soapy water with a little bleach in it to kill any potential diseases or micro organisims.

What about when your herbs are growing like crazy? The more you use the herbs to cook with, the more they'll grow. A plant's sole purpose for being alive is to "go to seed". You want to prevent this for as long as possible by "pinching them off". A good example is basil. Sometimes you'll notice white flowers at the top, or dill with yellow flowers. Those flowers are going to turn into seed and the plant will be done doing what it needs to do and will die. So to get more out of your plant, keep eating it because this will encourage it to keep growing!

Also a great thing for beginners. Get a Bay Laurel starter plant. You should be able to find one that is ~5"-6" high for anywhere from $2.95 - $8.99. This will be your bay leaf tree! You can bring it in during the winter and have it for your entire lifetime. You can watch it grow from a small starter plant into a tree (which you can keep in a container). Don't expect it to grow really fast, and don't take any leaves or branches off the first two years. After that you can start pruning or pinching off. I just got mine last year and it is a joy to watch it grow. It has doubled in size in the last three months alone once the weather turned nice enough to let it outside. It seems to prefer partial shade as opposed to full sun. And every year you can say, "I've had this tree since I started growing herbs so many years ago..."

A personal tip for those areas with thunderstorms, put a metal pole or something metal near your herb garden. This will encourage electricity around your plants during a thunderstorm and stimulate their growth. They love it! My plants thrived and extra 20% or so in 2 weeks of thunderstorms last year and I had no idea why until I learned they are stimulated by thunderstorms.

Also, if you're on a budget, there are many people out there who are more than happy to share their herbs with you if you send them postage, usually $3.95 for up to 2 pounds worth. They will send you whatever extra herbs they have which have a tendancey to "take over" their gardens. They can be cuttings or rooted plants. It can't hurt to browse the forums... or post a message...

Here are a couple of sources:

GardenWeb.
Daves' Garden.

Be careful, herb gardening becomes addictive! (Can you tell?) ;)

Click here for more information on container gardening with herbs.

Click here for some great resources for herb gardens...

Feel free to post more questions and good luck! :cool:

[ June 11, 2001: Message edited by: cchiu ]
 

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Risa,

The great thing about container gardening is that you can always change pots and move your plants around. I wouldn't recommend putting any more herbs in with your basil unless they are low growing like thyme or oregano. Taller herbs wouldn't get enough light and wouldn't have enough room to grow.

If you do want them to get bushy, water them, then just about 6 hours later, if the soil is still damp but not soaking, and not dried out, gently pull the base of the stem of the plant out to check the root structure. If it starts to easily come out and it's not pulling the soil with it, it hasn't grown to the size of the pot yet. If you start to pull and all the soil is coming with it in the shape of the pot, you don't have to, but you should consider putting one plant each per pot. This will allow the roots more room to grow and the plant to get bigger. Again, your plants will only grow as big as the pot allows them to. If you want them to get huge and bushy, plant them in the ground where they have unlimited space to send their roots. And remember to keep using it, keep pinching off the stems so it doesn't have a chance to "bolt" = "go to seed". Basil has a tendency to get a very stiff stem as it starts to go to seed. You'll notice the base of the stem starts to develop a bark around it. This will continue to get thicker if you don't prevent it from doing so in the first place. My previous post should also help you.
 
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