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Tips for growing a herb garden in a small space

Want to exercise your green thumb, but don't have a backyard? Garden designer P. Allen Smith offers the how-to on simple container planting.
/ Source: TODAY

Growing herbs for your favorite dishes is easy, even if you have limited garden area. Garden designer P. Allen Smith explains how to create simple herb containers ideal for small spaces. 

Strawberry jar
If you long for an herb garden but space is a concern then why not try this simple container that allows you to grow several varieties in one pot, specifically a space-saving strawberry jar. One drawback that many gardeners have found with using strawberry jars is watering; all of the water seems to run out of the upper holes and it never reaches the plants planted in the bottom. They just suffer and die. But there is way to keep all of the plants in a strawberry jar watered from top to bottom.

It starts with a piece of PVC pipe. Get one that is two inches in diameter and drill a series of holes along the side of the pipe using a quarter-inch bit. The pipe, which is cut a few inches shorter than the interior height of the container, is placed in the center of the container. When the water is poured into the pipe, it will distribute the water evenly through the soil.

To secure the PVC pipe, just place a few pieces of broken clay containers over the drainage hole of the strawberry jar and set the pipe on them. Add about 3 inches of gravel around the pipe and about 4 to 5 inches in the pipe itself. This will help stabilize it as you add the potting soil. Layer the soil evenly until you have covered the bottom row of openings.

Once your strawberry jar is full of soil you are ready to plant. This container is particularly nice filled with different varieties of the same herb. Take thyme for example.

Since thyme is a low growing herb and many of the varieties have a tendency to creep, they are ideal for planting in strawberry jars because they can cascade and spill through the openings. Before planting, prepare the soil. 

Thyme is a Mediterranean herb that grows on rocky hillsides and needs very good drainage. So even though you should start with a basic potting mix, add a generous amount of sand. Once the soil is well blended, put it in the jar up to the first opening.

Now add the plants. As you put the thyme into the strawberry jar holes don't worry about being a little rough with them, they can take it. It is often easier to slip the herbs through the top of the jar and gently pull the foliage back through the side openings.

Continue adding soil and planting at each stage of strawberry jar openings until you get to the top of the jar.

Some of the varieties that have worked well include: lime thyme, wooly thyme, lemon thyme, and Mother of thyme.

To keep the plants looking great all summer long, just water them with a dilute solution of liquid fertilizer. And here’s a tip: you don't want to over feed herbs because this can reduce the flavor and aroma in the leaves. If space allows, consider clustering additional terra cotta pots with saucers (this will help with moisture issues during the long hot summer) and adding in more favorite herbs.

Pizza pot
This container is full of everything you need to make your favorite pasta sauce right at your backdoor, plus it’s ideal to plant this garden with a child to get them interested in growing the foods they eat. 

The Pizza Pot summer herb garden starts with a large clay pot that will hold six to seven herbs and vegetable plants. The container should be just about 20 inches across, and to help maintain consistent moisture in the soil, place the container in a large saucer.

For the soil, start with a standard potting soil and mix in water-retentive polymers according to package directions. Fill the container up to about an inch from the top with the soil-polymer mix. With the soil in place, you are ready to plant.

Start in the back by adding a cedar trellis. This will lend support to your vining tomato plant. Add your tomato plant and as you need to train it up the cedar support tie loose knots with Jute twine.

Along the sides of the container, plant herbs that will cascade over the edges such as: oregano, parsley and thyme. In the center, plant herbs that will be bushier like basil and garlic chives.

Window herbs
Herbs are best grown outdoors and enjoyed in season but there are some herbs that can take the transition inside after summer to add to your fall meals. Indoor conditions might not be ideal but if you get a few extra weeks out of fresh herbs then it is worth the effort. 

If you do decide to bring herbs that you’ve grown outdoors into your kitchen, then treat them as you would houseplants that are coming in after their summer vacation — that means giving them any TLC they might need and checking for insects or other hitch-hikers, usually a good spray with a hose will knock these off. If the plant has picked up white flies, spider mites or other garden pests evaluate if the plant is worth keeping and put it in quarantine away from your other plants until the pests are under control. Remember, these are herbs, which you hope to eat, so use organic pest solutions such as safer soaps and always wash the herbs before use. 

Keep in mind that just like outside, herbs inside need certain light requirements — namely 5-6 hours of daylight. Also, moisture is important — if the soil dries out then you’re setting yourself up for failure, so don’t place herbs in front of an air vent where they will dry out quickly. A window where they are warmed by the sun seems to work best.

Grow perennial herbs such as rosemary, oregano, mint, garlic chives, and thyme in colorful containers on a tray that can be placed in a windowsill.