Garden Forever
7 Steps to Happy Herb Growing- by Mary Fran McQuade

1. Containers

Clay looks lovely but plastic isn't as heavy to lift and move. Plastic also doesn't dry out as fast, making watering easier. Plant long-lived herbs in their own individual pots. To get the effect of a mass planting, group the pots together in a large urn or window box. Annual herbs can be crammed together in a single container for a pretty summer display.

2. Soil

Most herbs like a loose, well-drained soil. Add vermiculite, perlite, coarse sand or even small aquarium gravel to loosen up dense potting soils. For a healthy start, mix in one part packaged composted cattle or sheep manure for every two parts soil.

3. Water

Herbs tend to like things on the dry side. Poke your finger in the pot and water when soil is dry about one knuckle deep. Caution: containers exposed to wind and sun dry out amazingly fast. Add an all-purpose granulated fertilizer to water every month or so. Organic gardeners can use manure tea. (For less mess, try the clever new manure tea bags.)

4. Light.

No getting around it -- herbs are mostly sun lovers, requiring 5 or 6 hours of bright light daily to survive, more to thrive. In winter's short days, you'll need fluorescent lights to make them truly happy (position 30 cm or so above the growing tips). If you're short on sun, do your homework to find shade- tolerant types.

5. Harvesting and pruning

Clip herbs as needed once they've reached a decent size. Snip just above a leaf junction to promote new growth. Trim weak, lanky stems the same way to keep plants shapely.

6. Pests

Herbs are generally pest-free. If leaves curl or splotch, swish the entire plant in a basin of water (heavily mist large plants). Use insecticidal soap on desperate cases, but wash leaves well before using.

7. Winter care

Potted herbs must be brought indoors for the winter. Skip the worn-out annual plants and start new ones from seed or cuttings. Coax long- lived herbs along with good light, cool room temperatures and regular misting. Let them rest until the days lengthen, then get them ready for spring with a good trim and renewed feeding.

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