The Understandable Guide to Companion Planting: How to Find Soil-Mates in the Garden

The Understandable Guide to Companion Planting: How to Find Soil-Mates in the Garden

The ABC’s of Companion Planting

Selecting the proper companions for your herbs will take a fair amount of forethought.

Firstly, consider the growing conditions each plant requires.

Are their soil and moisture needs compatible? In this case, you must choose plants that match. If you put a moisture-loving plant with a drought-tolerant plant, chances are you’ll drown one and dry out the other.

Secondly, think creatively about their lighting needs.

For instance, you can group a small, low-growing partial-shade-lover with a tall, larger sun-bather. Why? You can use the bigger plant as a natural sunblock for its companion! Ashwagandha makes a very useful “shade-tree” with its large leaves and high stature.

Thirdly, remember pests.

If you group plants susceptible to the same insect, you’re essentially creating an enormous“bullseye” target for them to find. Instead, find a suitable companion that is known to repel the pesky bug. For instance, Basil can attract aphids to the garden. Why not grow Chives nearby due to their aphid-repelling abilities?

Having a variety of herbs in your garden will also help ward off pests. Not only will some herbs repel them, but the different colors and smells will also confuse them. While you are still likely to have some dastardly insects in your garden, hopefully, you’ll prevent an outright plague.

Fourthly, don’t forget disease!

For instance, powdery mildew is a highly contagious condition that is common in Bee Balm. While Bee Balm has undeniable benefits to the garden as a huge draw for pollinators, it is a potential danger as a nearby companion plant. Be cautious!

And lastly, do research on the plant’s required nutrients.

Grouping two plants together that are hungry for the same nutrient may contribute to some not-so-friendly competition. For example, Arugula and Cilantro have compatible growing condition requirements, but they are both hungry for a common nutrient: nitrogen. This may not be a perfect match!

Can you Companion Plant in Containers?

In a word: yes. And it can be done in a few different ways! You may choose to plant your herbs in the same container, or you may decide to grow your herbs in separate pots and locate them nearby each other.

Same Pot Planting

A few extra factors need to be considered when you are Companion Planting in a container. What’s one of the most important things? Growth rate. Slow growing herbs require deeper soil in their pots. You will want to pair these plants with fellow “slow-pokes” that experience similar growth patterns so that they reach maturity around the same time.

You also need to select herbs that won’t “hog” up all the space. Mint and Catnip both have plenty of benefits to offer to the overall health of your garden, but they are both voracious growers. These plants do not ‘play well’ with others and are best left on their own.

Separate Pots, Same Neighborhood

Many of the benefits of Companion Planting result from the appearance, scent, and flowers of your herb-friends; all these factors are unaffected by being in separate pots! As noted in our last article, scientists believe that Companion Planting’s soil-nutrient benefit is minimal to non-existent. Is that true? There’s not a ton of hard-fact-research to support either line of reasoning, so we will leave it up to you!

Strongly scented herbs, like Catnip, are regarded as an excellent pest repellent in the gardening community. The smell reportedly chases off aphids, ants, cabbage loopers, Japanese beetles, weevils, and cockroaches. An added bonus? A few containers of catnip will distract neighborhood cats from vandalizing the more cherished parts of your garden.

Pollinating plants are also highly effective in individual containers, grouped with other plants and herbs. Borage gives pollinators an open invitation and also attracts ladybugs, a beneficial garden predator! These helpful bugs will keep pests away from your herbs and hopefully help increase your yield in the vegetable garden too.

“Tried and True” Soil-Mates

Companion Planting is based less on science and more on “gardener know-how.” Below are a few “tried and true” suggestions from respected gardening sources. Keep in mind, everyone’s soil and growing environments are different. So, keep running your own experiments. As a rule of thumb: if it works, keep doing it!

  • Cilantro & Chervil
  • Anise & Coriander
  • Chives & Dill
  • Rosemary & Sage
  • Dill & Lavender

See a Need, Fill a Need

Much of the success of Companion Planting starts with your observations. After considering specific issues from last year’s growing season, do some research. How could you use another compatible herb to fix the problem?

For instance, did you struggle with a fungal disease? Chamomile has been used by farmers for its antibacterial and antifungal properties. Some growers mist Chamomile tea on their seedlings to prevent fungal infections (“damping off”). Others suggest that their growing presence can help fight off fungal issues. Farmers also have a rich history in Companion Planting Chamomile with fruit crops to enhance flavor.

Did you struggle with spider mites? Some gardeners suggest misting “Cilantro Tea” on other plants to treat and prevent spider mites. Cilantro is also said to ward away potato beetles and attract hoverflies, a great predator of aphids.

 

Companion Planting aids in biodiversity and creates a miniature ecosystem for your herbs. The power is in your hands to matchmake your plant’s ideal companions. If a few of their “dates” go well, maybe you’ll have your own ‘tried-and-true’ combination: a match made in garden-heaven!

Does Companion Planting Really Work?

Does Companion Planting Really Work?

You’ve got a friend in me. You got troubles; I’ve got ’em too. There isn’t anything I wouldn’t do for you. We stick together and see it through, ‘Cause you’ve got a friend in me. You’ve got a friend in me.”

Do those words sound familiar? You got it. Randy Newman’s tune “You Got a Friend in Me” describes one of TV’s most infamous pals: Woody and Buzz! Many claim that mutually beneficial ‘friendships’ can also be forged in the garden by Companion Planting. In a sense, two or more plants can help each other through their “troubles.” But how much of this claim is fiction? How much is a fact? And what works?

A Brief History of Companion Planting

This topic is surrounded by folklore and some mysticism. One of its generally accepted origins is from the Native American culture. “The Three Sisters Planting” consists of corn, pole beans, and winter squash located close to each other. Due to their growth patterns, these plants can coexist and be mutually beneficial. (Although, some “friendly” nutrient competition is always inevitable.) For example, the pole beans will naturally climb the corn, and the large-leafed squash will preserve the ground’s moisture by providing low-bearing shade.

The Controversy

Researching Companion Planting can be frustrating because there is not much concrete scientific evidence to back up the information you find. Why? This practice is mostly anecdotal (based on the gardener’s hearsay about what is successful and what isn’t). Realistically speaking, challenges do come with this type of information. For instance, what works in one area may not be successful in another. Similarly, soil types differ (as does its quality), environment, and a whole slew of other factors.

Due to much of the information not being concrete, many discredit this form of gardening. Some brave souls have tried to make Companion Planting more accredited by using Crystal Chromatography. However, this too was met with criticism by many in the scientifically-minded garden community.

The Facts Behind Companion Planting Basics

Companion Planting is very simple at its core: in comparison to being alone, some plants benefit by being nearby carefully-selected companions. Why is this the case? And how can plants be mutually beneficial to each other?

In its pristine state, what does nature look like? Everything is intermingled: There’s a mix of colors, smells, plant heights, and varieties. What’s the advantage to that? Beneficial critters, such as pollinators, are invited to the mix. Other pest-eating, predator bugs are given ample room to live and reproduce. The home-gardener can mimic nature by creating “refugia,” which is essentially a biodiverse bug hotel in their backyard!

There are dangers when you locate several individuals from the same species near each other. Due to their similar color and smell, these become an identifiable (bullseye) buffet for pests. Additionally, these plants are susceptible to the same types of disease. Between insects and sickness, your garden could be severely affected. What’s a possible solution?

A few studies have shown the benefits of “Perimeter Trap Cropping,” a form of Companion Planting. This study showed that encircling Summer Squash and Cucumbers with Blue Hubbard Squash minimized the need for pesticides by 93% and upped the harvest for six commercial Connecticut farmers. But it doesn’t stop there: this study demonstrated how Dill, Buckwheat, and Coriander protected a crop of Peppers from corn-borers.

Four Ways Companion Planting Can Help Your Garden

According to the UMass Center for Agriculture, Companion Planting can help your garden in these four ways:

Nutrient Boost

“Symbiotic Nitrogen Fixation” is when a gardener purposely plants nitrogen-producing plants nearby nitrogen-hungry species. Legumes (such as beans and peas) are generally regarded for the nitrogen-making abilities and could be beneficial to a tomato plant, which is nitrogen-hungry.

This line of reasoning could also be used when deciding what plants should not be placed near each other. For example, Arugula and Cilantro are both nitrogen-hungry. It probably makes sense to separate the two.

However, many argue that the amount of nitrogen within the soil is only significantly impacted after the growing season. And only after the exhausted plants are worked into the ground. Whatever may be most scientifically accurate, tomato-bean pairings (and others like them) don’t cause harm and are potentially beneficial now and later!

Pest Management

As noted above, Companion Planting (aka Intercropping) can confuse bugs and prevent pest infestations. Low-growers, like Brahmi, can be a ‘positive host,’ giving beneficial predator bugs a place to stay. Meaning, fewer pesky bugs will find your plants, and the ones that do will hopefully be promptly eaten before they cause too much damage.

Increasing Pollinators

Plants that produce brightly colored flowers, such as the Butterfly Flowers and Borage, are highly attractive to pollinators and confuse pests. Vegetable crops often do not have the showiest of blooms, so luring in pollinators leads to a larger harvestable crop.

In the herb world, this means you may have to make some sacrifices. For instance, when it flowers, Basil is a very effective pollinator. However, the taste of the leaves diminishes, and leaf production ceases once it starts to bloom. Is it worth sacrificing an abundance of Basil to “save” your pole beans? That decision is up to you!

Higher Yields

It just makes sense. If your plant selections succeed, you will have minimized pests and boosted pollination, increasing your vegetable yield. Companion Planting methods aren’t only limited to veggies, however. These same methods can be utilized by the backyard herb grower too.

A Few Basic “Rules”

When you start Companion Planting, it’s like you’re Match.com for plants. You have to choose them carefully. To begin with, select plants that have similar soil and moisture needs. It would be counterproductive to put drought-tolerant, sandy-soil-loving Rosemary next to Cilantro, which requires cool temperatures and moist soil.

Secondly, consider the lighting requirements of each plant. And then, get creative!. As an example: Rosemary does perfectly well in the blazing sun. Parsley enjoys the partial shade. Both have similar soil and moisture needs. So, why use your Rosemary as a protective shield for your parsley from the afternoon sun?

The origins of plants can also serve as an easy guide for what may pair well together. In the above example, Rosemary and Parsley are both from the Mediterranean.

Keep a Journal

As noted, Companion Planting is based mostly on what has proven success. It may not always be scientific, but someone proved it some time, somewhere. Does this mean that every Companion Planting suggestion you find online will bring you total success? No. Your garden is unique! Do your own experiments, and keep a log of what works and what doesn’t. This small activity can turn into fun for the entire family. And, your garden will thank you!

25 Best Herbs to Grow in Your Kitchen Garden

25 Best Herbs to Grow in Your Kitchen Garden

Whether you want to grow a kitchen herb garden as a hobby or to save money or just for healthier eating, there are plenty of herbs you can grow in your backyard, on your patio, or even on your windowsill. Fresh herbs make recipes taste even better and are great to have around for soups, stews, and salads.

In picking a place to grow your herbs, keep in mind that they need a good four to six hours of sun daily. There are many herbs that you can grow to enhance your cooking. When you plant a kitchen garden, don’t only plant the herbs you know, take a chance on something else. You might just be surprised.

Here are fresh herbs and plants you can grow that are great to have handy in the kitchen.

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PARSLEY

Parsley is a mild bitter herb that can enhance the flavor of your foods. Many consider parsley just to be a curly green garnish for food, but it actually helps things like stews achieve a more balanced flavor. As an added benefit, parsley can aid in digestion. By reading articles such as unify health labs reviews and other digestion related discussions, many supplements and herbs are uncovered as great helpers for the digestive system. Parsley is often grown as an annual, but in milder climates, it will stay evergreen all winter long. Parsley plants will grow to be large and bushy. Parsley is a good source of Vitamins A and C.

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MINT

There are several varieties of mint. You can use it in drinks like mojitos or mint juleps. Or add some mint to your summer iced tea. Mint freshens the breath and will help to calm your stomach. But if you grow mint, remember that it’s considered an invasive plant. Mint will spread and take over your garden. It’s best grown in containers.

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DILL

Dill is a great flavoring for fish, lamb, potatoes, and peas. It also aids in digestion, helps to fight bad breath and has the added benefits of reducing swelling and cramps. Dill is easy to grow. It will also attract helpful insects to your garden such as wasps and other predatory insects.

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BASIL

Whether you choose large leaf Italian basil or large purple sweet basil, this plant is popular in many cuisines but is a feature in Italian cooking like pizzas, salads, sauces, and pesto. Some people think basil is great for planting alongside your tomatoes but there’s no real evidence that it makes your tomatoes taste sweeter. Basil has health benefits of antioxidants and is a defense against low blood sugar.

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SAGE

Sage is an aromatic herb that is great for seasoning meats, sauces, and vegetables. But be careful because sage will have a tendency to overpower other flavors. Sage also helps to relieve cuts, inflammation and helps with memory issues. It was once thought to be a medicinal cure-all. Sage is an easy herb to grow and is relatively easy to care for. It’s great in your garden for attracting bees.

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ROSEMARY

Rosemary is one of the most flavorful herbs and is great for adding to things like poultry, meats, and vegetables. Around Christmastime, you’ll see tree-shaped rosemary bushes for sale. You can bring them home and keep them for planting in the spring. The fragrant plant is a delightful scent and is sometimes used in floral arrangements. Rosemary likes its soil a bit on the dry side, so be careful not to overwater. Allowed to flourish, a rosemary plant will grow into a full-sized bush.

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THYME

Thyme is a delicate looking plant. It is often used for flavoring egg, bean and vegetable dishes. Thyme is frequently used in the Mediterranean, Italian and Provençal French cuisines. Pair it with lamb, poultry, and tomatoes. Thyme is often added to soups and stews. Thyme is part of the mint family. The most common variety is garden thyme which has gray-green leaves and a minty, somewhat lemony smell.

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CILANTRO / CORIANDER

Cilantro is also known as coriander leaf or Chinese parsley. Cilantro is perfect for adding into spicy foods like chills, and Mexican, Chinese, Southeast Asian and Indian cuisines. The seeds of cilantro are known as coriander. The plant grows early in the season and doesn’t like it when the ground becomes too warm.

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FENNEL

Fennel is very flavorful and aromatic, and along with anise is a primary ingredient in absinthe. Fennel is native to the Mediterranean region and does best in dry soils near the ocean or on river banks. The strongly flavored leaves of fennel are similar in shape to dill. The bulb can be sautéed or grilled, or eaten raw. Fennel bulbs are used for garnishes or sometimes added to salads.

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CHAMOMILE

In the United States and Europe, chamomile is most often used as an ingredient in herbal tea. It is one of the world’s most widely consumed herbal teas. But it has also been used for thousands of years as a traditional medicine for settling stomachs and calming the nerves. Chamomile also helps reduce inflammation and treat fevers. You can grow either German chamomile or Roman chamomile. The two are interchangeable when it comes to making tea, but they are grown very differently. German chamomile is an annual plant that grows up to three feet tall. Roman chamomile is a perennial but only grows to about a foot high. German chamomile is more commonly known for its blossoms.

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FRESH TARRAGON

French tarragon is the traditional ingredient of ‘Fines Herbes’ and is the aristocrat of fresh herbs. A must-have for any Culinary Herb Garden! It will transform an ordinary dish into a work of art with it’s spicy anise flavor. A little tarragon in a chicken salad makes a profound difference. It is wonderful in sauces, soups and meat dishes. Try it with vegetables. It is the choice for any hearty dish.

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LAVENDER

Grown as a condiment and for use in salads and dressings, lavender will give most dishes a slightly sweet flavor. Lavender syrup and dried lavender buds are used in the United States for making lavender scones and marshmallows. Health benefits include the soothing of insect bites and headaches when used with herbs and aromatherapy. Lavender plants will survive in many growing conditions but do best in full sun in warm, well-drained soil.

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CHIVES

Chives are a member of the garlic family and can be the perfect complement to sour cream. Chives are mostly used for flavoring and are considered one of the “fine herbs” of French cuisine. Chives are native to Asia but have been used as an additive to food for almost 5,000 years. Chives work well with eggs, fish, potatoes, salads, shellfish, and soups. Chives are an excellent source of beta carotene and Vitamin C.

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ARUGULA

A member of the Mustard family, Arugula is a leafy green that packs a peppery punch! Similar to Watercress in flavor, Arugula has edible, aromatic leaves and a spicier flavor than most greens. Often eaten raw in salads, Arugula also tastes great when cooked. If you’re adding it to a pizza, pasta, or pesto, make sure to add it last or just after the meal is done cooking to prevent the leaves from withering.

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BAY LEAVES

The smell of bay’s noble leaves reminds you of balsam, clove, mint, and some say even honey! Well known for its use in hearty stews and other long-simmering dishes with a slightly sharp, peppery, almost bitter taste. Add the whole leaves at the beginning of the cooking process and remember to remove them before serving. Sweet bay is native to the Mediterranean.

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LEMON VERBENA

Lemon Verbena is a useful culinary herb, used in teas, salads, dressings, and desserts. A wonderful herb plant that will do very well when potted for container gardening or in an indoor herb garden. Made popular as a perfume centuries ago when introduced by Spanish conquistadors who had found the aromatic herb in South America. Since that time Lemon Verbena has been used in everything from recipes to soaps. Because Lemon Verbena holds its citric fragrance long after being dried, it makes a great addition to potpourris and herb pillows and can be used in closets and drawers to freshen laundry.

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CHERVIL

Chervil produces flat, light-green, lacy leaves with a hint of anise, and enhances the flavor of chicken, fish, vegetables, eggs, and salads. It is an heirloom herb that was most likely introduced to European herb gardening by the Romans. Closely related to Parsley, chervil has become an indispensable herb plant in the kitchen, and a classic among herb plants in French cuisine.

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WINTER SAVORY

A deliciously spicy culinary herb, Winter Savory adds an aromatic flavor to many dishes. Also used medicinally for its antibacterial and anti-fungal properties. Winter Savory, like its Summer counterpart, is a spicy culinary herb from the Mint family that compliments fish, beans, and poultry with its intense flavor. Though it loses some of this intensity during the cooking process, Winter Savory remains aromatic and is often used to flavor liqueurs and makes a beautiful garnish to any salad.

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PEPPERMINT

Like other mints, peppermint is known for aiding digestion and freshening the breath. But peppermint is also a good source of calcium, potassium and Vitamin B. Peppermint is a hybrid mint, being a cross between water mint and spearmint. Peppermint oil can be used for flavoring but is also useful as a natural pesticide. It has been shown to reduce the effects of irritable bowel syndrome. Peppermint prefers rich soil and partial shade. Like other mints, it spreads quickly, so consider planting it in containers.

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STEVIA

Stevia is an attractive looking plant and a natural sweetener. The added benefit is that there are no calories. Stevia is part of the sunflower family and is native to subtropical and tropical regions in the Western hemisphere. While it’s a perennial plant it will only survive in the milder climates in North America. Still, you can add stevia to your garden for the summer. It is also known as sweetleaf or sugarleaf and is grown for its sweet leaves. Stevia can be used as a natural sweetener and as a sugar substitute.

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LEMONGRASS

Lemongrass stalks can provide antioxidants such as beta-carotene and a defense against cancer and eye inflammation. Lemongrass has a strong lemon flavor. You can brew it in tea as well as use it as an herb seasoning. To grow this outdoors, you need to live in at least Zone 9. Outside it can grow up to six feet high but will be notably smaller if you grow it indoors.

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BERGAMOT (BEE BALM)

Gaining renewed popularity as a culinary herb, Bee Balm makes a wonderful addition to pizzas, salads, breads and any dishes that are complemented by the herb’s unique flavor. Minty and slightly spicy, Bergamot makes a great substitute for Oregano. Bergamot has a long history of use as a medicinal plant by many Native Americans, including the Blackfeet. The Blackfeet Indians used this hardy perennial in poultices to treat minor cuts and wounds. A tea made from the plant was also used to treat mouth and throat infections caused by gingivitis, as the plant contains high levels of a naturally occurring antiseptic, Thymol, which is found in many brand name mouthwashes.

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OREGANO

Oregano is also part of the mint family and is native to the warm climates of Eurasia and the Mediterranean. Oregano is a perennial plant but in colder climates can be grown as an annual. It is sometimes called wild marjoram and is closely related to sweet marjoram. Oregano is used for flavoring and is a staple herb of Italian American cuisine. In the United States, it gained popularity following World War II as soldiers returned home with a desire for the “pizza herb.”

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CUTTING CELERY

A more flavorful choice than its crunchier cousin, Cutting Celery is a leafy, aromatic herb that can be substituted for celery in dishes if you want to add flavor without the stringy fibers. Often mistaken for flat-leafed Parsley, Cutting Celery has a dark, glossy leaf with a serrated edge and small sprig-like stalks. The leaves and stems can be used to add flavor to salads, vegetables, stews, and soups.

If you grow your herbs indoors you can enjoy them fresh year-round. But if that’s not an option, consider freezing or drying some of your own herbs to have available for cooking year-round. When you’re ready to buy herb plants, please check out our online store.

Growing Herbs in the Winter: How to Channel Mother Nature Every Month of the Year

Growing Herbs in the Winter: How to Channel Mother Nature Every Month of the Year

We’ve all been there: You feel like ‘Mother Nature,’ nurturing your beautifully lush plants through the Spring, Summer, and Fall. And then, “Presto!” It all changes: Suddenly, you have stringy, soggy, sad, wilty plants that make you feel more like the ‘Grim Reaper.’ You’ve kept the same routine… what possibly could have happened?

Whether you transplanted summer herbs into containers or purchased new herbs expressly for indoor growing, successful indoor gardening during the winter months can be a trip. Shorter days, soggy roots, and dry air are just a few of the challenges. How can you channel your inner ‘Mother Nature’ again?

Figure Out Your Goals

When it comes to maintaining your indoor container garden during the winter months, you have to assess what you want out of it. “Survival” is an obvious answer, but beyond that is: “Growth.”

The goal of “Growth” always sounds good! However, most plants naturally use the winter months as a rest period; changing your herbs environment to continue growing foliage, will give them ‘burn out.’ Since they weren’t allowed to slow down, they won’t have much energy to expend during the next year. In fact, they will most likely need to be replaced the following spring. 

If you want to go out with a ‘bang,’ enjoying as many herbs as you can eat in the winter months, “Growth” is a good goal. Rosemary, Bay Trees, and other heartier herbs can withstand the extra pressure. But, if you have dreams of continuously growing your same basil plant without giving it a break, your vision will quickly fade. If you’re trying to preserve your plant for the next spring, simple “Survival” is the goal for you.

The question might arise: Why do I have to pick one? Growing plants require more light and water compared to those that are allowed to experience natural dormancy.

Getting Sufficient Light for Growth or Dormancy

Your herbs automatically understand that they will receive less light in the winter; that’s why they stop growing. However, this doesn’t mean that their current location will provide enough light to support life in dormancy. To survive the winter indoors, most herbs require hours of direct sunlight.

If you’ve decided to encourage your herb plants to continue growing during their natural dormancy, you must give them their prescribed amount of summer light. For many varieties (like Basil and Rosemary), this means 6-8 hours of sunbathing. 

A simple solution is to move your plant to a sunnier location in your home. But, if you haven’t been blessed with a magnificent sunroom or giant patio doors, it may be time to think about getting grow lights!

Selecting an artificial grow light may seem daunting. Still, the benefits are undeniable: you are in control! Turn the lamp on for a few extra hours a day to boost your herb’s chances of survival. Or stick to a more intense regimen to encourage consistent growth. The on-and-off switch is in your hands!

When to Back off The Watering Can

That means you! Seriously, put it down. You must let your herbs dry out sufficiently before rewatering. If you’ve Googled it, you’ve likely ran into this piece of classic plant parenting advice: “Water when the first inch of soil is dry.” While this isn’t necessarily wrong, it’s not necessarily right either.

Pot Size

Many factors go into when you should water your plant, including the size of your pot! If you have a 5-year-old Rosemary bush, chances are, it’s not in a 4-inch nursery pot anymore. If you follow the above advice, you will drown your plant. 

Solutions? You could get fancy with it and purchase a moisture meter. They’re relatively inexpensive and allow you to effectively check the soil’s water levels deep down under! 

If you want a free solution, ask for a pair of chopsticks next time you get Chinese Takeout. Estimate where your root-ball would be; insert a clean chopstick to the appropriate depth, pull it out, and analyze. If soil is still on the stick, that means it’s still pretty moist in there! 

Plant Type & Goal

Of course, the most critical factor in watering is: What type of plant do you have? Herbs like Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, and Bay enjoy drier soils when compared to others. So, do your research.

The goal you’ve set for your herbs also affects what watering routine they will need. If you’re allowing your plants to rest, they need to dry out more. In contrast, if you’re giving them the light necessary for continued growth, you’ll need to maintain more of a summer watering-routine.

How to Humidify

Most herbs thrive in 50% humidity, while the average home during the winter months is around 10%. It’s not hard to see why some poor plants decide they cannot go on any longer! 

Undeniably, humidifiers are the most effective way to raise the humidity levels for all of your herbs. If a humidifier is out of your reach, give your herbs an extra boost by misting them daily. Make sure to spray them during the morning hours so that the moisture will have ample daylight to evaporate. 

One caution: Rosemary can develop mildew when misted. So, as with anything, make sure to do your research!

When to Fertilize

During dormancy, forgo fertilizer. Why? The extra nutrients can burn your plant’s roots, cause brown spots, and generally speaking… death. The simple fact is when your plant isn’t growing, it takes much longer to soak up the soil’s moisture, leaving your herb setting in fertilizer. It’s not a healthy equation.

That being said, if you are aiming to grow your herb during the winter months (and actually notice that your plant is indeed growing), fertilizing it won’t be the end of the world. Just remember, if this is your goal, it’s your herb’s “last hurrah.” Don’t expect it to live to grow another season! 

 Whether you have the goal of simple survival or consistent growth this winter, analyzing your lighting conditions and moisture levels is a good way to do damage control! Here’s to hoping you can channel your inner ‘Mother Nature’ and keep your plants happy and thriving during these chilly months.

The Unscientific Guide to Grow Lights: How They Work & Why You Need One

The Unscientific Guide to Grow Lights: How They Work & Why You Need One

If you have Googled “grow lights,” you may feel like you’ve left the flower department and entered the lighting center in the hardware store. Lumens, spectrum, watts, LED, HID… if your head is spinning, you aren’t alone! So, why is it worth muddling through the scientific jargon? How do you select the right grow light? And how do you use it? Find the answers here!

Why Are Grow Lights Beneficial?

Whether you’re bringing your herb-babies in for the winter or starting new, grow lights can help you successfully grow plants indoors. And, really, who doesn’t want fresh smelling, edible herbs at their fingertips year-round?

It’s no secret: to flourish, all plants have specific needs that must be met. Even shade-loving herbs still require light to function! So, the grow light journey begins with appreciating what our Sun does for us every day:

  • Energy: (aka Photosynthesis) Sunlight transforms into energy! 
  • Day/Night: (aka Photoperiodism) Just like us, plants need specific hour cycles of daylight and darkness. We have to go to bed sometime! 
  • Flavor: UV Rays, which can be harmful to people, are beneficial to herbs! For one thing, they stimulate the production of essential oils, which = flavor. No one wants bland Basil!
  • Warmth: The Sun provides heat to keep herbs growing.
  • Consistent Growth: We’ve all seen weak, stringy, leggy plants. This is usually caused by insufficient light. Appropriate sunlight helps your herbs grow healthy, beautifully lush crops! 

As an edible-plant parent, there are probably a few things you want to get out of the relationship: (1) a usable amount of herbs and (2) delicious flavor. Grow Lamps are a form of artificial light that mimics natural outdoor lighting. So, if you’re short on Sun, you can purchase a grow light to reach those same goals. 

How Can I Choose the Best Grow Light?

Sadly, there is no one right solution! You have to figure out the answer yourself, based on your unique circumstances. You aren’t alone, though. Here are a few tips that will help out: 

Your Plants

It makes sense that this is #1 on the list! Before you press “purchase” on Amazon for that new grow light, you need to think about: 

  • How many plants do I have?
  • What light requirements do my plants have? Are they the same? Or not?
  • What size are my herbs? How much will they grow in a season? 

How Many

If you are looking to provide a grow light for one plant, the solution is relatively simple.  

However, if you have a whole herb family you are trying to keep alive through the winter, things can get complicated. You may need numerous lamps to have enough light to spread around! (Keep reading for more on this later!) 

Lighting Requirements

Again, providing light for one herb plant is going to be pretty straightforward. As long as you know what it needs, you can purchase one solution. 

But, if you have an assortment of plants, you will need to determine the intensity of light each individual needs. Then you will need to separate the whole bunch into smaller categories. A few examples: 

  • High Sun: Basil, Chives, Marjoram, Oregano
  • Part Sun: Bay Tree, Cilantro, Dill
  • Low Sun: Parsley

You will also have to consider how many hours of artificial light your herbs need. For instance, while Basil and Rosemary have similar light intensity needs, their daylight cycle (aka Photoperiodism!) differs. Basil should get 12 hours of bright light, while Rosemary should only receive 8 hours. 

Chances are, if you have an extensive collection of herbs, you may need more than one lamp. A stackable system where you can utilize different light intensities and durations will be your best bet. (Say goodbye to hassle… you can even purchase inexpensive timers to turn your lights on and off for you!)

Do your research! After you categorize your plant family by light intensity and light duration, you will be better equipped to select your perfect grow light (or lights). 

Plant Size

There’s more to come on the science of grow lights later, but just know, the distance from your herbs to the grow light is an essential ingredient to successful indoor growing! In short, plant-lamp distance determines how much light your plant soaks in. 

So, you will also need to group your collection according to current height (and expected height, for super-fast growers). As an example, if you have a 2-foot tall Rosemary and a 5-inch tall Thyme, guess who’s going to get the short end of the stick? You got it! If you want your herbs to grow consistently and yield a usable crop, the grow light needs to be at the optimum height for all!

Make sure to purchase a grow lamp that is fully adjustable, and remember to adjust your lamp’s distance as your plant grows! Don’t let it get too close. Your herbs could get scorched by the light!

How Far Should I Keep my Light from my Plants?

This depends on the type of light you choose. Lightbulbs let off heat, which can benefit your herbs. But too much can damage them. If you purchase a grow light kit, follow the instructions closely. But, if you’re DIY-ing, here are a few herb-light distances for commonly used lightbulbs: 

  • Incandescent: 24 inches
  • Fluorescent: 12 inches
  • LED: 6 inches

If your light-source is not listed above, don’t just guess, do research! Remember, your herbs will follow the light, so keep it directly above them at all times.

What Do I Need to Know About Grow Lights?

This is where the scientific & mathematic bits come in… but if you are browsing the Web for grow lamps, you need to know this stuff!

What is Spectrum? Which Spectrum is Beneficial to Herbs?

Natural light can be broken down into different parts, one of which is called “Spectrum.”  Full-spectrum, white light consists of all the colors. But, broken down, it includes almost every color in the rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. Ok, don’t call Bill Nye the Science Guy yet… What do you need to take away from this list? 

Full-Spectrum, white light, is the most useful multi-purpose light. It covers all of the different natural sunlight components and is sure to make your herb babies happy!

If you have to choose between spectrums, blue and red are two of the most critical for your herbs. Why? Blue light encourages the growth of foliage, while Red light encourages strong stems (and flowers). 

What are Lumens? How Many Lumens Should I Choose?

It is vital that, when choosing a grow lamp or lightbulb, you select it by lumens. The term “Watts” describes the amount of power the bulb uses. “Lumen” defines the amount of light the bulb gives off. 

Remember the light intensity categories from earlier? This is how many lumens each category needs: 

  • High Sun: 7000 lumens per square foot
  • Part Sun: 5000 lumens per square foot
  • Low Sun: 2000 lumens per square foot

You probably noticed the description “per square foot.” That’s right… you can’t just go out and purchase a 7000-lumen lightbulb and call it a day. As soon as the lumens leave the bulb, they start diminishing. So, the amount you start off with doesn’t mean that’s the amount your herb plant is soaking in.

How do you increase the lumens your plantie is receiving? Make sure to keep your light as close as safely possible to your plant (see the section above!) and use a lamp with a reflective hood. 

How do you know how many lumens are reaching your herbs? If you already have your grow lamp setup, you could invest in a light meter (or a light meter app on your phone). If you’re trying to determine how many lumens you need before you purchase a light (and you have a mathematician in the family), you can also use this equation: 

Lightbulb Lumen Output ÷ Distance in Ft. to Plant² = Light Intensity

And you thought you wouldn’t ever use algebra again! (Just remember to square the distance to your plant first, and you’ll be fine.) 

With these helpful tips in your toolbelt, you will be better equipped to find the best grow light for your unique herb garden! Happy growing!

Container Gardening 101: Tips and Tricks for Starting a Container Garden

Container Gardening 101: Tips and Tricks for Starting a Container Garden

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Have you been dreaming of having a luscious garden where you can grow your plants and herbs, but you’re a little low on space? Then you’re in luck! Container gardening may be the perfect answer to all of your needs.

You can use just about any type and size vessel to start your container garden, both inside or outside your home. This gardening style is ideal if you have little space and are limited to a small balcony, a tiny yard, or a window with adequate light. 

Whether you have enough space for one container or if you want to spread them out around your home, the results will be the same. When you use the tips and tricks listed in this article, you will soon have fresh herbs and plants that you can use and enjoy!

What is Container Gardening?

Container gardening refers to growing plants of any kind in a container. This gardening style is ideal for those in a temporary living situation like rentals or season homes because you can take your garden with you when you leave!

Whether your restrictions are based on space, residence, age, or disability, you reap the benefits of gardening and cater your container to your unique situation. As with any garden, you will need to properly care for your garden, so a setup that works for your lifestyle is best.

Container Materials & Sizes

There are many different types of containers that you will encounter when choosing a container for your garden. Here is a quick look at the most common container materials you’ll see when you start shopping around.

  • Clay and terracotta look pretty, but they’re breakable and are more prone to damage in freezing temperatures
  • Concrete is sturdy but heavy, so it won’t be as mobile
  • Plastic and fiberglass are lightweight and inexpensive, but they become brittle with age and can leach harmful chemicals into your edible plants
  • Polyurethane foam weigh significantly less than terracotta or concrete, but they’re sturdy in most temperatures, so they’re ideal for plants that will be outside year-round
  • Wood gives you a natural look, and it’s easy to build a wooden planter to fit whatever space you have available
  • Metal is strong, but since it conducts heat, your plants will be prone to any external temperature fluctuations

For size, use a measuring tape to measure how much space you have available for your container garden and choose containers that will fit the space. Keep in mind that a larger pot will require more soil, which will make it heavier.

Proper Container Drainage & Preparation

Once you’ve selected your pots, you’ll need to prepare them for your chosen plants. If you have larger containers, it’s best to prepare them where they will live, so you don’t have to worry about the added weight. Choose a sight with the right amount of light for your selected plants, and set a reminder to water your plant when needed.

Before you add your soil, find your container’s drainage hole and add a piece of paper towel or newspaper to prevent your dirt from spilling through the hole. Then, add in your selected soil and water the soil, so it’s ready for your plants. 

Selecting the Right Plants for Your Containers

When it comes to selecting the right plants for your container garden, first take some time to identify what purpose your garden will serve. Will you be growing edibles? Or are you interested in just growing beautiful plants with colorful flowers or leaves?

If you plan on container vegetable gardening, talk with gardening professionals to ensure you have adequate growth space and container depth to allow them to thrive. Most fruits and vegetables will require more space, but if you’re growing herbs they will thrive in relatively small areas.

Plant combination ideas for container gardening can be boiled down to three sections: a thriller, a spiller, and a filler.

  1. Thriller is the star of the show, usually a taller plant with intriguing shapes or dramatic flowers
  2. Spillers anchor the pot and sprawl over the sides of your container
  3. Fillers add mass to your containers and are generally have a textural contrast to the other plants

Container Gardening Tips

When it comes to unique container gardening ideas, you must understand how to effectively care for your plant to ensure it thrives through every season. Now that you know where to start, this quick list of tips can help your garden flourish!

  1. Identify where you want to keep your container garden
  2. Monitor the light, temperature, and environment in that area
  3. Find the right container
  4. Ensure your plants can drain excess water
  5. Choose seeds, seedlings, or plants to fit your needs and experience
  6. Use quality potting soil to provide nutrients to your plants
  7. Make sure your plants have the right amount of light and the right temperature
  8. Water your garden at the right time
  9. Fertilize your plants regularly
  10. Harvest, cut down, or trim your plant at the right time

The care for vegetables, fruits, herbs, and flowers will all vary, so you must understand your desired plants and the care they require. It’s also vital that you check with professionals if you’re unsure what your plant will need to thrive.

Where to Start

Are you ready to start your container gardening journey? Start by finding the right space inside or outside your home and measuring to see the type of container you can use. Monitor the amount of light that area receives, and talk to gardening experts if you are unsure how your desired plants will do in that environment. 

Once you’ve got the details worked out, choose your containers and purchase your plants and soil. Properly input your dirt, moisture, any needed fertilizers, and your plants. Then maintain your care routine to keep your plant thriving.

For more informative articles about container gardening or gardening in general, visit our blog! We’re passionate about gardening and helping you succeed with your gardening dreams. Learn about us and why we do what we do!