How Not To Garden: Container Herbs I

I’ve always wanted a garden. I’d daydream that when I finally became a homeowner I would plant this massive vegetable garden that would supply me with all the veggies I could ever hope to eat. I am finally a homeowner but our new backyard is much smaller than I dreamed so a vegetable garden is out. It has a bit of planting space but I wasn’t ready to tackle the overgrown garden bed so, I settled for a container herb garden.

Apart from looking up the best time to plant seeds, I put virtually zero research into this garden. I just went to the nearest home improvement store and got to work.

I decided to grow from seed because I wanted to really feel like I created something. A little garden family that I could love and nurture and smile as I watched it grow.

Disclaimer: I was officially banned from touching plants. Yes, banned. By the garden manager at a hardware store I worked at. She had given me a plant to keep on my desk and I killed it in a month. “Too much love”, she said. She gave me another. Dead a month later. On and on until she gave up on me and said, “Sarah, I want you to promise me you’ll never touch another plant again.” Well, I’ve mostly kept that promise but I feel like I’ve changed and maybe I could be a responsible plant owner again.

My herb garden wasn’t an entire disaster. I don’t have tons of little rows of tiny headstones with names like “thyme” in my garden. But, it didn’t go well and I did have a few casualties…

Here’s a look at how it went:

My Babies

Materials Used To Sow Seeds

  • Seed Starter Tray
  • Paper Pots
  • Soil designed for seedlings
  • Cheap spray bottle with mist setting filled with water
  • Tape. I used painters tape.
  • Marker or pen
  • Seeds. I chose:
    • chives, cilantro, dill, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, thyme and tarragon.

I moistened the soil so that it held together when I squeezed it but it wasn’t dripping. Then filled each cell of the paper pots.

There were ten rows of four so I did one row of each (four pots each). I put three to four seeds in each pot. Some of the seeds were so tiny I didn’t have the patience with them so I just dumped a bunch in each cell.

I put a strip of tape along the length of the bottom of the tray. In each row, I wrote the name of the seed because I knew I’d forget.

Then I sprayed the tops of each cell with a bit of water from the mister bottle. I got the spray bottle because I was afraid water from the watering can would displace the soil and seeds (one morning I learned I was right because I lost the bottle and had to use the can).

I put the lid on and I kept the tray in our sun room during the day to give the plants sunlight. I brough it in at night because it was still really cold at that time.

When things looked like they were starting to dry out, I’d give them a good misting.

I started out keeping the tray lid on to keep moisture in but after a couple weeks the cells started to get white mold on them. I brushed it off when I saw it and then decided to keep the lid off to dry the soil out a bit, which helped.

Most of the seeds sprouted according to the germination time frame indicated on the package. However, only 3 of the 20 parsley seedlings sprouted and I only ended up with 1 rosemary plant out of the 15 or so seeds I planted.

Once the seedlings were a few inches tall I transplanted them to pots.

New Home

Materials Used To Transplant

  • Pots
  • Planting soil
  • Spray bottle mister filled with water
  • Plant marker sticks
  • Pen or marker

Before potting, I thinned each cell, leaving one or two of the strongest looking seedlings. Thinning is the act of selective elimination to allow for an appropriate amount of space between seedlings. I followed the space guidelines on each seed packet.

Then I started out by trying to peel off the paper pots before I transplanted the seedlings. This proved to be a nightmare because they were so wet. I ended up with a lot of seedlings with bare roots because the soil came off with the paper pots. So, after getting frustrated, I just potting the rest with the paper in tact. A few weeks later I noticed that those plants who were transplanted in their paper pots were not doing as well as the plants I removed from the paper.

I put no research into what size pots I should get for each plant.

I got 15 inch pot and grouped thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage together because they have similar growing conditions on the seed packets. I got four 8 inch pots for cilantro, parsley and mint and tarragon. I got two 6 inch pots for dill and chives. All of these pots turned out to be way too small.

Again, I moistened the soil as I did when I first planted and filled each pot. Then I made a fairly large well in the soil and placed the plants in. I made sure that the roots were fully covered while not covering much the stalk. Then I filled with more soil if needed.

After they were all in their new homes and the temperature was consistantly above 50 degrees, I placed them outside indefinelty. Because we get a fair amount of summer rain where I live (zone 7), I did’t have to water them anymore. But, the occasional heavy storm did a bit of damage to the little seedlings. So, I should have left them indoors until they were stronger. Or brought them in when it was really storming.

Once the seedlings were in the pots for a week or so, they really started to take off.  I quickly noticed that I had some issues going on. Most of my seedlings were extremely tall with very few leaves. I found out later that this is called “leggy” and is usually a result of being grown in an area with inadequate light. The plants put all their energy into trying to be tall enough to absorb more sunlight. I’m not sure what happened as I thought my sunroom had plenty of light but I guess not. I also found out that you there isn’t a whole lot you can do to recover from this. I think it helps if you catch it earlier than I did. I ended up trashing my tarragon because it was not salvageable.

I also ended up with plants that were falling over and uprooting themselves. My dill was the worst. After doing some research I realized my pots were too small. Way too small. Couple that with the leggy seedlings and there was no way the roots could really support the plant. I ended up tossing a few dill plants; one poor guy hung in there.

I got some more appropriately sized pots and did another transplant. I repotted oregano in a 18 in. pot, dill in a 15 in. pot and sage in a 13×13 in. pot. The rest weren’t in the best of shape so I didn’t bother repotting them because I’ll have to start again next season. Although, I did get another 18 inch for a basil seedling I bought.

I also bought a basil plant, in mature seedling form, because the hardware store was out of basil seeds and I forgot to go back later. This is also in it’s own 18 in. pot.

How’s The Family?

  • Basil: This gorgeous little guy was a breeze and really makes a case for scrapping the seeds and buying mature seedlings. And, in the 18 in. pot, it is really thriving.
  • Chives: These aren’t doing great. I’m not sure why but the 6 in. pot is probably too small. I was also told by a friend that you aren’t supposed to thin chives (which I previously had) but they didn’t have a good explaination as to why. If you have that answer, please feel free to comment. At any rate, I’m going to regrow chive directly in my garden bed next year, if I get around to clearing it out.
  • Cilantro: I’m afraid this guy isn’t going to make it. The 8 in. pot is way too small. It’s leggy, has hardly any leaves and what leaves it does have don’t resemble anything close to cilantro. The poor plant is in a constant state of flowering which likely means that it knows it’s on it’s way out and is trying desperately to reproduce before it dies. A defineite spring do over.
  • Dill: Another casualty I think. My dill is extremely leggy. It also has very few leaves on it and is constantly flowering. The hardware store garden center told me that dill has a relatively long tap root and that the 6 in. pot I have it in is not at all adequate. They said the root needs, at least, a 12 in. depth to be healthy. So, another do over for next season. I think this will be another garden bed addition.
  • Mint: I threw this guy away. It got badly damaged in a particularly bad storm and wasn’t salvageable. I’ll probably get a long, rectangle pot for this when I replant in the spring.
  • Oregano: My oregano looks fantastic. It really thrived once I placed it in a larger, 18 in. pot. It’s full and healthy and tastes amazing.
  • Parsley: I’m on the fence about this one. It’s not producing a lot of leaves but it looks decent. Because it’s a biennial (completes it’s life cycle in 2 years, then dies) and only produces leaves it’s first year, I’ll have to replant every year anyway. So, no real loss this season. This is another plant that requires a larger pot than the 8 in. pot I provided. Next season I’ll get at least a 18 in.
  • Rosemary: My rosemary looks great; it’s green and healthy and free of any issues. But, it’s tiny still; like 2 inches tall. I remember, from my mom’s rosemary, that this is normal for the first year or two. Her’s became a monster after that. Mine looks right on track. I’ll move it to a bigger pot next season. And once it really starts to grow, I’ll move it to a permanent home in my garden bed.
  • Sage: Once I transplanted this into the 13×13 pot it really flourished. It is bright and healthy and has a ton of leaves.
  • Tarragon: I had to throw my poor tarragon away. It got too leggy, fell over and started growing like a creeping vine. It actually developed roots along it’s stalk. I believe from growing along the ground, it started to mold and I couldn’t save it. I’ll add it to the list of do-overs.
  • Thyme: this guy is doing well also. It’s doing great in it’s 8 in. pot for now. Next season I think I’ll transplant it to a bigger pot and add a few new seedlings to it. Or, I may move it to my garden bed. I’m not sure yet.

Next season I’ll most likely sow seeds directly into their pots or my garden bed, depending on where I want them permently. It will cut down on the shock of transplanting and will make my life easier to start. Sowing outside will mean I’ll have to wait until the threat of frost has passed. But, I think it’ll be better in the long run.


The Do’s

  • do put in reseach before hand on pot size, spacing, thinning, etc.
  • do make sure to get seedlings ample light to prevent legginess
  • do use a spray bottle with a light mist to water delicate seedlings
  • do consider buying mature seedlings for convienience

The Dont’s

  • don’t leave tender seedlings out in heavy rain
  • don’t use pots that are too small
  • don’t forget that you can sow seeds directly into their beds, after the threat of frost has passed, to avoid transplant shock

So, look for How Not To Garden: Container Herbs Part II sometime early next summer.


Thanks for reading. Don’t forget to like, share, comment, whatever.

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