Question: My herb garden in containers do not look healthy. How do you care for potted herbs? -Tammy C.
Answer: Keep herbs well hydrated without allowing them to become soggy, as oversaturated soil can put herb plants (especially those native to the Mediterranean) at risk for diseases like root rot, fungal disease, or mildew. Overly wet soil is especially a concern during the winter months. Keep herbs from getting too soggy by using loose soil that drains well and by allowing the soil to dry to a depth of one or two inches before watering your plants. You can check the moisture level by sticking a finger into the soil near your plants—if dirt clings to your skin, it is still wet and the plants don’t need water just yet.
Your herbs won’t need as much fertilizer as other houseplants, but those growing in containers will need an occasional feeding with general-purpose liquid fertilizer, an organic water-soluble fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizer, or a commercial blend created specifically for herb plants. If your fertilizer is designed for use on herbs, follow the package instructions for how much to use and how frequently to apply the fertilizer. However, for fertilizers that aren’t designed for use on herbs, reduce the dosage to one quarter of what the packaging recommends for herbs in your container garden, and apply the fertilizers every six weeks in the spring, summer, and fall. You do not need to fertilize herbs in the winter.
Make sure that liquid fertilizers are applied at the base of the plant. Give your plants fertilizer in the morning for best results, and water them before fertilizing. Even if you use a fertilizer that’s dissolved in water, giving plants fresh water first will prevent their roots from being burned by the fertilizer.
You won’t need to prune your potted herbs if you’re harvesting them for use in the kitchen regularly. When you clip herbs to use, make sure to harvest from the tips of the stems and not from the base. Depending on the size of your plant, about an inch or two from the tip is a good amount to harvest. Never remove more than a third of the foliage of an herb plant at a time to allow the plant to recover. The exception to this rule is chives, which can be cut to an inch or two above the surface of the soil (and can be cut all at once). Carefully pinch clean through the stems or use scissors to snip when you take cuttings from herb plants—never rip them, as tearing or ripping is likely to damage your plants and can lead to disease.