by Matt Gibson
Many fabulous recipes call for fresh herbs. If you skip the herbs, the dish is now lacking that key ingredient that pulls it all together. Dried herbs just don’t have the bold flavor that fresh herbs do, and they are not a substitute that is even worth rolling the dice on. So, what do you do to give that recipe the fresh herbs that it needs? You go up to the grocery store and you pay an exorbitant amount of money for a tiny little frustrating package of fresh herbs, most of which that end up wasted and wilting in your refrigerator after you finish making the dish. This too-common scenario is a horrible waste of money and leftover herbs.
Growing your own herbs, however, is a wonderful solution to this problem, and you don’t even have to dig around in the dirt outside to make it happen. The new trend in culinary gardening is making your own herb garden in cute and portable little Mason jars. Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow, especially if you start with a cutting, plant, or seedling, but even growing from seeds is not that complicated, and this new Mason jar method makes the process easier than ever before.
Gathering What You Will Need
The first thing you will need, obviously, is a set of Mason jars. Any old jar will do, so feel free to repurpose some spaghetti sauce jars or whatever you have lying around the house. Just be sure to wash off the labels so that you can make your own. But if it’s aesthetics that you are going for, there’s nothing like the real thing. The Mason jar was patented and invented by John Landis Mason back in 1858, and it is still being used today for everything from canning and pickling to making containers to grow herbs and spices right in your kitchen.
Find Mason jars in antique stores, in the cabinets of your grandparents’ house, or you can simply purchase some at the grocery store. The quart-sized Mason jars work the best for growing herbs. Get as many as you think you will need to accommodate a selection of your favorite herbs. As far as herbs are concerned, tender, non-woody herbs such as cilantro, parsley, and basil will work the best. Woody herbs, like rosemary, need a lot of soil to thrive, so it’s best to grow them outside where they have room for their roots to lounge and expand.
Either seedlings or seeds will work just fine, but seedlings will give you more of a chance at success than growing your plants from seed. When transplanting seedlings into your Mason jars, be sure to break up the root system a bit before replanting, as this encourages the roots to stretch out and get cozy in their new space.
If you’re growing your herb collection from seed, bury the seeds just under the surface of the soil, and be sure to water gently so as not to disturb the seed placement with a deluge. Aside from jars and seedlings or seeds, you will also need small rocks or gravel, potting mix, jar labels (for added cuteness), and perlite. There is one other optional ingredient, charcoal, you’ll need on hand to absorb some of the water that you’ll be pouring into these jars on a regular basis to keep the soil at each plant’s desired moisture level.That’s it—no long list of tools and materials, just a handful of items that are cheap and easy to acquire, and you’re well on your way to having a fresh herb garden in your kitchen.
The Process: Planting the Mason Jar
The only problem with Mason jar gardening is that this type of jar has no holes for drainage. A drainage-free container for plants can lead to moisture-related problems such as overwatering, mildew, and root rot. To avoid these issues, some gardeners have resorted to drilling holes in the jars themselves, which requires a specialized drill bit (and might destroy the jars or even lead you to injury if you’re not really careful). Considering you don’t have to go to the trouble of drilling holes to make your herb garden a success, let’s go with the alternative method: rocks.
Line the bottom of the jar with your rocks or gravel, setting their level about two inches deep. You can also use marbles for a more polished aesthetic if you prefer. This looser gravel layer will help with the drainage issue due to the lack of holes while keeping roots from getting sick and killing your herb plants. Some of the DIY sites that show how to make a Mason jar herb garden have left out this important step. Make sure that you don’t skip it, or this whole adventure is going to end in disappointment down the line when your plants start to suffer from the lack of drainage.
Once the rocks are placed, add a layer of half an inch to one inch of perlite. When you water the herbs in the coming weeks, you will use the perlite line to know when to stop watering. You want the water level to be just above the level of the rocks. The water will wick through the perlite to get to the plant’s roots as needed. If you are going to add charcoal, add no more than a half an inch on top of the perlite to improve absorption.
Now that the base is finished, you can go ahead and fill your Mason jar with potting mix almost to the top. Leave about an inch of space to work when you add the seeds to avoid a messy workstation when you’re done.
If you are using seeds as opposed to plants or stem cuttings, you want to sow them just barely under the surface of the potting soil, about an eighth to a quarter of an inch deep. If you are using seedlings (which we highly recommend, as it’s very hard to successfully grow herb plants from seeds, fill the jar partially with potting mix, then add the seedling. Remember to break up the roots to encourage root expansion, and then finish your Mason jar container off with potting mix. End by tamping down the top layer of soil around the seedling to make sure it’s securely planted.
How to Care for Your Herbs
Water your herb garden once at the start of the plants’ growing cycle, and don’t water again until you see that the rocks at the bottom of your jars are dry. Test to make sure it’s time to water by making sure the soil is dry when you stick a finger in at least an inch deep. You should water no more frequently than twice per week, unless you used too much charcoal. The amount of water you should give to your herbs will vary based on your home environment. Also keep in mind that some herbs prefer a drier growing environment than others, so the plant type you’ve selected can also cause watering level to fluctuate. Do your research to learn what each herb you are growing likes and doesn’t like when it comes to care so you can avoid rookie mistakes.
Place your Mason jars in the sunniest windowsill in your home, then sit back and watch the magic happen. Now, when a recipe calls for thyme or oregano, you’ve got it right within reach. No more wilting overpriced sprigs of rosemary in the refrigerator—no more dried herb substitutes that you won’t even notice in the dish. With your new Mason jar herb garden, you’ll always have fresh herbs within reach.
Once your herb plants begin to get bigger, you might consider moving them into a different container or transplanting them outside into the ground, where they can grow to massive sizes and give you a massive harvest. However, you may enjoy the Mason jar herb garden so much that you choose decide to start over from scratch each time. There’s no shame in that, either. Herbs from the produce section are so expensive that you’ll still be saving money by growing your own.
If you use a lot of one or two herbs in particular in your regular cooking routine, you may consider devoting more than one jar to a particular herb. In the kitchen, you’ll now have everything you need to make a variety of dishes taste a whole lot better. Having fresh herbs on hand is a gift to any foodie, plant aficionado, or serious home chef. Celebrate your new creation by making some tasty treats that make use of your herb collection.
Decorative Tips for Herb Gardens
We recommend using original Mason jars instead of a collection of recycled jars from your kitchen because an arrangement of plants potted in Mason jars looks super cool with the vintage-style glass containers clustered together. In just a few extra minutes, you can create your own labels and neatly write the names of the herbs you’ve chosen on them, making it simple to keep track of which herbs are which. Carefully selected labels also add to the decorative luster of your entire kitchen when you add them to your Mason jar herb garden.
Your herb garden is now completely portable. When it’s time to make some dinner, just grab the jars and take them with you. Most herbs need at least 6 hours of sunlight per day, but after that, you are free to move them wherever you like. If you’re entertaining, make use of the plants two ways by including the herbs in your dishes and using the Mason jar herb garden as a living centerpiece.
Gardening is not for everyone. Some of us just don’t have a green thumb, and no matter how hard we try, we kill off everything we touch. Even those gardeners who fall into this category can enjoy the benefits of a successful Mason jar herb garden. Ask any seasoned gardener for advice on easy-to-grow starter plants, and they will probably tell you that you can’t go wrong with herbs. Better still, once you have a little bit of success growing herbs in Mason jars, you may find that with a little practice, you have a green thumb after all.
Want to learn more about making a Mason jar herb garden?
Free People covers DIY Mason Jar Fresh Herb Garden
Gardening Know How covers Mason Jar Herb Garden: Growing Herbs In Canning Jars
HGTV covers Start a Mason Jar Garden
One Good Thing covers DIY Mason Jar Herb Garden
Grow What You Love covers DIY Mason Jar Herb Garden
The Frugal Girls covers DIY Mason Jar Herb Garden