Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Herb Gardening in Containers

Good morning gardeners,

Herbs are one of my favorite plants to grow in the garden. A garden of any size can squeeze in a few herbs. I grow about 50 varieties of herbs in my small urban garden. In my current garden of the last 6 years I dedicate one of my four raised beds exclusively to herbs. This allows the space for perennial herbs to thrive without interfering with my crop rotation of vegetables, annual herbs, and flowers in my three other raised beds. In addition to the one raised bed I grow about 20 containers of herbs.

Herb raised bed 5-30-2016

Many herbs grow well in containers given a few simple considerations. Make sure the containers are sited in the individual herb's sun preference, the container are at least 10 inches diameter, they receive adequate water, and are annually divided and repotted as needed.

Herbs are a diverse group of plants that grow in many shapes and sizes. It is helpful to understand if your herb plant is an annual, herbaceous perennial, or evergreen perennial and their size at maturity.

Containers of herbs, annual flowers, and vegetables 5-30-2016

I have successfully grown these herbs in containers:
Bay Leaf
Chamomile-German, Roman
Lemon Balm
Lemon Verbena
Mint-Apple, Chocolate, Orange, Peppermint, Spearmint
Oregano-Greek, Italian
Sage-Berggarten, Clary, Pineapple, Purple, Tricolor, and Tangerine
Scented Geranium
Society Garlic
Thyme-english, french, lemon, lime

A row of mint, lemon balm, and feverfew containers in a partly sunny location 5-30-2016

Mint and lemon balm spread aggressively in the garden by underground runners. I prefer growing these plants in pots so I can keep them under control. Mint grows successfully in containers and is a good example of a type of herb that needs an annual division and repotting. Mint roots are so aggressive they will literally choke the root ball when grown in a container.

Mint root ball taken out of container!

Other herbs grown in containers that benefit from dividing and repotting=lovage, lavender, rosemary, oregano, sage.

March is an excellent time for dividing and repotting perennial herbs. The weather is cool and most herbaceous perennial herb plants are just beginning to show signs of spring growth. Dividing and repotting perennial herbs will promote a healthier more lush plant with improved abundant harvest.

To prepare for dividing and repotting herbs here are the supplies you will need:
Bag of organic potting soil
Organic granular fertilizer
'Hori Hori' garden knife
Bucket of soapy water

Here's what I do to divide and repot mint grown in containers:

1. Bring pots to a raised work surface like potting bench or table
2. Prune off all dead stems and leaves to soil surface
3. Gently remove root ball from container
4. Set container aside, wash inside and out with soapy water, rinse well with hose
5. Take root ball and shake away old potting soil, compost or spread old soil around garden
5. Use garden knife to cut away any roots that have wrapped around in circles
6. Dispose of roots in trash or curbside recycling, never in your own compost bin or around your garden-unless you want mint to take over!
7. Use garden knife to cut root ball in half
8. Refill washed container half full with new potting soil and mix in organic fertilizer
9. Replace new half root ball and fill in with soil
10. Replace plant marker and water container
11. You can replant the excess root ball or roots in a new container for additional plants

Even if I am not dividing an herb plant, if it is grown in a container I annually top dress the container with organic granular fertilizer and a layer of fresh potting soil.

A variety of herbs and annual flowers in containers 5-13-2016

I hope you are inspired to try herb gardening in containers. Herbs are so magickal and beautiful in the garden, as well as irreplaceable and essential for delicious seasonal cooking.

You are invited to join me at one of my upcoming culinary herb gardening classes on March 18th or April 9th

Happy Gardening,

The herb raised bed garden is just waking up! 3-9-2017

Monday, March 13, 2017

What to Plant in the March Edible Garden

Good morning gardeners!

Our average last frost in Portland is March 15th and that is just 2 short days away! It is a good date to keep in mind when garden planning and planting. Frost occurs at 32 degrees and most annual vegetables and herbs are not able to survive temperatures that low. Please keep in mind this date is an AVERAGE based on previous years. We could still get an overnight frost. So far the 10 day forecast appears to be frost-free. This is great news for eager gardeners!

This Friday and Sunday saw partly sunny with 60 degree days here in Portland. Talk about spring fever, yikes! Wonderful days for gardening and getting some much needed sunshine on my skin! However, please remember it is not officially spring until March 21st and March weather is wildly unpredictable with rain, hail, wind, and fluctuating temperatures averaging in the 40s/50s.

For optimal planting conditions not only do day temperatures need to rise, the soil needs to warm, and dry out some. In wet cold soil potato tubers will rot, seeds won’t germinate and transplants will struggle to grow. As March proceeds into April we generally have more ideal planting conditions. Think cool season crops, it is way to early for summer heat lovers like tomatoes, cucumbers, squash, basil, etc--you will plant these crops after May 15th.

Working in wet gardens causes soil compaction that impacts plant health. I’ve had my raised beds covered with a frost blanket that is keeping the soil warm and drier through the rainy season. On a dry day at the beginning of March I prepared my raised beds by removing the frost blanket, hoeing the fall-planted crimson clover cover crop, leaving greens on soil, sprinkling on an organic granular fertilizer, adding a fresh layer of compost, and then replacing the frost blankets. By mid-end of March when I assess the weather the raised beds will be prepped and ready for planting.

During the sunny warmer weather on Friday and Sunday I worked on my herb garden-both containers and a raised bed. It is wonderful timing to divide and repot herbs and perennials grown in containers. The cool weather of spring was perfect for planting annual herbs that thrive in the cooler weather like chervil, cilantro, and parsley. As well as hardy perennials like english and lemon thyme varieties. I think that subject warrants an entire separate post that I am working on now!

Cool Season Crops to Plant in March:

Asparagus-from crowns
Garlic-from cloves
Horseradish-from roots
Jerusalem Artichokes/Sunchokes-from tubers
Potatoes-from seed potato tubers
Onions-from bulbs or bunches
Shallots-from cloves

Direct seed in the garden with protection of a frost blanket, cloche, cold frame or plant transplants directly into the garden

Asian Greens
Escarole & Endive
Florence Fennel
Leeks-transplants are best
Mesclun Mix
Mustard Greens
Radish-direct seed is best
Swiss Chard
Turnips-direct seed is best

I would wait a little later in March to see how the weather goes for planting: broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower. Or if you want to plant these now from transplants into the garden be sure to keep a warming frost blanket handy or use some other kind of protection from a cloche, cold frame or low tunnel. I would also hold off until late March into April for direct-seeding beets and carrots. Make sure the soil has warmed up or their seeds won't germinate!

March is a great time to get started with your herb garden. Cool-loving annual herbs like chervil and cilantro should be planted now from seed or transplants. Biennial parsley can be planted now. Additionally perennial herbs like chives, lavender, oregano, rosemary, sage, and thyme can all be planted from transplants in March.

Late winter into early spring is the ideal time to plant small fruit and fruit trees in your garden. This time of year you will also get the best selection at nurseries. Consider planting a dwarf or columnar fruit tree such as apple, Asian pear, pear, cherry, or plum which all grow excellent in Portland. Fruiting shrubs, canes, and vines include:


And don’t forget the strawberries!

Spring is right around the corner. Happy Planting!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

March in Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb

Good morning Portland gardeners,

March has arrived and with it a daily rotating variety of rain, hail, snow mix, wind, fog, clouds, and sun breaks. That's why the gardening proverb goes: March in Like a Lion, Out Like a Lamb.Two weeks ago I managed 2 afternoons working in the garden without any rain. It was cold to be sure. Raking leaves, cleaning up winter storm debris, pruning hellebore and sword fern foliage, and cutting back the remaining ornamental grasses that dried out last fall.

This morning was a surprising delight. I was awake early before the sunrise and just before 7am I noticed it was actually sunny outside. I bundled up over my pjs and headed into the garden with a mug of steaming hot tea. I curled up in my adirondack chair wrapped in a blanket and soaked in the late winter garden.

Living in the middle of our city, one block off the Alberta Arts District can make for a noisy existence. So finding a quiet time in my urban garden is a rare treat indeed. Sunday at 7am, for a blissful half hour, the only noise was birdsong and the gentle music of the breeze stirring my wind chimes. No cars, no delivery trucks, no pedestrians, no dogs barking, no one smoking. Total heaven in my urban garden. I watched and listened to crows, bluejays, robins, sparrows, and one hummingbird all visit my garden in turn. Even a few seagulls flew overhead.

When it is not raining I hope you can enjoy sitting in your garden, doing a little gardening, and go on a nature walk. By now you should be seeing yellow-blooming forsythia, fragrant winter daphne, bright and tiny crocus, an endless variety of hellebores, and exotic looking edgeworthia.

A word of warning for eager gardeners. I have seen vegetable starts beginning to show up at nurseries and grocery stores. IT IS TOO EARLY to plant your vegetable starts. Our average last frost in Portland is March 15. Hold off on your cool season vegetable starts at least a few more weeks. Please also wait on planting seeds. Seeds have very poor germination in cool wet soil.

I know the other gardening proverb Plant Peas by President's Day. Well, after gardening in Portland for 17 years I subscribe more to Plant Peas at St Patrick's Day.

However, now is a good time to plant asparagus crowns, rhubarb, strawberries, blueberries, cane fruit like raspberries, grapes, kiwi, and fruit trees.

Some ways to satiate your eager gardener until it is planting time:
*Make a garden plan for the year
*Purchase your seeds and bulbs
*Inventory, clean & repair garden tools
*Pick up some flowering spring bulbs and cool season annuals to fluff up your containers-now's a great time for hyacinth, daffodil, mini iris, ranunculus, anemone, primrose, fairy primrose, pansy, and viola
*Spread sluggo organic slug bait around your garden, reapply every 2 weeks to keep in check the slug enemy
*Purchase blooming branches, tulips, and daffodils from your local floral shop to bring the garden inside
*Hang a new spring wreath on your front door
*Brush up on your gardening skills by taking a gardening workshop, read a garden book, get a subscription to a gardening magazine, or join a gardening club like The Hardy Plant Society of Oregon (HPSO)

March is definitely a lion right now, so please use caution in planting too early. Spring will be here soon, I guarantee it!

Happy Gardening,