Soil for outdoor herb containers?

Littleton, CO(Zone 5a)

I think I've already made a mistake and I haven't even started!

I bought 4 large whiskey barrels to do my herbs in this year. I wanted some tea and culinary herbs to start with. I filled all the barrels with Miracle Grow potting mix. However, I ran across something today that said herbs don't like very rich soil and that too many chemical fertilizers make the taste bitter. I've actually been growing most of the herbs I wanted from seed, so they're still inside under the lights and have not been planted. The point being, I still have time to fix the problem if there is one.

What do you all think? Leave the miracle grow and let the fertilizer wash out? Or move the miracle grow to my patio flower containers and put something else in my herb barrels? I'm planning on getting a truck load of Topsoil/Manure/Peat mix late next week to fill my raised garden bed I'm starting and I could put that in there I suppose? I won't be offended if you say I've got it all wrong, I'm really just guessing based on bits and pieces of what I've read and what I seem to have easy access to and that I've been able to find.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

It depends on how organic you want to be. I use plain old Miracle Gro, fresh out of the bag and don't find my herbs taste bitter. It does contain chemical fertilizer, but after a few months that will be gone and I use mine for years.
I would be leary of the manure, soil, peat mixture, because, depending on the mix, it could pack too much. Commercial planting mixes are designed to stay fairly loose and to hold water. Some guy wrote an article about it in some thread a while back -- a professional in the nursery field and explained how vastly different the needs are for potting soil and garden soil. Wish I had some clue where I found it!
You could go with an organic mix. I don't know much about those. You can also make a potting mix of your own by mixing professional potting mix with peat moss. I think that is supposed to work pretty well and is more or less organic. I find it a little too light though.

Littleton, CO(Zone 5a)

I'm not overly concerned about staying organic, I think I would like to eventually lean more that direction, but the miracle grow is cheap for me to get in big bags right now.

So Paj, are you also saying that the mix I was going to get might not be good for my raised garden bed? I was going to go with it because I can get it from the local landscape wholesaler cheap by the truck load. Their only other mix is a peat/manure mix, but they told me that was better if I was mixing with native clay to try and loosen it up. I used that in all my flower beds since I didn't really want to haul out all the native clay. I'll go search the soil and garden forums and see what other suggestions they have.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I think the one the landscaper recommends is probably the best for your raised beds, great that you can get it cheap. I make my own compost and add it to my beds -- raised or otherwise, to increase the soil depth. You will find that after using your raised beds and composting annually your plants and the earthworms will loosen your soil a lot deeper than what you add to the raised beds -- that is if you aren't putting them on concrete, which I have heard of as well. It is the organic matter and work by the roots of your plants' roots that make all the difference.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

I think good drainage is the key for alot of herbs although some herbs don't like rich soil (sage, monarda for example). I would mix sand or grit or vermiculite into the containers to ensure good drainage. I don't fertalize my herbs so I don't know about taste changes from fertalizer.

Littleton, CO(Zone 5a)

Hehe... Sand you say? That's good, because I did sneak a little bit of that into each pot and the flower beds. I accidentally got too much for the sand box and it's nearly bursting at the seams. So every chance I get I take a bucket out and add it some place. In very, very small concentrations. Probably about 1:20 ratio or less. I've heard too much is also not good.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Too much fine sand would turn my clayey soil into hardpan here so a little is definitely the way I go too. I use a coarser sand than 'sandbox' that I got at the hardware store although I don't think it makes a difference in small quantities. A neighbour uses sandbox sand in her veggie garden cuz they have a sandbox and she has luvly veggies every year.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I converted the very large sandbox that came with our house into a lily bed by adding compost year after year. Works great. I also added some soil I purchased that was rather clayey and with the sand and the compost is a great bed for lilies and herbs.
Our county agent says sand mixed with clay doesn't work. I don't know why or where he gets that. Seems okay to me.

Carson City, NV(Zone 6b)

I think he means that adding sand to clay without the organic matter doesn't work, because you're sort of making concrete. Any time you can add organic matter the plants will love it. I used cheap potting soil mixed with nasty clay fill dirt and a little sand and fine gravel in my herb containers and they seem perfectly happy. I never fertilize them except with leaf mulch in the fall which sort of composts and gets worked into the soil by the bugs.

Dolores, CO(Zone 5b)

Katlian, when you say "leaf mulch in the fall which sort of composts".... well, we are new to living in Colorado, and as we moved here in October, we did no leaf raking last fall (but have done lots and lots of it this spring). We have a LOT of leaf mulch that has sort of composted, most of it raked up now, but I wonder what yours and everone elses feelings are about this leaf mulch, I kind of think it's beneficial to let it sit over the winter.

Also, we ae starting a compost bin! Hooray!

Littleton, CO(Zone 5a)

Yeah, I was sort of feeling the same way about it this spring. I got lazy about it last fall and just let it all go and I like how nicely all the leaves eventually found their way into my flower beds and snuggled up with the flowers. In our dry climate "letting it all go" is probably not such a bad thing. When I lived in the Pacific Northwest as a child, there were just too many leaves and it made a slimy mess if most of it wasn't cleared in fall. Otherwise in spring, you wouldn't have flowers anymore, just mushroom beds.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

I always leave my leaves on as mulch as it's so dry here and up to this winter we haven't had much snow for 7 years or so. Just started clearing last weekend. I compost alot but dig in about 1/2 inch of leaves right into the beds and let the worms do their thing. Bravo about the compost Brenda! I just luv my 'hole in the ground' compost. It doesn't make enough to do all the beds anymore though.

Carson City, NV(Zone 6b)

We don't have snow on the ground for most of the winter so I pile leaves on the herbs and flower beds for insulation. I take most of it off in the spring but some gets mixed into the soil. I don't give the herbs any concentrated fertilizer.

Ennis, MT(Zone 4a)

Just found this thread. I have to let you know I absolutely detest miracle grow potting soil. I killed more plants with it in the greenhouse than anything I tested. Now I use Vissers, but they are local and no help to you.

In our tubs by the kitchen porch I use a mixture of regular soil, peat, and leftover potting mix from the greenhouse and they work great.

For flavor, you might look into high brix gardening. It is not strictly organic but can be done so it is almost organic (some of the mineral supplements are not entirely organce). The principle behind it is to create complete and balanced mineral sources with beneficial microbes so the plants can obtain maximum nutrition from the soil.

Flavors are superior as well as lasting longer before decay sets in. I am really pleased with it.

Littleton, CO(Zone 5a)

Ok. I think for the sake of being completely overwhelmed by taking on too many new plant projects at once, I'll just leave it this year and then start messing with it when I have more time in the future. I like the idea of getting the right minerals into the plants in order to get the right stuff into me and my family. But I don't think I can handle one more research project at this moment.

And I think I'm about to give up on growing Rosemary and Sage from seed. They just don't want to wake up. I don't know what I was thinking, it's almost as cheep to buy one pack of seeds and soil as it is to buy two plants, which is all I want of each type. Learning experience I guess. Future note, save indoor seed growing for rare and unusuals or mass quantities. Or free seeds from trade or my own plants. :D

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

Rosemary is a persnickety germinator for me too kTalia. I also find it is very slow growing so still little going into winter. You should be able to winter over a larger plant in your zone so buying a plant might be the better option.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

You can winter over Arp or Madeline Hill rosemary on the south side -- or at least it works here for some people. I will try it for the first time this year. I will probably pile a lot of manure around it to. I buy a sage plant about once every 5 years if it dies, but it rarely does. Same with thyme. Thyme actually did better for me in a pot on the Southside than in decent soil. Until the pot broke in the middle of the winter. It probably got too much exposure to its roots and died after many years. Will plant new one this year on pot and try to remember to check to see if the pot is intact.
I am not into seeding as much as many of you even though I have a growlight. I find seeding indoors especially good for annuals and vegetables, but I buy those plants at the nursery if I can find the varieties I like. What I grow from seed is the exotic stuff that nobody sells -- red brussels sprouts, ping tung eggplants, etc. This year I will attempt to grow sesame -- for the leaf in Korean cooking. Can't buy those plants anywhere I know of -- probably can in LA.

Littleton, CO(Zone 5a)

The last 3 years in a row I've killed my Rosemary in indoor pots. It's either 1) not enough humidity in my house or 2) not enough light. Probably both but mostly number 2. I can get them to make it up to about mid-January then they just give up. I've never tried them outside yet, so this will be a new adventure. It just occured to me, there's no reason I couldn't leave my indoor seeding lights up and keep them there... I wonder if that would work better.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Don't know. It is worth a try. Or have you tried putting them in flowerpots outside in the summer then indoors in the winter. I can usually keep them about 2 years or so that way. I think they do need the most light you can give them -- the light in January is so thin, so to speak. The grow lights might help. But water is a big problem. Mine always dry when the soil drys out. Now I am keeping them on the windowsill in front of the sink so I won't forget. Then they will go outside.
At the farm in Mississippi, I have beautiful bushes of rosemary and I do nothing to it. It loves that heat and rain.

Santa Fe, NM

My rosemary in the pot is blooming now. I grow quite a few herbs in clay soil. I throw in compost and leaves and so forth but I don't fertilize them at all unless they get some run off from the roses who do get fed quite a bit. The herbs seem fine without much fuss, which is one reason why I have them! They go in well with native plants, grasses and other semi-xeric plants. They don't want too much water. Of course, it depends on what kind of herb it is! I have lemon balm, mint, lavender, tansy, thymes, winter savory, garlic chives, green onions, sweet woodruff, southernwood artemisia, sage, oregano, valerian, tarragon and probably some others I've forgotten. They actually like our climate, can you believe it?

Dolores, CO(Zone 5b)

Nice, Roybird! Do you cook with all of them? And do you companion plant to keep bugs away? Do tell!

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I am going to go for outdoor Rosemary this year. And will have to replace my thyme. Have most of the same things as roybird, but not all. But I also have Thai basil, salad burnet, and sorrel -- French and regular.

Helena, MT(Zone 4b)

I have little lemon balm sproutlings. Melissa officinalis-- it's the most expensive essential oil there is. I wonder why. It grows like a weed in many places.

Does anyone have borage?

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

No borage here.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

I am not sure my borage is up yet, though. I think it waits until after the freezes. Also the beds where it grows only started getting water yesterday.

Littleton, CO(Zone 5a)

I have some Borage seeds, I was going to companion plant them with my tomatoes and strawberries when they arrive. I read they make very good companion plants.

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

It's good to know your borage self sows paj. I wonder if it will here. I think I'm going to try it in a border somewhere.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

It self sows like crazy for me and I find it very attractive. I have to thin it though to let my other flowers grow. Hope it does the same for you.

Helena, MT(Zone 4b)

Hmmm, I have an alpine strawberry patch. Do you plant the borage in among them or behind or what?

Littleton, CO(Zone 5a)

From what I read you just need to grow it close to them, but why not grow it with them... I think that would nice!

Here's the section from www.ghorganics.com about companion planting Borage
"BORAGE:  Companion plant for tomatoes, squash, strawberries and most plants. Deters tomato hornworms and cabbage 
worms. One of the best bee and wasp attracting plants. Adds trace minerals to the soil and a good addition the compost pile. 
The leaves contain vitamin C and are rich in calcium, potassium and mineral salts. Borage may benefit any plant it is growing 
next to via increasing resistance to pests and disease. It also makes a nice mulch for most plants. Borage and strawberries 
help each other and strawberry farmers always set a few plants in their beds to enhance the fruits flavor and yield. Plant near 
tomatoes to improve growth and disease resistance. After you have planned this annual once it will self seed. Borage flowers 
are edible. "

Ennis, MT(Zone 4a)

I better get some borage going. Is it fairly easy to germinate? I suspect so since it self seeds.

Littleton, CO(Zone 5a)

It's supposed to be fairly easy. It is apparently hard to transplant however, so you're supposed to start it where you want it to grow. Some other recommendations I've seen say to put out new seeds every few weeks if you're interested in having some in bloom for a longer period of time. I think this would be if you're eating the blooms which are supposed to be good in salad.

Oh, somewhere there was a list of bad companions for it, I know cucumbers were on the list and one or two others I don't recall at the moment. I think I got that from the list on Wikipedia.

Helena, MT(Zone 4b)

"Borage may benefit any plant it is growing next to via increasing resistance to pests and disease."

Well that decides it. My fungus-prone clematis, Ernest, is growing right next to the strawberry patch. I have a mission for you, Borage!

Calgary, AB(Zone 3a)

It sounds like a superplant. I MUST definitely grow this.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Here at least, you plant borage once and you have it forever. Not hard to pull up if it gets in the way of something smaller though. Just be sure to let it go to seed. I like the looks of the leaves as well as the flowers.

Santa Fe, NM

Borage hates me. Comfrey hates me. But I do have fennel which is not supposed to do well with anything. It is next to a yucca and a rose bush. I use herbs in cooking, potpourri, whatever. Borage is very pretty but it just doesn't grow for me.

Los Alamos, NM(Zone 5a)

Roybird, I will save you some borage seed this year. If I give you enough you will eventually have some.

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