How to care for aromatic plants at home

When I learned to cook, I became a fan of spices and herbs - they are the secret to elevating the flavour and character of any dish. While the dried herbs you buy by the jar in the supermarket may get you out of a hurry, nothing compares to the aroma and texture of fresh herbs. There is no way to compare, as the ones sold to you may have been stored for a long time, have lost their properties and are not as fragrant. Plus taking a few leaves from your lovingly grown plants and adding them to your casserole makes your meal even more special.

If you have dreamed of your potted herb garden but always end up with a bunch of dying plants and a lot of disappointment, don't worry, today I will share with you what I have learned after many failures. I promise you will become that person who grows, harvests and dries their own herbs if you follow these tips to learn how to care for herbs at home.

how easy is it to grow herbs at home?

Everyone says that caring for herbs at home is easy, but this statement is relative. Aromatic plants are rather rustic, they practically take care of themselves when they are in ideal conditions, and it is precisely at this point where things start to get complicated, as the ideal and natural conditions for these plants are different to those they will have at home.

Remember that the secret for any plant to grow happily and vigorously lies in faithfully reproducing the environmental conditions of its place of origin. With aromatic plants it can be a little tricky because their natural environment is usually outdoors, with direct sun exposure and they are quite wild. Most of these plants do not tolerate being enclosed in pots, trapped indoors and confined. They are meant to be wild and free.

The first mint plant I bought met a rather tragic end, I had no way to keep it alive and I tried everything: fertilisers, watering and more. This cycle repeated itself several times, but when I left a small seedling in a planter, almost forgotten and without any hope, it spread so much that I had to prune it because it was choking other plants.

It is a bit of a paradox that aromatic plants are so wild but can be difficult to keep in pots; but it is important to know this contradiction in order to understand the essence of the plant. Understanding their origins will help you to take better care of them, and if they can throw a bit of a tantrum about being in a pot, it is possible to grow them successfully at home. I'll share with you some secrets to help you do just that.

Basic care of aromatic plants at home

Lighting

Aromatic plants require a lot of light. They are not suitable for living in semi-shade (although some manage to acclimatise) and should receive at least 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Indoors they should be very close to a window or in a place where they can be bathed in plenty of light. This is the secret to beautiful growth.

Substrate

The requirements of aromatic herbs are quite diverse. There are some which have Mediterranean origins, such as rosemary, thyme and lavender, which will be happy in a very sunny spot with a very sandy and poor substrate; but there are other aromatic plants which prefer warm spaces.others prefer warm spaces with moist soils, such as chives, sage and parsley, while others prefer some shade and warm temperatures, such as mint and watercress.

That said, when it comes to growing aromatic plants in pots, it is preferable to opt for a substrate with a balanced nutrient concentration. A well-drained, rich, garden-ready substrate. A universal substrate, enriched with some peat and worm castings, is ideal.

Watering

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Aromatic plants need abundant and relatively frequent watering, depending on the type of plant. This is of vital importance in very hot summers, as exposure to the sun will cause the substrate to dry out more quickly. Annual plants prefer moist but not waterlogged soil, while perennials prefer more spaced watering.

It is necessary to avoid getting water on the leaves, to prevent pests or sunburn. Remember to always water in the early morning or at dusk; this ensures that there is enough moisture at the roots and that it is absorbed quickly. Some aromatic plants are very dramatic and will immediately tell you that they need water, while others are more resistant.

Temperature

Because of where they come from they prefer warm, sunny temperatures, between 18 and 20° C would be ideal. The vast majority of aromatic plants are very cold, they do not like low temperatures and prefer to stay out of the frost. It is therefore essential to keep them indoors when winter begins to threaten. Temperatures below 7°C can be fatal for plants.

However, it is possible to gradually acclimatise the aromatic plants so that they can withstand temperatures as low as 5°C. In this respect, plants that are grown from seed have an advantage, as they will quickly adapt to the climate in your home. If temperatures drop in the evenings, you can take your plants out to let them adapt gradually.

Pots

Some people think that pots are not so important, but in the case of aromatic plants, they need to have certain characteristics. Firstly, if you have planters, you can group them according to their type, because they don't need too much space, although you shouldn't do this with mint, because it is very invasive. Generally speaking, 1 or 2 litres of substrate per plant is enough, but avoid putting them in mini-pots that do not allow them to develop. This is very important for shrubby plants such as rosemary and oregano.

Pots of aromatic plants must have very good drainage, without exception. The trick of putting pebbles or similar in the bottom helps very well, but you can also add some sand or vermiculite to the substrate to improve drainage.

Fertilising

Although aromatic plants can thrive in poor soil, when growing in pots it is essential to fertilise and/or feed them properly. This is usually done on a regular basis in the warm season from March to October. Over-fertilisation should be avoided, as this will cause them to lose flavour and aroma. You can use organic fertiliser, such as manure, guano or similar. If it is mineral fertiliser, dissolve it in the irrigation once a month. Another good technique is to change the first 4 centimetres of the substrate to a peat-enriched substrate once a year.

Pruning

Pruning aromatic plants is essential to ensure proper growth and development. Ideally, pruning should be done after flowering to ensure that they grow luxuriantly. If you want to harvest the herbs for culinary use, do it before flowering because after flowering the plant becomes more fibrous and bitter. Cut off what you need and if you have leftovers, you can dry them in the sun or in the microwave. The plant will resprout and you can even give it a denser growth habit. Watercress and others can be pulled up whole because they will not resprout, but reproduce by seed.

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We could classify aromatic plants into 3 basic types:

Annuals: which last only one season such as chives, basil and dill

Biannuals last a couple of seasons. In the first year they grow and bear leaves, in the second year they bear flowers, which turn into seeds and die. An example of such plants is parsley.

Perennials: they live for many years, in all seasons. They are shrubby or woody, but there are others that are not. Examples of perennials are sage, mint, rosemary, mint and lavender.

When you want to group plants in a planter or pot, do so according to the basic types. Avoid mixing them as they tend to have different water and sun requirements. However, always respect the rule of planting mint alone.

Rosemary

Rosemary is the perfect plant to start out in the world of aromatic plants, as it is very easy to look after. It has a bushy habit, so it is best to transplant it into larger pots when you see that it is starting to grow. It loves full sun, resists spaced watering and a poor substrate. Wait for it to dry out well before watering and if it looks lanky, don't hesitate to cut it back to make it more abundant. I also like to keep this one on the side because it grows a lot and can be invasive.

Oregano

Oregano is very easy to care for as long as it has plenty of sun and space. My oregano bush should be about 170 cm tall (no exaggeration) and is happy with little water. Avoid letting water touch the leaves, because they turn yellow. When I can, I try to cut the oregano flowers when they start to emerge, this keeps the oregano bush growing bushy and prevents it from turning bitter, so it delays the time of harvest, in fact I can cut as much as I need throughout the year. Wait until the plant is at least 15 cm high before harvesting. Cut the branch at least 2 cm above the ground, it will sprout again.

Sage

This plant is very pretty, because it has very nice little rough leaves with a grey tinge to them. Sage seeds take ages to grow, so it is best to grow it from seedlings. It prefers heavy watering in summer, but be careful in winter because if the humidity is too high, it can develop fungus and die. It likes direct sun and balanced substrates although it can also thrive in poor soils. Wait until it flowers before pruning.

If you live in a place with harsh winters, sage is perfect because it is a perennial that can withstand temperatures as low as 7° below zero, as long as it is well acclimatised. Avoid planting them too close together, as they need air to circulate between them and they need enough space to fully spread their roots.

Parsley

Parsley has been one of the easiest plants to grow. In fact, I planted just one and have found it watered in many corners of the garden, especially those that have some shade, are cool and the substrate is well moistened. Having said that, it is important to water it frequently and check that it has good drainage so that the roots do not become waterlogged.

It is imperative that you remove any hint of flower from your plant, because if you let them grow, they will mature quickly. They become lanky, stop producing leaves and die. That's why I cut them off as soon as they show, so I can have fresh parsley all year round.

Cilantro

Cilantro has proved to be somewhat temperamental, it likes light but better if it is not so direct in summer. excessive heat does not suit it very well. It requires tall pots, as it likes deep, well-drained soils, like cacti, in order to be able to spread its root system. Watering should be moderate but frequent, because any threat of waterlogging can cause it to die.

This is an annual plant, so as the days get longer it will start to stretch and flowers will appear. You can either wait for the seeds to come out and scatter them or save them. I cut the flowers to keep it growing a little longer so that it is always available. Spray water on the leaves.

Chives

Chives practically grow themselves. You can grow it from seed and if you get an organic chive from the supermarket with some root at the bottom of the stem, you can put that part in water and it will develop roots and you can plant it. Watering should be moderate but frequent, it likes a moist substrate but not waterlogged. It grows very fast, so you can harvest it whole or cut off the leaves leaving the roots in the soil, as it will grow again. The more you cut, the more abundant it will grow.

Basil

Some people have a love-hate relationship with basil, because it is beautiful, you can use it for a thousand things in the kitchen but if you don't know how to take care of it, it will die quickly. The secret is in the watering. This plant needs frequent watering, but the substrate must drain very well. You can water it twice a day in small quantities. Basil is a drama queen, because if you don't water it the way it wants, it will faint and become hideous. Many people think it is dead already and throw it away or abandon it. Don't give up. Water it really well and wait a few hours, it will recover. This is one of the plants I like to water by soaking once a week.

Be careful with direct sun. Don't leave it so unprotected, because it will dry out and make a drama, so it's better if it has some shade. It is an annual, so you should trim the stems to prevent flower growth, this will keep it growing lush and happy. If you let it flower, it will die (although it will leave seeds).

Mint and spearmint

Mint and spearmint are lovely, smell divine and don't need deep pots but wide ones, because they grow sideways; but they should be on their own and isolated from other plants because if you are careless they will have invaded the whole pot and will choke out their companions. In fact, check that they are not throwing their tentacles into nearby pots.

These plants require abundant and frequent watering, especially in spring and summer. Fertilise with organic fertiliser and cut back as needed. You can let it flower in summer and cut it back right after, leaving a 5cm stalk for regrowth. I prefer to control the growth of the stems, keep it compact and even let it climb a little on a stake but not too much. This ensures that the leaves are large and have a deep flavour and aroma.

About the author
Ame Rodríguez

Dedicated to creating an army of cacti, succulents, poodles and cats to help me conquer the world. In the little free time I have left, I play, write and dance.

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