Herb Garden on the Cheap

September 3, 2013
By Adam Lehrman

Let’s face it. Most of us don’t have a whole lot of extra time for hobbies. In fact, many of us don’t have enough time to deal with all of the things we’re supposed to be taking care of. But, the other day I was forced to buy four different kinds of fresh herbs for a recipe – Italian parsley, oregano, basil, and rosemary. If you’ve ever bought fresh herbs, you’ll know they’re usually around $1.99 for a small plastic package. If you don’t use all of the herbs fairly quickly, they go bad. On top of that, buying rosemary is just plain ridiculous. Walk thirty feet in any direction in Tucson and you’ll find rosemary. Cue new hobby (or, more accurately, revisit older hobby).

Herbs are probably one of the easiest things you can grow in Tucson. In fact, September is a perfect time to start herbs according to this planting guide, courtesy of the Community Food Bank. If you’re even remotely curious about gardening, but don’t have the time, patience, experience, or space for it, read on. This is entry level gardening on the cheap and quick. Keep in mind, we won’t be talking about growing from seed here. For this article, we’re focusing on starter plants from a nursery.

Primary items needed: Containers or pots, starter plants, soil, and water (preferably a hose).

Green Things Nursery in Tucson
Green Things Nursery in Tucson

First things first: Decide which herbs you’d like to grow. I chose thyme, oregano, and mint. Mint and basil are simple. Oregano and thyme is only a hair more challenging, and I’ve found Italian parsley to be the most challenging of all the herbs I’ve grown (but not that challenging). There’s also sage, tarragon, cilantro, marjoram, and others. Grow what you like to use. There are a number of places in Tucson to purchase your starter herb plants. I went to Green Things, but you could also check out out Mesquite Valley Growers, Harlow, or even Home Depot or Lowes, if you must. The herbs I purchased cost $2.99 per plant.

Tucson Foodie's Selected Herbs and FoxFarm Ocean Forest Soil
Tucson Foodie’s Selected Herbs and FoxFarm Ocean Forest Soil

Second: Pick up some soil. You should be able to get this at the same place where you purchase the herbs. Get good soil. I’m a huge fan of FoxFarm‘s products and picked up their Ocean Forest potting soil for around $10.00.

Third: Containers. If you don’t already have some containers or pots, you’ll need to pick some of those up, too. There are a couple of ways to go about this: three separate pots, or one big container for all three. If you’re into aesthetics, unfortunately, the nicer pots cost more. Of course, you can plant directly in the ground if you’ve found a good spot. Just make sure to dig out a hole and fill it with the potting soil. But, do some research to make sure you understand the sun requirements of the herbs you decide upon. While containers are easy to move if the sun is too intense or not enough, holes in the ground don’t move.

Now that you have your plants, soil, and containers, it’s time to get busy planting.

herb-levelFourth: Place some soil in container. Regardless of if you’re using the separate container method, or one big container, you’ll want to fill up the container(s) with enough soil so that you can set the starter plant’s roots on top of the soil while the top of that root/soil block sits where it should be when the rest of the soil is added. Basically, the existing point where the starter plant is coming out of it’s own soil block should end up roughly one inch to one-quarter inch from the top edge of the container after being compacted lightly.

Fifth: Add plant. This may sound obvious, but you’ll need to remove the starter plant from the thin plastic container it was purchased in. Loosen up the roots as much as you can without shocking the plant, especially if they’re compacted. Then you’ll want to place it in the center of the diameter of the pot and fill with soil all around. This takes a little trial and error to perfect, though it’s not difficult. Compact evenly and level to where plant meets soil.

Water until it floods out the bottom.

Compact one more time.

Voila. Repeat with the rest of your starter plants. By plant two or three, you should be an expert! And, you’ve spent less than $20, (unless you splurged on nice pots), and hopefully, less than a few hours. Just remember to water.

Tucson Foodie Herbs
Tucson Foodie’s Planted Herbs

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