Growing Potted Herbs in the Caribbean
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Melanie
Posted on: July 06, 2007

I am interested in starting a herb business in the Caribbean. I have about 1/4 acre of land that I can use, but I am more interested in growing herbs in containers for sale. Targeting the busy professional who does not have time to plant and care for a back yard garden. I need some information on which herbs grow best together and how should the plants be cared for in pots. Basically I need all the information I can get about herb container gardening.

Not all popular varieties will grow in tropical zones. You will have to experiment to find out which ones grow and which don’t. Over the years we have received reports of what grows and few of what won’t grow, but in many cases the reports are conflicting and we do not feel that we yet have a good handle on what varieties to recommend.

Growing in containers expands the possibilities somewhat because you can control water drainage better than growing in the ground. Many popular herbs are from the Mediterranean where rainfall is infrequent and the plants are adapted to hot dry conditions. These plants suffer from diseases during rainy seasons or periods of prolonged high humidity. By growing in containers you can enhance the water drainage by adding gravel, sand or perlite to the growing medium, and you can move the plants around according to the seasons to protect from excess moisture. Having the ability to drill extra drainage holes helps too.

Some herbs have tropical equivalents that you should consider. For instance, in Jamaica what is grown as "thyme" is not the true Thymus vulgaris grown in the north, but broadleaf thyme, Coleus amboinicus, a plant that looks nothing like the real thyme but has a wonderful savory flavour reminiscent of real thyme. Jamaican mint, also known as Costa Rican mintbush (Micromeria viminea), is another tropical substitute, this time for the northern mints, Mentha spp. Unlike the true mints, Jamaican mint is very well behaved in crowded containers because it does not spread by runners. Another important tropical substitute is Mexican marigold, sometimes called Mexican tarragon (Tagetes lucida), and commonly grown in place of French tarragon, a northerner that can’t take year round heat very well. Other substitute herbs such as Vietnamese coriander (because it does not bolt like cilantro or coriander) will not be familiar in the Caribbean promoting these superior varieties them will help you make a name for yourself.

In general herbs with leaves that have hairs don’t do well in the tropics unless sheltered from excessive rain. Examples are the English lavenders and the garden sages. These can be in the tropics, but without a good measure of effort and ingenuity.

In time you can probably come up with a list of several hundred herbs that will grow in containers in the Caribbean. But you will want to focus on the 30-40 best known herbs. Those top herbs will account for most of your sales.

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