Growing Herbs in Containers on Balcony
Answered by: Conrad Richter
Question from: Manuela Cooperman
Posted on: March 20, 2005

I plan to purchase the following herbs from Richters and I would like to ask you whether they are all suitable to grow in containers. The containers are fairly large and will be kept on a balcony with a south-west exposure, but I live in Massachusetts so sometimes "summer" is not that warm and sunny at all here. Also one side of the balcony is lightly shaded by trees.

This is the list of herbs:

BERGAMOT MARSHALL’S DELIGHT LEMON BALM ATTAR OF ROSES GERANIUM MABEL GREY GERANIUM PROVENCE LAVENDER SOAPWORT LICORICE SWEET VIOLET

You don’t say how big the containers are. If they are one foot deep or more and at least 18 inches across then all of these will grow. The lemon balm, geraniums, lavender would probably do the best. There are different issues with each plant. For example, the bergamot will grow up to 4 feet tall: will your container layout be able to accommodate that? Licorice has a long root: are your containers deep enough? If you are looking for a colourful display, you will find that these bloom for only specific periods of the season.

Somebody told me that the idea of growing soapwort in a container is absurd, since it spreads vigorously and would be quickly rootbound and stunted. Should I give up on the idea of growing it, since I do not have a garden?

Soapwort does spread, but we find that it is fairly well adapted to containers. It is true that it will become rootbound but so do many other herbs such as mints, and soapwort is not as aggressive as mint. Growing plants like mints in containers requires periodic uprooting and dividing in order to keep them manageable; but this is just what gardeners do, tending to plants as they grow and pruning or dividing as is necessary. If intend to use the roots to make soap products then you will be lifting them from the soil anyway.

What other things should I know about growing these plants in containers? Can I/should I winter them indoors? I do have a sunny window suitable to keep containers.

You need to bring the geraniums indoors over winter because they cannot take frost. Lemon balm may not make it outdoors also. It is rated hardy enough, but that is when it is in the ground. In general, when you overwinter plants in containers outdoors, you need plants that hardier than your zone. That’s because roots in containers are more exposed to changing temperatures and the repeated freezing and thawing can be lethal for many plants. Also, the bigger the container and the more soil mass you have, the more likely plants will overwinte, precisely because the roots will be less subject to swings in temperatures in large containers.

If you have large enough containers then bergamot, lavender, soapwort, licorice and sweet violet are best left outdoors. It is a bit tricky to keep them alive indoors over winter because their growth will slow down and it’s very easy to overwater them. They benefit from a winter rest and they are programmed to survive outside in a dormant state.

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