Good soil is always beneficial for your herbs, regardless whether you plant them indoors or outdoors. The soil is the main thing contributing the health of your herbs, and in fact, all plants. How does your herb make full use of the soil? To your herb, the soil is the source of all the chemical components which it uses to power its growth, biology, and reproduction.
The main components of soil that are deemed important by your herbs – nitrogen, phosphorus, moisture, PH level, and drainage, these elements are all determined by the nature of the soil used, and therefore, maintaining them all at optimum level is essential if you want to cultivate healthy herbs at all. Moreover, if you plant your herbs in containers, then you are solely responsible for almost all the needs of your herbs. Thankfully, most herbs do not have high requirements.
Most herbs like dry, alkaline soil with excellent drainage. Examples are lavender, anise, sage, and horehound. If the soil is kept too wet, some of these herbs that like it dry, may suffer from root rot. Most herbs cannot grow well in wet soil, preferring just a little moisture to semi-desert like conditions. The few that like moister soil include herbs like peppermint, chives, mint, and coriander. Adding a little compost to the soil can aid in helping the soil be more water retentive.
The ideal soil for growing herbs is one that isn’t too sandy or clayey. The particles of clay suspended in clay-rich soil will readily absorb water and retain it, while sandy soil which is rich in quartzite particles, have relatively large spacing in between the particles which on one hand provides for good air circulation and water flow, but need a certain amount of periodic enrichment, as on their own, they provide very little natural nutrients for the herbs.
The mineral content of soil is quite important for many herbs. Some herbs prefer more calcium rich soil, and for these, you could add more calcium in the form of lime or better still, crushed eggshells or shellfish shells (farm grit). Bear in mind that more calcium carbonate in the soil will increase the alkaline level of the soil, and what you want to achieve is only a slightly acidic or slightly alkaline environment, depending on the herbs you want to grow. Any more than that and the plants will develop problems like pale leaves and retarded growth.
How do you test the pH level of your soil? Just get distilled water (pH 7), and toss a spadeful of soil into the water. The water needs to be of similar amount (volume wise) to the soil. After that you stick in a piece of pH paper strip (available from lab supply and aquarium shops), and compare it to the pH chart which these pH kits usually supply. If it’s below pH 7, the soil is acidic, but if it’s above pH 7, than the soil is alkaline.
Most culinary herbs are native to the Mediterranean region, which implies lots of sun, breezy air, and well drained, rocky soils. These soils are also quite shallow, and these Mediterranean herbs therefore do not root deeply. So try to recreate this environment if you’re growing Mediterranean herbs like coriander, thyme, and parsley. Do not plant them too deep, a general depth of 6-8 inches below the surface is more than adequate. You can also plant them in a raised bed, and wall in the bed with wooden planks. Containment is useful if you’re planting perennial herbs that propagate by runners.
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