Do you love cooking with fresh herbs? Do you want access to fresh mint or basil leaves right when and where you need them? Well, there is an easy (and quite fascinating) way to get your fresh herb fix, and to create a neat little garden in your own kitchen. The solution is reusing glass jars to grow edible herbs. This post will show you how to use glass jars to create a charming herb garden in your own home!
Hence, how can herbs be grown successfully in a glass jar? To successfully grow herbs in a glass jar, you need to:
- Create a drainage system: this a key step to compensate for the lack of drainage holes;
- Plant the herbs: use seeds, or transplant straight into the jar.
- Find a suitable location: place the jars in a spot that gets 6+ hours of sunlight daily.
Hence, let’s dive-in in the material you need to have, why you need it, and how, in three steps, create your first jar-based garden.
Material For A Glass-Jar Garden
To create a long-lasting glass-jar home garden, you need a few ingredients. These are essential, and I do recommend to stick with them as the preparation of the jar drainage system (most of the material is for that) is critical for the long-term success of your glass-jar herbs.
Material: Jar That You Can Find Everywhere
You might not realize, but your house might be plenty of glass jars that you are going to throw away after use. You can think about jars like those used for instant coffee, olives ones, or marmalade. If they are not too small (you have to place material inside it, so you should feel comfortable with it) they are all excellent candidates.
They are fantastic for growing herbs because they are not only very sturdy, but the wide opening makes it easy to plant and care for the herbs. However, any glass jar with a wide aperture will do. Also, make sure you find a jar that will provide enough space for the roots to spread. Generally, 900g (32-oz) with around 10cm height (or more) will provide enough space for the majority of herbs you are planning to grow.
Material: Be Creative With Pebbles
Pebbles at the bottom of the jar are very important because in case you water too much your soil, the water will not remain trapped in it but can, through the rock, leave the soil reaching the bottom of the jar.
Moreover, they also provide weight for the stability of the jar and also can be used to make your jars a decorative addition to your home. Try colored stones or marbles instead of rocks as those ones you can find on Amazon. I also discovered that there are also glow in the dark stones (here on Amazon) that would be quite an exciting match for a glass jar!
Bright or multi-colored gravel makes for an interesting addition to the jars, or old pottery shards can be used to add variety in shape and texture. Whatever you choose, you only need a handful to do the job.
If you do not want to buy such material you can use pebbles or small rocks you find in your outdoor garden or a park (you really need a handful of them). In such a case, I would boil them before using just to be sure there are no harmful bacteria that might take over once inside the jar.
It is important to notice that some also uses sand, before placing the pebbles. However, given my experience, I do retain that this are mainly for decoration purpose as pebbles are responsible for the drainage. If you want you are free to use sand, it will definitely not harm.
Our friend Ruell (a gardener that grown successfully many indoor plants in jars) did not use any sand for his jars whose plants (the same principles applies to herbs) are flourishing without issues.
Material: Activated Charcoal
Activated charcoal is essential due to its capability to absorb many more times its weight in water/humidity. This layer creates a barrier that prevents harmful bacteria (like those responsible for root rot) from developing (and smell). It also allows for absorbing excess water.
While you can just put a piece of charcoal on top of the rocks, to better results I do recommend using activated charcoal (that comes in powder form). It has been heated to make it more porous, which makes it better in preventing moisture build-up in the jar. Alternatively you can use water absorbing crystals. These ones are pretty good ones.
You can find activated charcoal in most gardening shops. If not, large retailers like Amazon (here if you want to check some prices) sell it for a dozen dollars. Moreover, once you are done with your plants, it can be used for many other home applications. Indeed, many claims that activated charcoal is an excellent odor neutralizer and whitening teeth, although I never tried it myself to confirm.
Finally, as our friend Ruell suggested, you can create your own charcoal by burning wood in a fireplace. However, here you have to be mindful. You have to burn wood and nothing else to avoid the introduction of toxic chemicals (like those found in the ink used for magazines) in the charcoal. Also, be careful, the wood should not be painted.
However, you can also succeed without charcoal although it is not recommended. Indeed, a more expert gardener and friend (Ruell Smith) stated that he did not use charcoal and it still obtained very good results. However, there is a catch: you need to be extremely careful when watering. Make a mistake once and you herbs might die soon after.
For a jar-based garden, you should use a regular potting mix as you would do for any other “normal” plant container. There are many options around and, if you are curious and you want to know more, this article has you covered where you can also do your own potting mix.
If you want to increase the drainage of the potting mix (in case it feels heavy, although this should not be the case if you take an excellent potting mix as the one suggested here) you are free to add some perlite in it.
A Touch of Art!
An herb in a jar is something fascinating per se! However, you can make it even better by using some extra decorative objects such as extra pebbles, shells small piece of wood that reminds trees etc… For instance, look at the jar on the right of our friend Ruell.
With just a few objects that you can easily find around it make his jar even more interesting to watch.
The 3 Steps Towards A Jar-Garden
Now that you have all the material set aside create your Jar-Garden, it is quite easy.
Step 1: Creating the Drainage System
This is the most crucial step in the whole process. Indeed, jars don’t usually have drainage holes, so you need to create a drainage system that consists, in order, of:
1) A layer of small rocks or pebbles of around 2-4cm (1-2 inch) should be more than enough for most common glass jar (like the one for instant coffee, olives,etc…) of around 10cm in height.
2) A layer of activated charcoal of around ½ cm (¼ inch) or less is more than enough.
3) Finish by filling the jar with potting soil. Do not fill till the opening, just keep the soil up to 2.5cm below the border of the jar.
Step 2: Planting The Herbs
Seeds or already developed herbs are fine. You can use seeds. The choice mainly depends on how long you want to wait to use your herbs and your hand/jar size. If the jar is relatively small, you might have a hard time transplanting a herb successfully.
In this case, seeds are ideal. You just drop them (3 should be enough to avoid an overcrowd jar) and cover with a thin layer of soil. Seeds can take a few weeks to sprout but watching the process through glass is kind of cool, in my opinion.
If you are using established herbs from transplant, remove any excess soil from around the plant before transplanting into the jar following the same procedure discussed in one of my previous articles.
Step 3: Find The Right Spot
Herbs do need a lot of sunlight to grow well, and so a happy home for your jars is in a location that gets at least 6 hours of daylight a day. While a windowsill is an obvious choice, there are many other places that can be used to bring a green touch across your home.
Trailing herbs such as thyme would look lovely cascading down a bookshelf. Or what about using the jars as a unique centerpiece on the dining table? It would also provide help-yourself access to fresh garnish for each meal. Remember that sunlight (or even artificial light) is vital!
Although obvious, this might be forgotten at first. In case you have a toddler or a pet at home, you might try to place such glass containers out of their reach. Indeed, in case of a fall, differently from a plastic plant container, they can cause severe injuries.
Which Herbs to Grow in Glass Jars?
The good news is that many staple culinary herbs are straightforward to grow in glass jars. These include:
What to grow really depends on your taste! Pasta dishes are boosted by Basil and Parsley. Asian cuisine uses Cilantro and Cayenne. Thyme and Rosemary are great with meat dishes. Beyond culinary purposes, you can try Lemon Verbena for steam baths for relaxation and lessen the symptoms of colds. If you Google it: “herbs use” you can find hundreds of ideas from where you can decide which herbs suits you the most.
There are only 2 limitations that I recommend you to pay attention to:
1) Keep one herb per jar to allow its full development and avoid overcrowded that can lead to diseases;
2) In case you have a pet (cat especially) avoid poisonous herbs or take extra measures to place them in place not easily accessible. For more details, regarding which herbs to avoid and which countermeasures you can take can check one of my previous articles.
Common Problems In Growing Herbs in Jars?
If your herbs are not looking healthy, it could be due to one of these common problems
Watering: 3 Tips To Water Like A Pro
Watering is probably the most complicated thing to learn at first. The good news is that, once you get used to it (2-3 weeks) you know when and the amount of water your herbs needs.
Remember, that in case of such a close environment is way better to underwater than overwater. Indeed, the first situation can be easily and quickly solved. Let’s see 3 tips that can make your life easier while you get adapted
Tip #1: I suggest to just “taste” the soil with your finger or use a small wooden BBQ skewer. You can then stick it in the soil (not too deep as you do not want to hurt the roots). Then, once extract it, just touch it. Is it humid? If so probably the soil is fine. Is it dry? Then perhaps the soil needs a bit more water.
Tip #2: Look at your plant! In the case of underwatering is very easy to notice your leaf getting wilted. This can be quickly and safely reversed with a bit of water. The same does not happen in the case of overwater. You cannot remove the water out of it!
Tip #3: Another trick suggested from our friend Ruell is to attentively watch your jar when pouring water in it. If the water starts leaking through the rock that’s the signal to stop watering. Indeed, this means that the potting mix has absorbed the maximum it can, so no point in adding more. As Ruell said “Less is more” (Referring to water)
Tip #4: our friend Ruell suggested to always use charcoal as it will make the life of your herbs slightly less difficult. Indeed, although you can also succeed without it, charcoal will limit the development of mold and mildew even in case you slightly overwatered your plant (ultimately killing your herbs). Without charcoal, it might be sufficient to overwater your herbs only once to kill them due to the high humidity environment of a jar.
Tip #5: again our friend Ruell suggested to not use sand at the bottom of the jar (against what other gardeners do) and this is for a practical reason. Indeed, he cleverly highlighted that with sand “it can be difficult to see if you have over watered the mason jar”.
Most herbs flourish at a temperature between 18-21°C (65-70°F). If your location gets hotter than the soil will dry faster and you will start seeing leaves dropping. This applies to the majority of edible herbs.
Leaves can get “burn” if they get in contact with the glass of your jar if it gets too hot. Another problem is that a long exposure of direct sunlight can cause humidity issues due to also poor air circulation. So, I do not recommend “direct” sunlight for herbs in a jar (as can create a kind of “greenhouse effect”). Indeed, indirect sunlight (the important is that they have at least 6-8 hours) is often good enough.
Root rot is by far the number one disease that can affect an herb in a jar. When you start growing herbs in a jar this is the most common problem you will encounter as it is sufficient to overwater your herb even once to trigger such a problem.
This is correlated, as Ruell also mentioned, to the amount of medium you are using in the jar. To make a very simple example, suppose you have an herb at his early stage of development in a very large jar.
In this case, when you water, you might notice that the soil is still not soaked (water does not leak through the pebbles underneath), however, the herb start wilting and dies. This because, the water contained in the soil, was way higher to the one the herb can absorb. So, the roots will be constantly moist creating the environment to trigger root rotting.
Another reason for diseases to spread inside a jar, especially those caused by bacteria that thrive in a humid environment, might be the presence of too many herbs in the same jar. That’s why I suggested one plant per jar (or 3 seeds). Herbs need breathing space and air circulation. That’s why also placing your herbs in a ventilated area of your house is a plus.
In case your herbs get attacked by pests or similar I do suggest to take it out from the jar as soon as possible. Indeed, trying to save a plant in a glass jar can be challenging especially if the jar has a small opening. This applies especially at the early stage as the herbs are still strong and can withstand a transplant. Indeed, sometimes, depending on the pests you might need to replace the soil entirely.
Can you grow herbs in a mason jar with only water? For a large number of herbs (including the most common basil and mint), it is possible to develop them in water only using a mason jar. This technique is called aquaponics.
Could you grow tomatoes in a glass jar? Yes, tomato plants can be grown in a glass jar