growing rosemary in a pot

Lynn NevinsApril 11, 2012

I have a rosemary plant that I intend to grow in a pot on my balcony. I've never had much luck with rosemary in the past. Eventually the plant dries out.

I always use plastic pots with drainage holes, layer the bottom with rocks, use potting soil mixed with perlite and compost, a layer of mulch on top of the soil, and then I water the plant as needed. I'd recently read however that rosemary likes ...I think it said a 'humid' or otherwise moist environment? So I was thinking that putting a glass dome over the pot could help with that but would probably crack in the heat and sun no? So what other ways are there for me to add 'humidity' or help a rosemary plant to do better?

Also, this is my first time growing it on a 4th floor balcony (as opposed to in a ground floor yard) that is also more susceptible to wind. Will the wind factor also make it more vulnerable to drying out? Would I do better trying to keep the plant indoors on a sunny windowsill instead, and then I'd also be able to keep a dome over it?


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Rosemary is a Mediterranean herb, so it needs full sun. Keeping it indoors is not an option. Rosemary also prefers dryer soil and likes to dry out between waterings, So watering more once or twice a week(or when soil is dry to first knuckle of finger). I don't think it really "likes" humidity. I've never had rosemary dry out, so i'm guessing the wind is dry out the plants faster. Mulching is a great idea for the wind, but try making a windbreak, like hanged panes of plexiglass or planting things like bamboo. Keep using plastic if plants dry out faster. Feeding with a weak fertilizer once in a while might help the plant to be stronger.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 8:35PM
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Lynn Nevins

Thanks. Even when I was on a ground floor and wind was not an issue, my rosemary still would always eventually turn into a dry stick after a few months time. It has never really thrived (though also in my old place, I didn't have as much sun). Could the LACK of sun have caused the plant to sort of dry out (die really) over a few months time? Normally I'd think the sun would be the cause of a plant looking all dried out and stick like but maybe in this instance it was the opposite...not enough sun was what caused it to look that way?

I always fertilize every so often with fish fertilizer or else that superthrive stuff.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 8:50PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

I'll suggest some other possibilities. First is that you might be watering it too much. I consider Rosemary an almost xeric plant, really preferring to dry somewhat between waterings. If the root system is kept too wet for too long, it will rot. When that begins to happen the plant will begin to exhibit symptoms of dessication....drying out.

Also, I strongly suggest that you leave the compost OUT of your potting mix. It will only fill the macropores with small particles, one more thing that can make it difficult for a plant to take up water and access oxygen at the roots. Gravel serves no purpose at all in a container, but does eliminate some of the root space that the plant might need. Not necessary, not for any containerized plant.

Another thing to look into is that Rosemary can be a real spider mite magnet. If you aren't aware of that, all you will notice is that your plants just turn into dry sticks before you know it.

Please ditch the dome idea, too. Any plant would broil under a glass dome if placed outside for even a few hours. considering that rosemary is a full sun plant....yikes!

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 10:47PM
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Lynn Nevins

Thanks for the idea about my watering it too much. I'll try to keep it more dry between waterings.

As for no compost, I thought it was always good to add compost to any and all plants no? Or are you saying compost is not good for CONTAINER plants for some reason, but that it can be good for in-ground plants? And rocks in a container I also heard that you should always do, to help with drainage...? So I'm perplexed as these were things I always heard to be true....

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 11:08PM
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rhizo_1 (North AL) zone 7

Myths and old husband's tales abound in the wonderful world of gardening....just like anything else. Many long lived practices are wonderful, don't get me wrong! Many others aren't helpful, but not plant misting. Still others can really get in the way of plant health and those are the ones we should consider evaluating.

Rocks do absolutely nada-zilch-zip-zero to help with drainage. Your potting soil should take care of that by itself. Rocks simply take up valuable real estate in that container. All you should be putting in the bottom on your containers is something to keep the potting soil from evacuating from the drainage holes. Stones may even impede the water and you sure don't want that to happen. Personally, I use a little piece of that plastic needlepoint/cross stitch canvas/grid that you can find in craft stores. Some people use window screen.

Though compost offers terrific benefits for in-situ or in- ground plantings, it can cause some problems within the workings of a good potting medium in a container. Compost, as it continues to decompose, will become finer and finer (as in smaller) in texture (as in size). That's just what it does. That's not a problem in the garden, but exactly what we want to avoid in a container.

Our goal for a functioning potting medium should be to provide something coarse textured (larger components, not smaller) so that water drains freely and we can be assured that the root system has access to plenty of oxygen. The tiny particles of compost and even some peaty mediums muck up the works, so to speak.

A lot of people don't realize how important oxygen is to developing plant roots. Those roots HAVE to regenerate all of the time, as the functioning parts don't live very long. All of that activity means that a great deal of cellular respiration goes on constantly. Respiration requires oxygen. Carbon dioxide is given off as a by product of respiration. A porous potting medium facilitates the gas exchange absolutely necessary for plant growth and development. In a decent outdoor soil, the soil SYSTEM works on its own, unless it has been ruined by compaction or other physical/chemical factors.

In the SHORT run, adding compost won't be of much concern, but it is simply not necessary. A commercial potting mix doesn't have the billions of microbes that feed on compost. It's those little bacteria and other critters that 'feed the soil'. WE provide the soluble nutrients for our potted plants, right?

    Bookmark   April 12, 2012 at 2:17PM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Rosemary can take a lot of different conditions if grown in the open ground. It thrives all year round where I live but no way could my conditions be said to be xeric. But as rhizo says, the key is the drainage and air, rather than the amount of water. In the ground it can regulate itself much better than in a pot so I would go for the largest size container you can accommodate to give the rosemary the best chance. You also need the free draining open textured potting mix rhizo recommends. As long as it drains you can water it plentifully. I would not put a dome over it - in fact if it thrives you'd be hard pushed to find a dome big enough.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2012 at 5:59AM
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I planted my Rosemary in full sun by the gate.
After 10 years it is still growing, when it is hot & powder dry in the bed, I water my day lilies, then the Rosemary get some water. That is all the care it gets, other than pruning it out of the gate once a year.

    Bookmark   April 17, 2012 at 2:22AM
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dowbright(z6 in Missouri)

I couldn't kill my extra rosemary. I think it loves benign neglect! Say hi in passing, but don't love it to death. ;)

Good luck! Let us know how it goes this year for you.

    Bookmark   April 18, 2012 at 3:22PM
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