Why do my potted herbs look so sad?

I do this just about every 2 years: convince myself that if I buy a live herb and plant it for cooking purposes, I’ll save money.

So here I am with 2 rosemaries (?) in pots, sage in a pot, thyme and parsley in a pot together. The pots are big enough to allow plenty of root growth.

They all just look sad. No new growth. Unhappy green color. Just sitting there, getting by.

They get a good 4-5 hours/day of direct sunlight out on the front porch. Watered a couple times/week.

How can I make them happy again? Food? More/less sunlight? More/less water?

:frowning: why do I always go through this??

What part of the country do you live in? That could influence the watering/lighting. Also, what is your front porch like? Is it concrete that might get too hot?

My mom used to keep rosemary. One problem we used to have was drainage. Rosemaries don’t like a lot of water and they love sunlight.

Southern Cali, near the beach, so sometimes it’s overcast until noon or so, they’re on the front concrete steps, but the steps have never seemed super warm when i’ve gone out in my bare feet to water. Trees/bushes around keep them from getting more than 4-5 hours direct sun.

Sad, sad, sad!

The soil they’re planted in is very mulchy in consistency, so I’d hoped drainage wouldn’t be a problem, but dang! Why is growing things so complicated??!?

I don’t know what “very mulchy” means regarding soil, but your best bet for most herbs is a somewhat sandy mix (for instance, two-thirds lightweight soilless mix and one-third coarse sand) allowed to nearly dry out completely between waterings (but not to the point that the plants wilt). 4-5 hours of sun per day (if it’s direct sun) might be enough light if it’s not completely shaded the rest of the time. Herbs generally do best in full sun.

Not hot enough and not enough sun is my guess for the rosemary and sage. They’re nearly desert plants - they want hot, full sun and very little water (more water for the sage than the rosemary). I’m rather lost on the thyme, though. Thyme generally grows in just about anything, anywhere. The parsley’s just probably not getting enough light, but the temperature and moisture sound about right for parsley.

The mulchy soil is not dirt-y or sandy, it’s like shredded bark-like stuff, but on a smaller scale, if that makes any sense. I tought that would make drainage ideal, but now that I think of it, anything I’ve planted in this mixture hasn’t done too well. Maybe I’ll replant in different soil and nudge them a little more out into the sun.

Plants in pots can have their roots cooked. Does. sunlight hit the side of the pot. I had five plants that were doing great until July and then the roots were cooking in the pot. They had enough water. I popped one out of the pot and the root mass was moist and hot. I transplanted them just in time to same them. You can try something blocking the sun in front of the pots, if they are in the sun.

From your last post, it sounds like the potting soil is not so good. Go to your garden center and ask for advice on a good one. It’s worth a bit extra money to get the plants to grow properly.

As so many other good folks here have said: not enough sun. Full sun, best for all these herbs, means six or more hours. With rosemary, sage, and thyme; their good virtue is that they can take a whole day of blazing sun, with little water, given good drainage. Parsely can take more water and more variable soil conditions.

The question in my mind is: How big were the plants when you bought them? Were they fully-rooted , over six inches tall? Or smaller? This makes a difference in the plant being able to take off well, even under adverse conditions.If they were tiny when you planted them in pots, they could be more easily overwhelmed by a combination of not quite right soil, lack of light, and overwatering.

If you’re near the beach, the salt air may be killing them. I live near the beach in SF, and potted plants outdoors always look like hell, except for a few hardy species.

Definitely try a denser potting soil, mixed with some sand and a little slow-release fertiliser. Put some small rocks/pebbles in the bottom of the pots to allow proper drainage.

Sage and Rosemary need different drainage and water, and light than the other ones you mention.

Pots need extra fertilizer. I have been using Osmocote with pretty good results.

When you water, get the plants wet deeply. Hard balls of soil won’t soak up water as it trickles through. Put the pot into a pail, and add water until it is standing in the bucket, let is sit a few minutes, and then take the pot out. Don’t water it again until the plant needs water. (Just the first sign of wilting is fine. The desert types can get all the way dry, and cannot stand to stay wet all the time.)

My Basil is two months old, and still going very strongly.


“Write a wise saying and your name will live forever.” ~ Anonymous ~

Don’t be afraid to look at the roots. If the above ground plant looks like crap, do a re-pot and check out the roots. If they are too wet they will be rotting away. That would be my guess. Herbs can be container grown successfully. My gf has sage, rosemary, basil, chives, dill, and various mints. Some do well as annuals, but eventually go to seed (like basil). Others can be kept as perennials (like sage).

Added note: herbs don’t need a lot of fertilizer and the general wisdom is that herbs grown in poor (i.e. stony but well-drained) soil taste best. A little slow-release fertilizer as mentioned would be fine.