Container Grown Borage: Learn About Growing Borage In Pots
By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer
A warm season annual native to the Mediterranean, borage is easily recognized by its bristly, grey-green leaves and five-petaled, star-shaped blooms, which are usually intense blue. However, less common varieties with white or pale blue blooms are also available. If you don’t have space in your garden, or if you’re concerned about the plant’s rambunctious growth habit, consider growing borage in containers.
Borage Growing Conditions
This beautiful herb definitely isn’t fussy. Borage prefers full sunlight but tolerates light shade. In the ground, borage thrives in rich, well-drained soil. However, potted borage plants do fine in any well-drained commercial potting soil.
Growing Borage in Pots
Borage reaches heights of 2 to 3 feet (0.6-0.9 m.) and the taproot is long and sturdy. Therefore, potted borage plants need a sturdy container with a depth and width of at least 12 inches (31 cm.).
Although you can grow borage from seed, most gardeners prefer to start with bedding plants, which are generally available in garden centers or specialty herb stores.
If you are adventurous, plant seeds directly in the container soon after the last frost in spring or start the seeds indoors a few weeks earlier.
Keep in mind that because of its long taproot, borage doesn’t transplant well. Starting the plant in its permanent home can save you trouble down the road.
Caring for Container Grown Borage
Water borage deeply whenever the top 1 to 2 inches (2.5-5 cm.) of potting media feels dry to the touch, then let the pot drain. Check often during hot, dry weather, as containerized plants dry quickly, but be careful not to let the soil become soggy, which promotes rot.
Borage in containers generally requires no fertilizer. If you decide to feed the plant, use a diluted solution of a water-soluble fertilizer. Avoid overfeeding, which often promotes lush foliage but few blooms.
Borage tends to be relatively pest resistant, but the plant is sometimes bugged by aphids. If you notice the tiny pests, spray the plant with insecticidal soap spray.
Pinch tips of young plants to keep borage compact and bushy and snip the leaves as needed for use in the kitchen. You can also trim the plant if it looks overgrown in mid-summer. Be sure to deadhead blooms as soon as they wilt. Otherwise, the plant will go to seed and blooming will end early. The plant may also need stakes to keep it upright.
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Companion Planting for Vegetables & Herbs
Many factors help plants to grow, including light, soil, water, and nutrients. What many gardeners overlook are the beneficial relationships that exist between plants, a growing method known as companion planting.
For example, one plant may deter garden pests that harm another species, while in return, that other species might enhance soil nutrients. Vegetables in particular see better yields, flavor, and pest and disease resistance when sited next to good neighbors. Conversely, certain combinations can result in poor performance.
Companion planting isn’t an exact science. Some combinations work better than others factors such as weather and regional differences can impact effectiveness. Understanding how plants, insects, and organisms work together can reduce or eliminate the need for inorganic remedies, increase your gardening successes, and influence your plant choices.
Here are some key vegetables and herbs to consider, along with their beneficial helpers and plants to avoid. These are general recommendations results may vary.
For thriving outdoor flower pots and especially vegetable containers, a continuous supply of nutrients and fertilizer is an absolute must. I learned the hard way as a novice gardener. Here’s how to fertilize your containers.
The Importance of Nutrients
My containers filled with petunias, salvia, lettuces, and tomatoes looked awful, especially when compared to those I planted in the ground later. I was starving the container plants, because I didn’t replace nutrients that were leached out of the potting mix every time I watered. Unlike plants in the ground which have roots to seek out additional nutrients, container plants are effectively quarantined from the nutrients, fungi, and bacteria naturally found in soil.
If you’re going to grow plants in containers, you’re also going to need to lend a helping hand. Plants exhaust the available nutrients in containers within about six weeks, even if you’re using a high-quality potting soil or compost.
Sure, you can sprinkle in some fertilizer pellets, as you might do with vegetables grown in the ground. But even that won’t be enough for some container plants, especially tomatoes and other big feeders. A regular liquid feed is best. You can buy liquid feeds or make your own. Diluted with water, they provide a shot of extra nutrients that ensures plants continue to grow well and be productive.
See how to fertilize containers below.
My 3-Step Container Fertilizer Program
Now I use this three-step fertilizer program, and my container gardens flourish. Be sure to fertilize…
1. When you are filling your containers with potting mix.
When you are starting out, incorporate fertilizer pellets into your potting mix. (If the potting mix contains fertilizer, skip this step.) You want “slow-release” fertilizer pellets which are coated with a polymer that let them dissolve at varied rates the thicker the coating, the long it takes for the fertilizer in pellets to be released into the potting mix. Most brands feed plants for at least 60 days, and some supply a steady stream of nutrients for up to 120 days. Check the label on any product you buy for this information.
Slow-release food is also available in organic form. Fish meal pellets are formulated similarly to synthetic fertilizers. Cotton seed meal, feather meal and alfalfa pellets are other slow-release organic choices. All feed plants for about 60 days. The alfalfa also contains a hormone, triacontanol, which promotes plant growth.
2. As your plants grow.
Apply a water-soluble (liquid) fertilizer to supplement the slow-release fertilizer. Water-soluble ones deliver nutrients directly to plant roots and are easy to apply. Just dissolve them in water and pour the liquid into the container for a nutritional boost. Follow package directions for dilution rates and the amount of fertilizer to use on each container.
If you are buying liquid fertlizer, there are many types on the market. You want an equal ratio of “N-P-K” (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium), which are the three nutrients that plants need most of. However, for plants such as tomatoes and peppers and other fruiting plants, choose a liquid fertilizer with a higher K number.
Organic choices such as fish meal emulsion and liquid kelp work well, too. In fact, some plants like ferns and lettuce respond better to organic products than to synthetic fertilizers.
I like to use a liquid feed made from seaweed. I water all my vegetables with a dilute seaweed feed about once a month. Fruiting vegetables will need a tomato feed weekly (alternating with the seaweed feed once a month). Fertilize throughout the growing season from spring until late summer.
Note: There are some container plants which really do not need to be fed as they grow. Cut-and-come-again lettuces or other salad leaves don’t typically need a regular feed. Herbs shouldn’t need to be fed at all, particularly lavender, thyme or rosemary they do best in nutrient-poor, drier conditions.
3. If plants are stressed or need a pick-me up.
If plants need a quick pick-me-up due to stress or heavy production of flowers or fruit, feed plant leaves directly. Deadhead old blooms, cut back damaged foliage and then spray water-soluble fertilizer on leaf tops and undersides. The spray delivers nutrients directly to where photosynthesis takes place. Results are dramatic—you’ll see growth or renewal almost overnight.
If plants are looking a bit under the weather, I water with my diluted seaweed solution or even spray the seaweed solution directly onto the leaves and that will often sort them out.
Use any spray bottle or garden sprayer and follow dilution rates given on the fertilizer package. A word of caution about foliar feeding. Don’t do it when temperatures are above 90ºF or when the sun is beating of plants directly. The fertilizer will burn leaves. The best time to foliar feed is in the morning or early evening.
Make Your Own Liquid Fertilizer
Liquid fertilizer can get pricy, depending on the size of your container garden, so consider making your own. Comfrey is the most commonly homemade liquid fertiliser. It’s great for fruiting vegetables because it contains a good dose of potassium. Nettles or borage can be used in the same way for a higher-nitrogen alternative, which is beneficial for leafy vegetables.
You could also make a “Compost Tea” which is a good overall plant health booster (a little like vitamins for people), helps plants be better able to resist pests and diseases. See how to make compost tea.
Borage Makes Amazing Liquid Fertiliser
Due to that amazing property of pulling nitrogen and potassium out of the depths of the soil, borage will be packed with the stuff. So we can sling it on the compost heap, or cut back and use it as green manure. Or we can chuck it into an old coffee sack and lower into a large bucket of water.
You will need to chop it down first. Getting as much juice out of the stems as possible. Then put it into the hessian sack and tie together with garden twine. Leave the twine hanging over the edge so that you can remove the sack when you are ready. Cover with water and pop a lid on.
You may want to sort of stir it around a few times, but 4-6 weeks later you will have the stinkiest quality liquid fertiliser on earth. You can then still chuck the rest of the hessian sacks contents to the compost heap and that way nothing goes to waste.
Dilute the fertiliser by about 1/4 to water. Then add to your watering can and water to the bottom of any plant you want to feed. Dill will appreciate a good feed a few times a week in drier weather. Your bay tree is another herb that will thank you for a feed. But do not get any on the leaves as it can cause a burning effect. Borage is easy to grow and tasty to eat
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Herbs To Use as Companion Plants For Tomatoes
Tomatoes grown in an annual polyculture can also benefit from herbs grown nearby. Annual herbs can be rotated in your annual areas with your fruits and vegetables.
Perennial herbs can be planted on the fringes of such an area, or even grown in pots or containers nearby.
You might further embrace permaculture ideas by creating mixed polycultures that retain both annual and perennial elements. Tomatoes might find a space, for example, in gaps in a perennial herb garden.
Herbs are also great choices for companions if you are growing tomatoes in containers.
Many can fill in the gaps around the edges of the containers and help reduce watering needs.
Wherever you use them, of course, many herbs attract beneficial insects, and can also delight human inhabitants with their scents.
Here are some herbs to plant alongside tomatoes:
Basil and tomato go very well together on the plate. And they go very well together in the garden too.
Tomato and basil is a classic companion planting combination. Basil is great for tomatoes.
It repels a range of insect pests, improves the growth of nearby tomato plants, and is even said to make the fruits taste better.
Mint is also a fragrant herb that can repel certain pest species. It too is said to improve the health of the tomato plants grown nearby.
Over time, mint, like basil, can also spread around the base of the plants and create good ground cover.
Another aromatic herb that may be of benefit between or near tomato plants in parsley.
Not only will the parsley help the tomatoes with ground cover, the tomatoes may also help the parsley by providing shade during the heat of summer.
13. Bee Balm
With bee balm, the name says it all. This is a great bee-attracting plant.
It will bring pollinators into your garden to pollinate your crops. And as another aromatic herb, it may improve the health and flavor of your tomatoes.
Cilantro can repel certain insect species and repel others. This is another herb that works well with tomatoes in the garden as well as in the kitchen.
Again, oregano works well with tomato in the ground as well as in a range of dishes. As an aromatic herb, it makes an excellent companion for a number of different plants.
Tomatoes love warmth in the summer and perennial Mediterranean herbs do too. Marjoram is one example. It is especially beneficial for attracting insects when in flower.
Rosemary is another Mediterranean herb and while it won’t want to get too wet, it too can thrive in similar temperatures to tomatoes. But keep it on the fringes of a tomato growing area, rather than as a direct neighbour to your plants.
Another Mediterranean herb to consider for your tomato bed or container is thyme. Thyme is not only great for attracting beneficial wildlife, it can also create good ground cover around the edges of a tomato bed.
Sage also does well planted around the edges of a tomato container or growing area and, like so many other herbs, will help attract the insects you want and repel those you do not want in your garden.
Again, anise attracts a range of beneficial insects. It is also said to improve the essential oil yield of other aromatic herbs planted nearby, so may increase other companion plants’ efficacy.
Horehound will attract Braconid and Icheumonid wasps and Tachnid and Syrid flies to your garden. It is said to improve the fruiting of tomatoes and peppers grown nearby.
Tomatoes planted with horehound are said to crop for longer and crop more heavily.
Lovage is another herb said to benefit tomatoes. Plant lovage and, again, this will help bring plenty of beneficial insect species into your garden.
One more herb that you might not have considered is hyssop. Hyssop is also said to be beneficial for tomatoes and also improves insect biodiversity, bringing in predatory species.
A Versatile Companion
Borage is ready and willing to take up residence in your yard. Will you make room for it this year?
Is this an herb that you sow for medicinal or culinary use? Let us know in the comments section below.
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Originally published August 2, 2017. Last updated July 9, 2020. Product photos via Eden Brothers and True Leaf Market. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
The staff at Gardener’s Path are not medical professionals and this article should not be construed as medical advice intended to assess, diagnose, prescribe, or promise cure. Gardener’s Path and Ask the Experts, LLC assume no liability for the use or misuse of the material presented above. Always consult with a medical professional before changing your diet or using plant-based remedies or supplements for health and wellness.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!