Thinking about doing some herb container gardening? Herbs are the perfect candidates for growing in pots. Plant them in big containers with some vegetables on your porch or balcony, or keep a few plants on your kitchen windowsill. Herbs always have a place in my home. They’re mostly easy to grow, and I love having ingredients nearby ready for cooking as needed.
Containers are an excellent choice for herbs because if the weather gets too cold, you can bring them inside and keep enjoying them even as the rest of your garden freezes over. Container herb gardening allows you to move plants around so you can give them sunlight as needed or shade at the height of the summer. Containers are also ideal for those gardening in tight spaces. If you don't have a larger garden space, you can easily plant herbs in pots.
Why Plant Herbs?
Herbs are an excellent way to elevate your cooking. Nothing beats the pungent flavor of fresh-cut herbs like basil, oregano, or sage. An herb garden will save you money at the grocery store, too. Plus, you won’t have to worry about your herbs spoiling in the fridge.
Not to mention, herbs attract pollinators, which is excellent news for your other garden plants. Some fragrant herbs also deter pests when planted near certain crops.
On top of all that, many herbs are also perennial, so they’ll return each spring, and you won’t have to re-plant them again, so your taste buds and wallet will thank you.
Growing Herbs in Containers
There are a few tricks that will help you succeed at container herb gardening, including knowing what containers to choose, what soil to use, and the perfect place to put your pots.
Herbs are like most other plants; they need room to grow. Don’t get sucked into the idea that herbs will remain happily cramped in miniature pots. You might be able to get away with this with succulents, but herbs will do better in spacious containers. Most herbs don’t have very deep root systems, so a shallow pot will do. Just be sure to choose a pot that’s at least 6-inches in diameter – the larger, the better. I have my parsley in a big 14-inch pot, and it’s never been healthier!
Nurseries will sell you cute little herb pots, but that environment shouldn’t be permanent. It’s best to transplant those store-bought herbs to a bigger container to prevent the plants from becoming root-bound.
You want to avoid root rot, so pick a container with drainage holes or consider adding some yourself. If that’s not possible or you’re not willing to puncture your brand new pot, add rocks to the bottom of your container to help with drainage.
A self-watering pot is handy, but watch out. Not all herbs enjoy constant levels of moisture. Some herbs – like basil – prefer when the soil has time to dry out between waterings.
In a pot, the soil mix is essential. There's less room for error. Choose a soil mix that drains well, but won’t dry out within a day if left unwatered. Look for one that has good drainage and plenty of nutrition.
Some herbs have specific preferences. For example, plants like basil and rosemary do well in soil that’s sandy. Always check the plant label before setting your plant in its pot.
There are an endless variety of containers out there, from plastic to cement and everything in between. The container you choose is largely a matter of preference.
Terracotta and clay are popular choices because the material is light and affordable. You may need to bring them indoors during the winter because they can crack in the cold. They also dry out faster than pots made of other materials, so you may need to water more often.
Plastic or resin pots are affordable and lightweight, but they don't last as long as stone or clay options. On the bright side, they won't crack in the cold and they hold water better.
Cement or stone pots are heavy and more costly, but they're a long-lasting option. You won't want to pick stone if you plan on moving your herbs around.
The Right Spot
Herbs like a lot of sun – at least, most of them do – so place your pots in a bright sunny location. A windowsill that receives plenty of bright daytime light is ideal, just be careful when the temperatures drop some herbs are particularly sensitive to the cold (e.g., basil).
Some plants will appreciate being placed next to a warm brick wall outside, while others will wilt in the heat. Other plants need some afternoon shade or some protection from the wind. Be sure to check the recommendations for your particular plant.
Put your herbs close by. Sticking your pots to far away from your home or in an inconvenient location indoors means you’re less likely to water them, care for them, and harvest from them. Keep them close, and you’ll get more use out of your container herb plants.
Choosing the Best Herbs for Container Growing
First things first. Whether an herb grows well in containers or not, the most important thing is whether or not you'll use it. Do you make a lot of pasta? Do you prefer French cuisine? If you’re planting a kitchen container herb garden, pick the plants that are most likely to end up on your dinner plate.
Maybe you're looking to attract pollinators or deter pests. Or you want a living, growing medicine cabinet. Don’t bother planting herbs that you won’t get much use out of.
I prefer planting annual herbs in containers because once they die, I can always plant something else in that container next year. Most of the container plants on my porch are filled with annual vegetables and herbs. The temporary nature of my porch container garden means that next year, I can rearrange everything and create a whole new oasis.
Think of Your Needs
While you can succeed at container herb gardening with almost any plant variety, there are a few options that stand out.
Mint – you don’t want to plant mint directly in your garden beds, because it spreads like wildfire. Over time, mint can quickly become invasive. That's why it’s the perfect herb for a container garden.
Chives – this perennial herb is ideal for container growing and a perfect plant for your self-watering pot since chives prefer moist soil. Cut them to use in the kitchen or let them flower and attract pollinators. You can also eat the flowers. They’re edible!
Lemon balm – a relative of mint, it’s also an aggressive grower and is best planted in a container to literally contain its growth habit.
Rosemary – a woody perennial with a pungent aroma, rosemary is an ideal candidate for containers. Just be careful not to overwater. Like basil, it prefers dryer soil.
Basil – One of my favorite herbs to grow in containers is basil. It’s sensitive to cold snaps, so having it in a pot makes it easy to protect it and bring it indoors if the weather gets chilly.
Cilantro – Cilantro (aka coriander) is perfectly happy in a container, so long as you give it a deep, wide one. Cilantro likes moist, rich soil and lots of sun.
Tarragon – This flavorful plant grows larger than some herbs, so plan on giving it a 3-gallon container. Tarragon doesn't like wind, so put it in a protected spot.
Lavender – Some lavenders don't like cold weather, so container growing is the perfect way to have the plant where it wouldn't grow otherwise. This sweet-smelling plant needs well-drained soil, so make sure your container has plenty of drain holes.
Lemon verbena – Lemon verbena is a large shrub can get up to 8 feet tall. In a container, it will stay smaller, but you'll need to prune it frequently. Also, plan on giving it plenty of fertilizer.
Tips For Herb Container Gardening
- Even if you can’t use up all your fresh herbs, you can also use a dehydrator to dry them for later use. You won’t ever have to hit up the spice aisle again and spend money on expensive pouches of ground savory or coriander.
- With container herb gardening, you may have to protect your perennial herbs a little bit more carefully than if they’re planted in the ground or in raised beds. Mulch heavily at the end of the season or consider bringing the pots inside.
- Save money by starting your herbs from seed. You may need a bit of patience, though, many herb seeds take a while to germinate and take their sweet time to become established bushy plants.
- Harvest, harvest, harvest, and harvest some more. Pick and cut off leaves from your herb plants regularly to prevent the plant from flowering and to go to seed. Once it flowers, the foliage becomes bitter as the plant prepares to self sow.
- Don’t stuff herbs too close together. If you want to create a collection of herbs in a container, go for it! An herb arrangement is a great idea. Just be sure to give each plant enough room to breathe. You’ll need a suitably large container if you intend to plant several herbs.
- Plant similar herbs together. It might look cute, but planting basil and chives in the same container is probably not a good idea. The plants have very different soil and care needs. Instead, try planting herbs with similar needs together. You won’t end up accidentally overwatering one plant or leave another to wither away and die.
- Don’t overwater! When we notice that our plants are looking less than healthy, we tend to immediately assume that they need water. Before watering your herbs, plug a finger into the soil to check whether it’s moist or not. If it’s moist, think about what else might be happening. Does the pot provide adequate drainage? Has the plant been in the same container for a while? Could it have outgrown its pot? Maybe your herb plant needs to be fertilized?
How do you like to grow herbs? Do you have them all in containers or only a few select plants? Which herb is your favorite to grow? Is it also your favorite kitchen herb? Let us know in the comments!