Growing herbs in pots is one of the most enjoyable and easiest techniques to starting an herb garden, and it's a technique that even a novice gardener can do.
In this article, I've listed some of the best tips I've learned about herb container gardening.
Top 5 Benefits of Growing Herbs in Pots
- Space saving: Herb container gardening allows you to enjoy herbs even when you don't have enough soil in your backyard. It's also great for urban dwellings like apartments, dormitories, and condominiums, where the luxury of space is not often provided.
- Flexibility: You can have a flexible garden where you can easily move potted herbs around. Move them to a more shady area when it gets too hot, or move them when you feel like re-designing your garden.
- Protection: Pots or containers act like barriers that can protect your herbs from weeds, pests, and diseases. It's also a good way to keep invasive herbs under control.
- Decoration: If you're planting ornamental herbs, what better way to make them more beautiful than to plant them in beautiful, ornamental pots. They come in many shapes, sizes, and designs. The choices are endless, and as they say, you're only limited by your imagination.
- Wintering: You can easily bring your potted herbs indoors to protect them from the frost.
Top 5 Herbs to Grow in Pots
- Basil: It enjoys full sun but not too much direct sunlight. Put it in a partly shaded area during the peak of summer. Being under the sun often, it dries out fast. So regular watering may be needed. But it can tolerate infrequent watering as long as it hasn't wilted yet.
- Mint: It likes slightly moist soil and partial shade. Mint is a very invasive herb. So do not plant it together with other herbs in a single container. Don't keep it close with other potted plants either, as it propagates easily and often uncontrollably.
- Parsley: Parsley is not very choosy, and it thrives in normal growing conditions—partial to full sun and slightly moist to moist soil. Just ensure proper soil drainage, as it doesn't like to sit in extremely wet soil.
- Rosemary: It grows best in slightly moist and well-drained soil and under partial to full sun. Like basil, it should be left to dry out a little before it needs to be watered. Don't mist though. Water by soaking to prevent fungal diseases.
- Thyme: Thyme can grow in less fertile, but well-drained soil, as long as it's exposed to full sun and average water. This herb can handle a little neglect, as it grows well in hot and dry conditions.
Things to Consider When Growing Herbs in Pots
- Cater to the herb you're growing: Although most herb plants are suitable for containers, some are easier to grow in pots than the others. Check the growing requirement of the herb you've chosen to plant and make sure that you can meet the conditions they need to grow and thrive.
- Pick the container that works best for your herb: Choose containers based on the herbs that you want to grow. How many herbs are you going to plant in a container? How tall are your herbs? How long are their roots? Also, deciding where to put your potted herbs can help you pick suitable containers. Having an outdoor container garden means you need sturdier and more durable pots that can withstand the elements and last a long time. For indoor container gardening, you may want to choose ornamental pots that can double as decorations in your home. After you've considered all these factors, make sure that your containers have enough drainage holes. Drainage holes must be small enough to keep the soil in the pot, but large enough to drain water from the soil.
- Where you put your pot matters: When you pick a location for your potted herbs, whether it's indoor or outdoor, make sure that it's favorable for your herbs. Some herbs may require more sun than the others. Some are more susceptible to cold winds, and there are others that prefer shady areas.
- Don't just use any old potting soil: One of the biggest mistakes that you can make when growing herbs in pots is using an ordinary garden soil. Garden soil, even if it's rich with nutrients, is just too heavy for your potted herbs. Use two parts of good, sterile potting soil, one part perlite to make the soil "lighter," and one part compost to give your herbs the nutrient boost they need to grow. Perlite and compost are good potting soil amendments, because they help to retain water and make the soil less compact, allowing air to pass through.
- Fertilize as necessary: Potted plants require more fertilizer, because they deplete nutrients quicker than those grown in the ground. Mix in compost with the potting soil, and use slow-released organic fertilizers to give a more steady supply of nutrients.
Which Container Should You Use to Grow Herbs?
- Terra cotta: Terra cotta pots are a popular choice for herb container gardening. They're porous, allowing the soil to breathe, and they holds warmth. But they are prone to breakage and dry out quickly.
- Plastic: Plastic containers are another popular choice, because they're lightweight, don't break easily, and are porous (thus they can retain moisture better). They usually come in the shape and color of terra cotta pots, though other designs are also available. But plastic containers do not allow air through, and when exposed to the elements for a long time, they tend to become brittle.
- Wood: Wood is good when you want to exude a natural vibe in your garden. You can use a wooden barrel, wicker baskets, wooden boxes, or troughs. They provide good insulation during the cold season and are durable, especially if they are of good-quality wood. Wood is also considered semi-porous and needs to be lined with plastic sheets to prevent deterioration.
- Glazed pot: Glazed pots are prominent in Japanese and indoor gardens because of their aesthetic appeal. They come in different shapes and colors are are perfect for windowsill herb gardens. But they are not as porous as terra cotta pots and must be fitted with holes to ensure proper drainage.
- Metal: Metal containers usually come in the form of old tin cans, water cans, and even metal bathtubs. They are also non-porous, but they do not break and last a long time. You can even use decorative vintage tin cans for indoor container gardening.
Important Care Tips for Potted Herbs
- Sunlight: Generally, most herbs are sun-lovers. While others can tolerate minimal exposure, there are herbs that thrive better in full sun. Know the sun requirement of your herbs and adjust accordingly. Outdoors, place your potted herbs in a location where they can get the amount of sunlight they require. Indoors, put them near windows, doors, or any openings that receive the most sunlight. But be careful not to place them under direct sunlight for too long, because they tend to wilt.
- Watering: Herbs in pots must be watered more often, because they don't have enough soil to hold water. Though some herbs prefer to slightly dry out between waterings.
- Fertilizing: Fertilize your herbs periodically or when they look pale and unhealthy. Never use chemical-based fertilizers, because they can affect the taste of your herbs. Likewise, these type of fertilizers promote quick rather than slow and healthy growth. Herbs that are grown too fast too soon often have less oils and flavors than those that grew slower and bushier. So go easy when applying fertilizers. If you planted with a good, nutrient-filled potting mix, chances are you won't need to feed your herbs often.
- Pruning: Pruning encourages bushy growth, which is how you would like your herbs to be. This is especially true for culinary herbs—the more you use them, the more they will grow. During harvest, make sure to harvest no more than 2/3 of your herbs to allow the leaves to grow back.
- Deadheading: Deadheading is the process of removing spent flowers to prevent your herbs from seeding. Once they've seeded, they'll think that their work is done and will stop growing. Sniping off spent flowers will trick them into growing more leaves.
Top 5 Tips for Watering Potted Herbs
- Allow potted herbs to moderately dry out, but not wilt, between watering. A good indication that you need to water your potted herbs is if 3 to 4 inches of the soil already feels dry to the touch.
- Don't water from above but wet the soil instead. Excess water in the leaves can cause fungal infection and other diseases. You can also soak potted herbs in water. Lining the base of your pots with gravel, stones or grit will ensure that water will drain out from the soil. This will also prevent the soil from re-absorbing water if it's sitting on a saucer.
- The smaller the pot, the faster it dries out. So water herbs in small pots more frequently.
- Terra cotta and unglazed clay pots allow moisture in the soil to evaporate more quickly. So the herbs in these types of containers need to be watered more often than those in plastic, metal, and glazed pots.
- It's best to water during the morning before your potted herbs are exposed to the heat of the sun.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Patsy Bell Hobson from zone 6a, SEMO on October 13, 2014:
Herb gardeners love to read and share with others. Lots of good information here. Voted up U, I, tweet, Pin.
H Fleming on June 21, 2014:
I have your top 5 herbs to grow in pots. I love just being able to pop out the back door to get some parsley or basil to add to a dish.
Johng112 on April 29, 2014:
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L. Dickerman on February 23, 2014:
If basil plant in a clay container 's leaves are drooping, is this because of overwatering or not enough water. It is outside in the sun. Kindly respond asap. Thank you.
Gail Meyers from Johnson County, Kansas on February 13, 2013:
I enjoyed your hub. I love gardening, including growing herbs. Voted up, useful and linked.
Patio Furniture Bistro on May 28, 2010:
growing herbs in pots is a wonderful way of adding to the elegance and ambience of your patio or deck. The fabulous sents emenating form a few crushed leaves make a great appertiser on balmy summer evening and being able to simple reach over an pick fresh hrebs when you are entertaing or cooking a family barbq is just wonderful. Water retaining soil additives can help prevent the soil drying out that often occurs in exposed patio areas.