Growing Herbs in Pots and Containers

Herbs are very easy to grow from seeds or from cuttings; they require little maintenance and you can easily grow them in pots and various containers. The different herb seeds can be planted together in a bigger hanging basket or window box, but make sure that you grow the invasive species like mint and lemon balm in separate pots. You can have a herb garden on your patio or inside on the windowsill too. Annual herbs are most suited for container growing, as these herbs are tender, and the herb seeds need quite warm climate to germinate successfully.

Growing herbs in pots and containers is a simple and highly beneficial project that can be undertaken by anyone, regardless of whether you’re a budding gardener or just want fresh, flavoursome herbs for your culinary efforts. When you consider the cost of buying bunches of herbs from the supermarket, growing your own is a great way to save money, plus you’ll have all the herbs you need close at hand whenever you need them. No more dashing to the shops for a bunch of fresh basil or thyme – all you need to do is visit your potted herb garden!

indoor herb garden

Advantages of growing herbs in pots and containers

If you’ve ever been lured into buying those little pots of herbs at the supermarket, only to find that they droop and die as soon as you get them home, you might be thinking that herbs are really difficult to grow. In fact, the opposite is true! Home-grown herbs are resilient and easy to grow, and, once well established, need very little care and maintenance. Filling containers and pots with herbs will not only save money, but these hand-picked fragrant seasonings will be far fresher and tastier than anything you can buy from the store.

But why grow herbs in pots on the windowsill rather than directly in the ground? Well, firstly some herbs – particularly sun-loving Mediterranean types – seem to do better when grown in containers. Often our garden soils are too nutrient-rich and damp for these plants, as they are accustomed to dry, rocky, sandy soils. By creating a container herb garden, we can provide the perfect conditions for these sun-worshiping plants to thrive.

Speaking of the sun, planting a herb garden in pots also allows us to locate them in the ideal position and move them according to the seasons and our needs. Soft-stemmed herbs, like basil, parsley, and coriander, dislike intense heat, so these pots can be nestled in a sheltered, partially shaded area of the garden. In contrast, woody perennial herbs such as rosemary, sage, and thyme will soak up every ray of sun they can get, and can be sited near a south-facing wall for maximum warmth and sun exposure.

See also  Growing Sage from seeds or from cuttings

Growing a herb garden in pots also gives control over the size and spread of the plants. Some herbs, particularly those in the mint family, have a notoriously vigorous growth habit and will quickly spread when grown in the ground. Perennial woody herbs can also become very large, but growing them in containers helps to keep these plants at a manageable size.

Things to consider when growing herbs in pots and containers

It pays to put a little bit of thought and planning into your container herb garden for the best chance of success. There are so many delicious culinary and beneficial herbs to choose from that you may be tempted to fit as many as possible into the containers you have available, but this is not always a good idea.

The best place to start is by selecting the herbs that you use most often, and grouping these into types that grow well together. This means they prefer the same soil and weather conditions and grow at a similar rate. An example of a good pairing would be lavender and rosemary – both slow-growing woody perennial herbs that like poor soil and plenty of sun. In contrast, a bad pairing would be sage and basil, as it would be impossible to create the perfect conditions for both to thrive.

As a general rule, common garden herbs can be split into two main groups, so it is possible to grow all the herbs you need in two large containers in different locations. There are also a few exceptions that can fit into either category:

1: Slow-growing woody perennial herbs that prefer nutrient-poor, well-draining soil and full sun:

  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Rosemary
  • Lavender
  • Oregano
  • Marjoram
  • Savory
  • Curry plant

2: Soft-stemmed leafy herbs that prefer damp, nutrient-rich soil and can tolerate partial shade:

  • Chives
  • Coriander
  • Basil
  • Chervil
  • Caraway
  • Lovage
  • Tarragon
  • Dill

3: These herbs are resilient to different growing conditions; most benefit from higher nutrient levels than the first group, but will tolerate either full sun or partial shade:

  • Parsley
  • Mint
  • Lemon balm

The ultimate guide to growing herbs in pots and containers

Planning and preparation are the keys to success when planting herbs in pots and containers. A well thought out potted herb garden will last for many years with little maintenance, providing you with freshly picked herbs whenever required.

Best pots and containers for growing herbs

The temptation to buy cute decorative planters for herbs is hard to resist, but it is essential to first consider if they will provide the perfect conditions for your plants to thrive. And yes, we’ve all seen fun ideas like planting herbs in old boots and making hanging containers from decorative tin cans, but these are often not a long-lasting solution to your herb-growing needs.

The first thing to consider is the size of your containers – an 8-10 inch pot is ideal for most types of herbs when planted individually, or larger 12-18 inch pots can be used to grow two or three different types of herbs. Small, shallow-rooted herbs like thyme can tolerate smaller pots but will need watering more frequently.

Next, you will need to consider the best herb container material to suit the types of herbs you wish to grow:

  • Terracotta pots
See also  Growing coriander

Traditional terracotta pots are an attractive and affordable option for growing sun-loving herbs that prefer drier conditions. Moisture-loving herbs grown in terracotta pots will need regular watering to thrive.

  • Plastic pots

Plastic pots might not be the most aesthetically pleasing option, but they are lightweight and ideal for herbs that like moist soil. Bear in mind that plastic can quickly deteriorate and become brittle in direct sunlight.

  • Metal containers

Upcycled metal containers can make attractive herb planters, but it is essential to ensure they have good drainage to prevent the soil from becoming waterlogged. Metal can become very hot in direct sunlight which may damage delicate root systems.

  • Glazed ceramic pots

Glazed ceramic pots can be quite expensive but their stylish appearance and longevity make them an attractive investment. They are also ideal for all types of herbs but can be very heavy when filled with soil making them difficult to move.

  • Wooden containers

Wooden planters and containers are perfect for moisture-loving herbs such as mint and coriander.

Best compost for growing herbs in pots and containers

The best compost for pots with herbs will depend on the type of herb. Herbs that have an abundance of green leafy growth, such as basil and coriander, require nutrient-rich soil with good water retention. In contrast, heat-loving Mediterranean herbs like rosemary and thyme grow best in poor soil.

Good drainage is the key to success when growing herbs in containers – damp, waterlogged soil will lead to poor, straggly growth. The best potting mix for herbs is good-quality organic potting soil mixed with coarse grit or horticultural sand. A ratio of 3:1 soil to grit is perfect for leafy herbs while sun-loving perennial herbs prefer an equal mix of both or an extra handful of small stones to improve drainage.

Best location for herbs in pots and containers

The joy of growing herbs in pots and containers is that you can be flexible about location – they don’t need to stay in the same spot all year round and can be moved according to the season and your needs. Most herbs are excellent companion plants in the garden, attracting beneficial insects and repelling unwanted pests. So, moving pots with herbs to key locations in your vegetable plot and flower borders can reap huge rewards. Plus, of course, they’re also attractive to look at and taste great too!

In colder zones, pots with herbs can be moved to a sheltered location during the winter months, helping to protect them from frosts and bitter winds. When summer comes around, make the most of sun-drenched corners of your garden or patio for heat-loving herbs, and cooler zones with partial shade for leafy green herbs. South-facing walls are always a good option for growing herbs in a planter, making the most of every last bit of summer sun.

How to plant herbs

Whether you’ve grown herbs from seed or bought pot plants from the garden centre, care must be taken when planting them out in pots and containers to avoid damaging the delicate root systems. Water the plants a day or two beforehand to ensure the soil is moist but not waterlogged. This will also help you gently ease plants from their pots without damaging the roots.

See also  Growing Rosemary from cuttings or from seeds

Top tip: When filling pots and containers with potting soil, place a pot the same size as the one you’re intending to plant out into the container and fill the area around it with compost. When removed, the pot leaves a hole the perfect size to pop your new plant straight into!

After planting, press the compost down gently and water well to settle soil around the roots. Add a layer of mulch to help water retention, sit back, and wait for your lovely new herbs to grow.

How often do herbs in containers need watering?

The frequency of watering herbs in pots will vary according to what herbs you are growing, the weather conditions, and the size and type of container. As a general rule, most herbs grown in pots need watering 1-2 times weekly. Overwatering is very detrimental to herbs, so only water when absolutely necessary. To check if herbs in pots and planters need watering, gently scrape back the top inch of soil – if it is moist underneath, hold off watering for another day or two.

Herbs in pots and containers will need watering more often in warm weather; bear in mind that wind can also cause soil to dry out rapidly. Plants in terracotta pots or any type of small pot may need more frequent watering. Leafy green annual herbs are thirstier and benefit from more frequent watering than slow-growing perennial herbs.

During the cooler months of the year, herbs grown in pots may need no extra water other than rainfall, particularly during winter dormancy. Drought-tolerant herbs in pots may appreciate some shelter from heavy rains to prevent waterlogging.

potted herbs

Do herbs in pots need to be repotted?

Slow-growing perennial herbs will grow happily for several years in the same container without repotting. Over time, the root system will fill the available space, at which point it can be split into several smaller plants in new pots. This will help to regenerate tired old plants, plus give you extra plants for free!

Fast-growing herbs like mint and lemon balm will quickly grow to fill their pots, but repotting them into a larger pot will allow them to grow even bigger! These herbs are notorious for their space-invading capabilities and growing them in pots is a great way to keep them at a manageable size.

Annual herbs like coriander and basil do not need to be repotted once they are in their final growing position. Disturbing the delicate root systems of these leafy green herbs will stunt their growth and make them more prone to disease or bolting. I find the best way to grow these types of herbs is to sow them directly into a suitable-sized container rather than repotting them.

Do herbs need fertiliser?

During the first growing season, herbs in pots and containers should be able to obtain all the nutrients they need from a good all-purpose potting mix. However, soil in containers can quickly become depleted after the first growing season, and slow-release organic fertiliser can help boost growth. Over-fertilisation can be very detrimental to herbs, so stick to half the recommended amount. Alternatively, add a layer of well-rotted organic mulch to the surface at the start of every growing season to promote soil health and increase nutrient levels.

Latest Articles