There are many benefits to growing herbs in containers. For me, it’s all about access. I love having fresh herbs growing in pots just outside my kitchen door. That way, when I’m in the middle of making dinner and realize I forgot to harvest a handful of basil or parsley, it’s only a few steps away. As well, different herbs have different moisture needs and growing them in pots is an easy way to control soil moisture. Of course, growing herbs in containers will also keep aggressive spreaders, like mint and lemon balm, under control and away from garden beds. Here are seven of the best herbs for container gardening.
The 7 Best Herbs for Container Gardening:
Growing herbs in containers is a great way for beginners to learn how to grow some of their favorite kitchen herbs. If you’ve been dreaming of having your own herb garden on your patio or balcony, get ready to learn how to make that dream a reality! It’s true that many herbs like dill, chives, and cilantro can be grown in pots, but the 7 herbs below make fantastic low-care potted plants. You can buy kits for container herb gardening but I suggest selecting a pot or windowbox and buying healthy herb seedlings from your local garden centre.
Basil is my go to herb in summer and my gardens are full of different varieties like Genovese, Nufar, Dolce Fresca, or Spicy Globe, but I also love growing basil on my sunny back deck. Basil is a warm weather annual herb and thrives when grown in pots and window-boxes. Many gardeners struggle to grow great basil, but give it well-drained soil and plenty of sunshine and it’s usually smooth sailing. Like most herbs, basil responds well to frequent harvesting, and will continue to push out fresh growth when trimmed back. There’s no doubt it’s one of the best herbs for container gardening. Also be sure to pinch off any flower buds that appear. Once basil begins to flower, the leaf flavor declines. For more advice on growing basil, check out this article.
2) Greek Oregano:
Oregano is an enthusiastic grower in the garden and putting it in a pot is an easy and beautiful way to control its growth. The small leaves are packed with flavor, perfect for topping homemade pizza and bruschetta, as well as adding to vinaigrettes and marinades. Greek oregano offers the best flavor for culinary use, but my family also loves Syrian Oregano, a tender perennial, (zone 7) often called Zaatar, which has pretty silvery leaves.
Rosemary is a woody shrub with aromatic, needle-like foliage that adds a welcome depth of flavor to roasted potatoes and chicken dishes. In my zone 5 garden, rosemary is an annual, but growing it in pots makes it easy to bring indoors to a sunny windowsill once the days start to cool down in mid-autumn. There are many cultivars of rosemary, with most growing upright, but a few do cascade down, making them perfect for the edges of pots and planters. I really like Gorizia, an upright cultivar with large leaves and Arp, which is a slightly more cold tolerant variety. The quickest way to kill container-grown rosemary is by watering it too much; it needs consistent moisture, not wet feet.
Thyme is one of the best herbs for container gardening; it’s low maintenance, drought-tolerant, and can take a bit of neglect. Plus, it looks fantastic when planted at the front of a container where the tiny leaves can mound over the edge of the pot. Give it full sun and don’t overwater; it’s drought-resistant and prefers its soil on the dry side. For culinary use, try English thyme or Lemon thyme, which has variegated yellow and green leaves and a bold lemon scent and flavor.
If you’re looking for perennial herbs in pots, consider mint. I was first introduced to mint when I planted a few sprigs in my mothers perennial garden. It quickly took over and we’re still pulling it out – twenty years later! Sorry mom. Now, I grow mint in pots, where its aggressive growth can be contained. There are so many awesome types of mint; peppermint, chocolate mint, mojito mint, strawberry mint, and spearmint, for example, and I like to plant several different varieties of mint in a big pot. We add the leaves to summer drinks, fruit salad, and also dry plenty for winter tea. Mint appreciates ample moisture and rich soil. I use a two-thirds potting mix to one-third compost mixture in my mint containers.
Basil may be my number one culinary herb, but parsley is a close second. I grow the two main types; curly and flat-leaved parsley, in both garden beds and containers, both of which are definitely on the list of the best herbs for container gardening. In fact, the unique leaf texture of curly parsley makes it a nice planting partner for ornamental plants like million bells, geraniums, petunias, and other summer bloomers. Parsley is very easy to grow and should be started from seeds sown indoors under a grow light. You can also buy seedlings from a local garden centre. It grows best with regular moisture and feeding. I incorporate a slow-release organic fertilizer at planting time to keep the plants happy from spring through late autumn. Parsley also appreciates full sun, but can take some light shading.
7) Lemon Balm
A mint cousin, lemon balm also shares the aggressive growth habit of mint, which can quickly take over small garden spaces. Because of this, I plant lemon balm in containers. It’s a hardy perennial in zone 5, even overwintering in pots. Give it the same soil mixture (potting soil-compost) as mint, and water often. It needs ample moisture for the best flavor. And what flavor! The glossy green leaves both smell and taste like lemons. It’s great in fruit salads, tea, lemonade, and marinades.
6 Tips for Growing Herbs in Containers:
1) Pick the right containers. Whether you’re growing vegetables, flowers, or herbs in pots, you’ll find the greatest success when you use containers with adequate drainage. Most pots come with drainage holes, but they can easily be added to wooden or plastic pots. I also love Smart Pots, fabric planters that come in a wide range of sizes. Small pots can hold individual herb plants, while the larger sizes are perfect for an instant herb garden on decks and patios.
2) Fill pots with a good quality potting mix. It may be tempting to fill your containers with garden soil, but garden soil quickly compacts in pots, reducing soil drainage and porosity. Herbs need good drainage. Fill your pots with potting soil or a combination of potting soil and aged compost. Worm castings are also an easy way to boost soil nutrients and moisture retention and you only need to add a handful to containers as a little goes a long way.
3) Look for the light. Make sure your container herb garden receives enough light by placing the pots in a space that receives at least 6 to 8 hours of sun each day.
4) Harvest regularly. Frequent harvesting with pruners or herb snips encourages fresh growth, so don’t be shy about pinching and clipping your homegrown herbs.
5) Water consistently. If you’re new to herb gardening do a little research. Certain herbs prefer very well-drained soil (thyme, oregano, rosemary), while others like more moisture (mint, coriander, lemon balm)
6) Feed occasionally. To promote healthy growth, feed your herbs with a fertilizer suitable for edibles. A liquid organic fertilizer can be used every 3 to 4 weeks while a slow release organic product can be added to the potting mix at planting time.
More posts on growing great vegetables and herbs in containers:
- Container gardening tip list: Advice to help you succeed
- The best vegetable varieties for container gardening
- Crops in pots
- Organic fertilizers for container gardening
What herbs do you like to grow in containers?
I’m in zone 9, so most of what I grow is in the ground, but I like to do basil in pots because it is a favorite of the snails. Rosemary is a large bush here. I’ve found that putting mint and its’ relatives in sub-optimal conditions limits their invasiveness, like full shade.
I’ve had good luck with lemon balm and peppermint when I had to move them into pots as the herb area I had planted needed to be removed to make way for one of my new raised veggie beds.
I also have a rosemary in a pot in the greenhouse – I’ve had too many die on me during winter so now it stays in the pot in the greenhouse all the time.
I now also have an oregano plant in a pot that I got as a bonus when I bought a Rio pink dipladenia/mandevilla. It’s doing quite well so I hope to make some pasta sauce with my tomato harvest and the fresh oregano! 😋
Thought I’d try growing a small basil bush this summer and it’s thrived; it’s easier to grow than regular basil but the taste is a little different. Anyone who makes a lot of soup should plant some thyme and bay. I use these two all the time. I love using basil to brighten up creamy pasta dishes. I’ll have to try your tips for growing cilantro. Haven’t had much luck with it before.
You’re right about thyme and bay. Good luck with the cilantro 🙂
Patti Gardener says
I have great results with cilantro by sowing seed in the fall….after it’s cooler, but with enough time for it to germinate and grow some before winter. It lives through our winter and then really gets going during early spring. It doesn’t like heat, at least for me.
Trinita Franklin says
Thank you for the tips. I ‘m opening an enrichment program for kids. We will teach kids gardening.
Container gardening means not transferring to larger pots where roots can grow? If I buy a large pot some come with one whole for drainage . Is that ample drainage?
Niki Jabbour says
Hey Robin, I would add more holes to a plastic pot if possible. Ideally, use a drill or a nail and hammer to add 4-5 holes in the bottom of the pot to boost drainage. – Niki
Where did you get the pot in the first picture with the basil? Also, what size pot do you recommend?
Niki Jabbour says
Hi Candice, that pot came from Ace Hardware and it really depends on how many herbs you wish to grow in each pot. Are you planting just one basil or several? Are you mixing them with other herbs? How many? The bigger the better as a large pot holds more soil and therefore holds soil moisture better and offers more root room. For 3 basil plants, I would choose a pot at least 16 inches in diameter. – Niki
I heard a basil called holy
Does it do well in container
Niki Jabbour says
Yes, there is a type of basil called Holy Basil or Tulsi and it grows well in containers. – Niki
I have a rosemary and a 12 inch deep pot. I’m confused if I should replant it in that pot or not
I live on the border between zones 6 and 7. If you are looking for a tasty herb for soups, try winter savory. It has a similar flavor to summer savory, but has a much stronger taste. It is a perennial here. But be careful. It can be almost as aggressive as mint.