Plant pots for herbs

Choose pots to bring color and interest to your garden landscape

Creating a container herb garden is a very flexible way to grow fresh herbs in the home garden. Most herbs are well suited to growing in containers.

Growing herbs in pots also allows you to move them around as needed to new areas of your garden or bring them closer to your kitchen. You can change the arrangement according to the season and create focal points in your garden depending on which herbs are blooming.

Always review the growing requirements of the specific herb you decide to include in your potted herb garden before selecting pot.

Here are some great tips to choosing the right herb pot for your plants.

1. Select Herb Pots that have Good Drainage Holes.

Outdoor pots should good sized drainage holes to allow for easy draining. When it rains, the water will need to be able to drain thoroughly or your herbs will be swimming. Most herbs do not appreciate having “wet feet”.

2. Choose the Right Size Pot for your Herb Plants.

The size of the pot you choose will contribute to the overall size of the herb plant. If you want your potted herbs to reach their full potential, select a container for your herbs that will accommodate the mature size of the plants. See the chart below to check the mature size of the most common culinary herbs. Here are a few basic tips to keep in mind when planning your container herb garden.

  • Herb Pots should be a minimum of 6 inches in diameter. Only the dwarf or creeping varieties of culinary herbs should be placed in a small pot, such as thyme or spicy globe basil.
  • Herbs that are heavy spreaders can be contained by the size of the pot. A mint will fill either a 6 inch or 20 inch pot in time. You can control your potted herbs size by limiting the size of the pot.
  • Some herbs do better in deeper pots, such as Parsley & Basil. Parsley has a long taproot & basil has an extensive root system. When selecting a pot for parsley or basil, make sure the pot is at least 18 inches deep.
  • When you are purchase herb plants in nursery pots from a garden center, you will want to re-pot them into new pots which are at least double the size of the nursery container.

3. Choose the Right Materials For Your Herb Pots.

Herb Pots are made from several different types of materials. Choose the types of material used in your container herb garden based on the following factors:

  • The durability for holding up to the outdoor elements.
  • The weight of the pot and your ability to move it once it is filled with soil and your plants.
  • The moisture retaining ability of the material.

Here are some common materials used for herb containers and the pros & cons of each.

Clay or Terracotta Pots. Clay pots are an affordable pot material which looks nice in many landscapes. They are also not terribly heavy. However, you may need to bring clay pots inside over the winter since they may crack when exposed to fluctuating outdoor temperatures. Their porous nature may also require more frequent watering since they tend to dry out quicker.

Cement or Stone Pots. Stone pots can be absolutely beautiful and there are many pretty treatments, such as glazing or hand painted pots. However, stone pots will be very heavy. These are good choices when the pot will become part of the landscape like large stone pots on either side of an entry way. But they will be very hard to lift once filled with soil and herbs. Don’t choose this type of herb pot when you know you will want to move them around your potted herb garden.

Plastic, Fiberglass and Resin Pots. These can be an attractive solution while remaining affordable. These are also much lighter & easier to move, so are good choices when you need to re-position them in your container herb garden. The downside is they are not as durable and the color may fade or chip over time.

4. Design a Container Herb Garden with Shapes, Sizes and Colors.

Give some thought to the overall impact you want to create with your container herb garden and its role in your landscape. Do you want to make a statement or do you prefer a more natural look? Ask yourself these questions when deciding on your choice of herb containers.

• How will you use color?

Do you want the pots to blend in with the rest of your garden? Then choose neutral colors and let the herbs be the focal point instead of the containers.

Do you have a formal landscape? Having too many colors could be distracting. In this case, you can stick to one or two complimentary colors.

Do you want a playful, eclectic garden? Then choosing a few bright colored pots may be just right.

• What Sizes do you need?

Always choose larger pots over smaller pots when given the choice. Fifteen small pots will end up looking very messy. You may consider a few large planters where you can combine several herbs that have similar growing requirements. Then place a few medium or small pots in front to create a small grouping. Spend some time in the garden center or planning it out on paper first, so you can consider the overall effect of your container herb garden before you make the purchase.

• What shapes do you prefer?

Herb pots come in a variety of shapes and sizes. We typically think of rounded pots, but square pots can fit into some areas much easier such as on either side of a doorway. A long rectangle trough or window box may look nice framing the sides of your patio or deck.

Designing your potted herb garden is a fun exercise and when done with some planning can be a beautiful addition to your home & garden’s appeal. Once you have chosen the pots for your container herb garden, make sure to read the article on growing herbs in pots to ensure your herbs are as healthy as possible.

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Ideas for growing herbs in pots

Herbs look good, smell good and are good for you. So why wouldn’t you want to keep them close at hand to enjoy at your convenience? You don’t need a large garden to have access to fresh herbs; simply plant herbs in pots for a fragrant — and functional — addition to your home and garden. Imagine a summer morning: You walk right outside your kitchen door to a sunny patio full of containers, snip a few sprigs of flat-leaf parsley and return to the kitchen to flavor your scrambled eggs. Scroll through my tips for growing delicious herbs in your garden, and take a look at some herb container recipes below.

See more Container Gardening ideas

Grow herbs in pots outdoors

Growing herbs in containers really is a no-brainer. Most herbs can flourish on your deck, patio, balcony or windowsill. All they require is a sunny spot and containers large enough for the plants to grow.

Herbs for shadier spots

And if you don’t have a sunny spot, these herbs grow best in partial sun:

  • Arugula
  • Sorrel
  • Mizuna
  • Parsley
  • Chervil

Check out these 5 easy-to-grow herbs

Herb container tips

  • Keep in mind, the smaller the container, the quicker the soil will dry out. Be sure to use a high-quality potting mix made from composted bark, peat moss and other ingredients that do not include soil dug from the ground.
  • Mix in an all-natural organic fertilizer prior to planting or apply a liquid fish or kelp fertilizer at half strength every few weeks (because container-grown herbs require additional nutrients to thrive).
  • Tender herbs, such as basil, dill, cilantro and tarragon, can be overwintered indoors and moved back outside once the temperatures warm up in spring.

See our vegetable garden plan with curb appeal

Sage, basil & spearmint herb container

A) Sage (Salvia officinalis and S. officinalis ‘Berggarten Variegated’)
Type Perennial Foliage Textured strongly aromatic leaves used fresh and dried as a culinary seasoning Light Full sun Size 24 to 30 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

B) Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Type Tender perennial (usually grown as an annual) Foliage Aromatic leaves used fresh or dried to flavor foods Light Full sun Size 18 to 24 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 10 to 11

C) Spearmint (Mentha spicata)
Type Perennial Foliage Dark green leaves have strong peppermint fragrance and taste Light Full sun Size 1 to 2 ft. tall and wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 5 to 9

Mint advice

  • Left on its own, mint will quickly spread by creeping stems, rooting as it goes. That’s why growing it in a container is such a good idea.
  • If you plant it in the ground, place a bottomless bucket or metal edging around the plant. The barrier should extend 8 to 10 in. deep and a couple inches high to successfully prevent spreading.

Basil, sage, oregano, kale & rosemary herb container

A) Basil (Ocimum basilicum ‘Heirloom Salad Leaf’)
Type Tender perennial (usually grown as an annual) Foliage Aromatic, crinkled 4-in. leaves used fresh or dried to flavor foods Light Full sun Size 12 to 18 in. tall, 10 to 16 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 10 to 11

B) Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Type Perennial Foliage Textured gray-green leaves are strongly aromatic and used fresh or dried in cooking as a seasoning Light Full sun Size 24 to 30 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 4 to 8

C) Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum)
Type Perennial Foliage Aromatic rounded leaves used fresh or dried in many dishes Light Full sun Size 6 to 9 in. tall, 12 to 18 in. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 4 to 9

D) Ornamental kale (Brassica oleracea)
Type Annual Foliage Grown for attractive foliage, not as a vegetable Light Full sun Size 12 to 18 in. tall and wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 10 to 11

E) Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Type Perennial Foliage Evergreen shrub with intensely fragrant gray-green needlelike leaves used in toiletries and sachets and for flavoring foods Light Full sun Size 2 to 6 ft. tall, 2 to 4 ft. wide Hardiness Cold-hardy in USDA zones 8 to 10

Basil advice

  • Freezing temperatures can kill basil. The first sign of cold damage is usually wilting or leaves that begin to curl and dry around the edges. Plants may survive a light freeze; just give them time to grow new foliage, then remove the wilted and damaged leaves.
  • If a hard freeze is in the forecast, go ahead and harvest all of the leaves for a batch of pesto!

See more articles on growing Vegetables

Top 10 potted herbs for small spaces

You don’t need a multitude of garden beds to grow fresh herbs; pot those puppies in containers

The great thing about herbs, apart from their divine flavour and wonderful nutritional value, is that most of them are able to grow in all sorts of places – rocky slopes, coastal gardens and, of course, space-saving containers.

Indeed, people have been growing herbs in pots, baskets, troughs and other containers for centuries. Convenience plays a part – after all, what could be handier than a pot of herbs by the back door? But another reason for container cultivation is that herbs don’t all necessarily like the same soil type, nutrients, sun exposure, moisture levels and so forth. Plant them in pots and you can give each of your herbs its ideal conditions, all within a small footprint. If you’re unsure what to grow, here are our favourite container herbs:

1 Basil

Basil is an annual herb (only lives for one season) and ideal for growing on a sunny deck, terrace or window sill. Sow seed, or plant seedlings, in spring into a standard potting mix and keep in a warm spot until well established. Pots need to be deep as basil has a long taproot. Water well during dry weather but not at night as damp leaves can be susceptible to fungal disease.

2 Bay

An evergreen tree that can become enormous if left unpruned, bay needs a large, deep pot and protection from frost. Feed in spring with a liquid fertiliser and water well during summer.

To grow your bay tree as a standard topiary, choose a plant with a straight stem, remove the lower side shoots and trim the rest to the shape you want.

3 Chives

Chives are perfect for a window box or small pots on a ledge. They prefer soil to be fertile and moist so give them some shade in summer to avoid pots drying out. Liquid feed in spring, and if aphids attack wash the leaves thoroughly. Chives are perennial (plants will live for several seasons) but die down in winter.

4 Coriander

A frost-tender annual, coriander is best in a large, deep pot in a sunny spot with plenty of moisture in summer. It hates being transplanted but is easy to grow from seed – just sprinkle on top of potting mix and cover with a thin layer of compost. Pick leaves regularly and harvest seed by picking the flowers as soon as they start to produce a scent. If you’re a coriander fan, keep your supply up by sowing seed in another pot three weeks later.

5 Lemongrass

Lemongrass thrives in pots if the compost is kept moist during summer. In frosty places move pots to shelter in winter and expect plants to become dormant; in warmer areas lemongrass will remain in leaf. Harvest fresh leaves and lower stems in summer and liquid feed weekly during warmer months.

6 Mint

There are many different mints apart from the common variety, including apple, pineapple, lemon and peppermint. Most are frost-hardy perennials that spread easily, which is why they are best grown in large pots, not the garden. Keep compost moist at all times and feed with a liquid fertiliser throughout the growing season. Part-shade is best.

7 Parsley

Inside or out, parsley will thrive in pots if kept moist, harvested regularly and given a liquid feed occasionally. A little shade is best in summer and a sunny spot in winter. Remove any flowers to ensure plants produce leaves not seed. Both common and flatleaf parsley are biennial (only live for two seasons).

8 Rosemary

You need a large pot for rosemary as plants can reach a metre in height and spread. Good drainage is essential and rosemary needs very little water, especially during the colder months. In colder places position the container against a sunny wall and mulch around plants or move to a sheltered spot during winter. Trim after flowering to keep it in shape.

9 Sage

Common sage, the one used most often in cooking, is frost tolerant, evergreen and perennial. Plants reach 60cm in height and spread so select a reasonably large container that is not too shallow and has good drainage. Use a mix of composted fine bark and soil-based compost. Trim back after flowering in summer and avoid over-watering.

10 Thyme

There are many different thymes to choose from, all frost hardy, evergreen and perennial. Some are very low-growing, others will reach about 30cm in height, and they all do well in containers provided soil is well drained and they get plenty of sun. Avoid fertilisers and keep watering to a minimum.

Words by: Carol Bucknell. Photography by: Peter Tarasiuk, Claire Takacs/


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Planting Potted Herbs

Potting herbs takes little time and no special talent. Combining different herbs in one container, however, requires some planning. First, only plant together herbs that share cultural needs or conditions in terms of soil, light, and water. Next, consider your reason for grouping. Show off a collection of thymes or basils, for example, or carry out a theme, such as a Mediterranean garden or plants for first aid. Container plantings offer a convenient way to keep herbs handy — in or near the kitchen, for instance. Small pots nestle easily on a windowsill.

What You Need:

  • Herbs in nursery pots or seedlings in peat pots or trays (dwarf variegated sage, dwarf English lavender, dwarf sage, winter savory, chocolate mint, savory, thyme, etc.)
  • 6-inch or larger pots: terra-cotta, fiberglass, resin, or wood
  • Packaged potting soil or soilless mix
  • Compost or composted manure
  • Trowel


Image zoom Step 1

1. Select a pot. Transplant herbs into individual 6-inch pots, or opt for larger, decorative containers, which can hold several plants. Create a mini herb garden in a container that is at least 12 inches in diameter. Clay pots leach moisture from the soil, so soak them in water before potting. Soil dries faster in porous terra-cotta and clay pots than in other types of containers. However, many herbs, including those with Mediterranean origins, prefer soil that’s on the dry side.

Image zoom Step 2

2. Prepare to plant. Fill the pot with potting soil or soilless mix, working in compost or composted manure; use about 1 cup of the amendment per 6-inch pot. If you mail-ordered your herb plants, carefully unwrap them. Press the potted herb into the soil to make a planting hole that’s just the right size. Gently slip the young plant out of its nursery pot.

Image zoom Step 3

3. Plant and water. Gently loosen the roots at the bottom of the soil ball and set it in the planting hole. Set plants in the pot at the same level or slightly deeper than they were growing in their nursery pots. Gently press the soil around each plant. If you fill a larger pot with several plants, repeat the process for each plant. Water the soil thoroughly. If needed, top off the planting with more soil, leaving 1 inch between the top of the soil and the top of the pot (to allow for watering).

Choose the Right Container Type

A 10-inch diameter pot will hold one of these

  • small herbs
  • strawberry
  • lettuce

Keep in mind that not all pots are round and tall. Shallow-rooted plants such as lettuce will be happy in a container that is wider than it is tall. However, most vegetables will need deeper pots. Broad plants such as a zucchini or pumpkin will benefit from a container that is both broad and deep. Half-barrels are perfect for bigger plants such as tomatoes and squash. Use your best judgment to give your plants plenty of room for optimum harvests, and know that sometimes experience provides the best advice for the future. No matter what kind of pot you’re using, be sure to fill it with premium potting mix, such as Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Container Mix. Enriched with aged compost, it’s just what your plants need for a strong start. For the best results throughout the season, though, starting with great soil isn’t enough. You’ll also want to feed your container plants regularly with a plant food like Miracle Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition, since even the best soil will eventually run short of food for your garden if you don’t replace it. This water-soluble organic fertilizer goes one step further, feeding the microbes in the soil that help make nutrients available to your plants, so your vegetables and herbs get all the food they need throughout the season.

Potted Herbs: Growing Herbs In Containers

Container gardening with herbal plants is an easy alternative to keeping a formal herb garden.

Why Grow Herbs in Containers?

There are many reasons for growing herbs in containers. You may be short on space, have poor soil conditions, want to prolong the growing season, keep the herbs close at hand for use in the kitchen, keep invasive herbs at bay, or maybe you are an apartment dweller with a taste for fresh herbs but no yard to grow them.

Whatever your reasons, most herbs are well-suited for growing in containers and can exist anywhere provided they are given the proper amount of sunlight, water, and good soil.

Choosing Containers for Herbs

Depending on how much space you have available and whether you are planning to keep your herbs indoors or out will play a huge part in choosing your containers. Herbs will grow in almost any type of container as long as it has good drainage. Terra cotta pots are best, but plastic, wood, or metal will do. If you aren’t using a traditional style container, be sure to poke some holes into the bottom for drainage and provide a drip plate if you are keeping them indoors.

Herbs can be grown separately, in individual pots, or you can plant several different varieties in one large container such as a window box planter, being careful not to overcrowd the pot so that each plant has enough space to grow and reach its full potential.

Growing Herbs in Containers

Some herbs can become extremely large at maturity. Be sure to match your herbs to the size of your container choices.

Before adding soil to your chosen container, you’ll need to provide a layer of rocks, gravel or Styrofoam pellets to the bottom quarter of the container to help with the drainage process. Broken chips from terra cotta pots also work nicely for this. If you’re planning on bringing an outdoor container of herbs indoors during the winter months, I would suggest the use of the Styrofoam pellets to keep the weight down.

Use a good quality potting soil mix to fill your container to within 2 inches from the top to allow plenty of space for watering. Few herbs require a large amount of fertilization, but nearly all will require some fertilizer during the growing season, especially if kept in pots.

Keep your container garden of herbs well-watered as they will dry out more rapidly than those that have been planted directly into the garden.

Prolonging the Life of Your Herbs

By removing some herbs from the ground in early autumn, you can prolong their life cycle and have fresh herbs growing on your windowsill all winter. Parsley, chives, and coriander work well when you dig up strongly growing plants, divide them, replant them into a container and keep them in a sunny location.

Growing Invasive Herbs in Containers

Unless you’re prepared to have your entire garden taken over by mint, you should always plant these and other invasive herbs into containers. Be on the lookout for runners. Invasive herbs are tricky, and even those that are kept in containers will try to invade the territory surrounding them. Keeping them in a container makes the runners easier to spot and clip back when necessary.

Growing Herbs in a Strawberry Planter

One of the best containers to use for herbs if you are short on space is a strawberry planter. You can find these at your local gardening center. They are usually made of terra cotta and have many small openings around the sides for your smaller herbs. You can plant the larger herbs at the top.

It’s possible to keep an entire culinary herb garden conveniently located right outside your door in one strawberry planter. Some good choices of herbs for this would be:

  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Curled-leaf parsley
  • Basil
  • Lemon verbena
  • Chives

If you’re planting rosemary, always reserve it for the top portion of the strawberry planter, as this herb can become rather large and bushy.

Using Containers in the Garden

By keeping your most delicate herbs in containers outside in the garden, not only will it be easier to transport them inside during the winter months, but it will give your garden a more interesting and beautiful look during the growing season.

Place herbs that are growing in containers in the center of your lower growing herbs, such as your creeping thyme to give your garden more definition.

Growing herbs in containers is a rewarding and fun way to be sure of having plenty of the good stuff nearby, right when you need it.

How to pick the best pot for growing herbs

Having a supply of fresh herbs at home is great for culinary purposes, but has also been shown to have significant health benefits.(1) While many people wish to grow fresh herbs at home, not everyone has a yard or space for an outdoor herb garden.

The good news is that container gardening makes growing herbs at home easy, even with very little available space. And unlike a garden bed, growing plants indoors in pots offers tremendous flexibility and a measure of control that traditional gardening lacks. A sunny spot on a windowsill, patio, or balcony that gets eight hours of full sun each day is all that is needed to grow herbs at home.

Growing culinary herbs in containers means having the fresh flavor of homegrown herbs year-round, as the growing season can be extended by moving plants indoors during the winter months. Container planting is convenient and can give your kitchen, patio, or balcony a big aesthetic boost. Understanding the specific requirements of different herbs will help to ensure success with your container herb garden, so here are some helpful tips to get started on the right track.

Pot size guide for herbs

Herbs can be a little like Goldilocks when it comes to pot sizes: too small and their growth will be impeded, too large and space and soil are wasted on them. But when a pot is just right, an herb can achieve its full potential. Beware a too-large pot on the patio– it may be just fine in place, but far too heavy to comfortably lift and move inside in the winter. Always consider the weight of a pot filled with soil if the plan is to move the containers come wintertime.

  • 6-inch pots should only be used with dwarf or shallow-rooted herbs like thyme or globe basil. One problem with a pot this small is that it will need more frequent watering than a deeper pot, and inconsistent water levels can lead to a less-than-healthy plant.
  • 8 to 10-inch pots are perfect for almost any herb. The size of a container can be used to limit the size of an herb. Plenty of herbs will expand to fill larger pots over time even they don’t actually need the space.
  • 12 to 18-inch pots are spacious enough to accommodate multiple herbs at once, or to grow exceptionally large, well-established herb plants. Herbs like parsley, which has a deep taproot, will thrive in a deeper pot. Lemongrass also performs best in a larger-diameter container.

Pot Materials

The material a pot of made of is largely a decision that is made based on style, color, weight, and budget. Metal pots are typically the most expensive, but a designer ceramic pot can also be quite costly. As long as the pot has good drainage, the material it is made of is mostly aesthetic.

  • Metal pots may include copper, brass, galvanized or stainless steel and are both durable and stylish, if expensive.
  • Ceramic pots offer the most variety in shape and color, which means they can often be used as a home design element. These are the best choice for someone who wants to match a color scheme in their home.
  • Terra cotta pots are traditional, attractive, and affordable. They don’t, however, weather well and are best when used as indoor planters.
  • Plastic pots have the benefit of being inexpensive, lightweight, and typically available in a wide range of colors. These are ideal pots for plants that are going to be moved periodically indoors– sunlight will cause deterioration over time.
  • Resin pots are made from a wood resin and are lightweight, weather-resistant, and available in a wide range of finishes. The ideal pot for moving from indoors to outdoors seasonally.

Types of Pots

Most pots are fairly standard-shaped, but there are a number of specialty pots to consider as well.

  • Self-watering pots are particularly useful herb containers, as they ensure consistent watering and take the guesswork out of keeping herb plants deeply hydrated.
  • Window boxes serve multiple purposes: available in a range of styles, they dress up otherwise plain windows and provide growing space for those who don’t have appropriate indoor spots. Any window that received eight hours of sun each day is ideal.
  • Hanging pots are another stylish way to make use of limited space. However, soil in these planters may dry quickly, so a self-watering option works best.
  • Shallow pots can be beautiful and decorative but are best-suited for chives, thyme, tarragon, and oregano.

Potting Soils

Growing herbs successfully indoors begins with high-quality soil. For more on selecting high-quality soil check out our soil and growing media guide.

Remember, plants require soil that both holds sufficient root zone nutrients and moisture and allows the roots to breathe. Commercially available potting soil can fulfill all of these needs, but it is also possible to create a homemade potting mix. When making a potting mix, use peat moss, vermiculite, compost (or some other organic material), and a slow-release granular fertilizer.


When it comes to planting containers, good drainage is as important as high-quality soil. Poor drainage can create an oxygen-poor environment which stunts plant growth and can eventually kill plants. Almost all pots sold should come with drainage holes. Some drainage holes come with a plug to prevent leaking onto indoor surfaces, but it is advised to simply use a drainage tray or plant saucer to catch any overflow.

In the event that you find a ceramic container that is suitable for growing herbs but doesn’t have drainage, there are ceramic drill bits that can be used to create drainage holes in the bottom. Typically, between one and three holes offer sufficient drainage.

Because drainage is such an important part of a successful indoor herb garden, it is also necessary to have a drainage tray beneath any planter on indoor surfaces. Many pots have built-in drainage trays, but for those that do not, there are a vast array of drainage trays available.

Best pots for beginners to grow herbs

Having a supply of fresh herbs at home is great for culinary purposes, but has also been shown to have significant health benefits.(1) Starting out growing herbs at home should be fairly straightforward, but for newbie gardeners, even the most straightforward planting may seem a bit mysterious. There are a number of measures that can be taken to guarantee success for even the most clueless beginner, starting with choosing easy, forgiving herbs.

Plants like Greek oregano and lemon thyme are extremely resilient and can tolerate inconsistent watering. Chives are forgiving, and basil is a good communicator– its leaves will droop when it needs watering, which can be extremely helpful for folks with little gardening experience.

Beginners may want to avoid small pots and focus on larger, deeper, and self-watering pots to take some of the guesswork out of watering. Additionally, planting herbs from seeds is the most difficult way to start growing herbs, as it takes a long time for many herbs to grow to maturity. For beginners determined to start herbs from seed, basil, dill, or fennel are good, relatively fast-growing options.

Care for herbs in pots

Herbs in pots have some very basic needs: enough space for their root systems, eight hours of sun, and regular watering. Pot types and sized have been thoroughly covered in the previous text, and while ample full sun is beneficial to herb gardens, eight hours is a general guideline. Many herbs will thrive even in indirect bright sunlight and some can still grow well in less than eight hours. It is important to know the specific requirements of different herbs, and remember that with a container garden, it’s always possible to move a struggling plant to a better location.

Watering indoor plants takes a little practice to get right.(2) It’s a good idea not to water on a predetermined schedule, as many factors will affect how quickly moisture evaporates from the soil of different planters. Ideally, a finger inserted an inch into the soil will indicate whether the soil is dry enough to warrant watering.

Container plants enjoy a little infusion of rich nutrients from time to time. There are a ton of fertilizer options that can be applied to an indoor herb garden, but the best bet is usually a good organic fertilizer or a water-soluble or slow-release fertilizer.

Many kitchen herbs actually benefit from periodic harvesting of new growth, which encourages bushy, strong growth. This is one of the best aspects of herb gardening: harvesting regularly keeps growth vigorous and supplies a never ending supply of fresh herbs for the kitchen. There are specific techniques for harvesting from an herb garden that focus on pinching off the new growth close to a growth node.(3)

The bottom line is that growing one’s own herbs is a rewarding and fun experience that is well worth the effort and investment.

Feature image: kirybabe

The potted herb garden is easy

Beautiful, delicious, aromatic and self-sufficient, herbs represent a form of perfection in the garden.

Culinary herbs are singularly suited to growing in pots and other containers — they love a dry, airy perch. People love them, too: You can position a potted herb garden almost anywhere with a bit of sunlight, on a breezeway, a balcony, a front stoop or a back patio. The only criterion, other than sunlight, is that it be handy, so you can snip what you need for the kitchen. Herbs love to be trimmed; they respond by growing bushier.

May is the month for assembling your herbs. The weather is warm enough, finally, to please heat seekers, such as basil and lemongrass, and to coax mint into life for Kentucky Derby juleps.

And if I haven’t quite conveyed how easy, inexpensive and foolproof it is to grow herbs in pots, and how badly I want you to do this, let me just say: GROW HERBS IN POTS.

Here’s how to do it:


The larger the container, the better. A greater volume of soil moderates root temperatures, retains moisture and allows room for crowded herbs to grow. A 14-inch-diameter pot is ideal for housing four to six herbs, don’t go with anything smaller. Forms, colors and materials vary widely.

If you are on a budget, a simple plastic or basic clay pot costing a few dollars will work. If you have deeper pockets and want to make more of a design statement, you can find glazed ceramic pots for about $30 to $60, smart terra cotta pots from $40 to $100, and high-design concrete or resin pots for as much as $200 or more. Metal containers can look stylish, but they get uncomfortably hot in a Washington summer, as can black or dark-hued pottery.

All pots must drain freely, so make sure they have at least one drainage hole. Decorative “feet” — three to a pot — are cheap and can make a vital difference in preventing waterlogged roots, especially if the pot sits directly on concrete or stone paving.

A grouping of pots can provide a focal point and expand your range of herbs, but avoid lots of little pots. Three beefy pots of different diameters and heights can look great, define a corner of a patio, or visually lighten corners and walls.


No potted plant will thrive in poor, dense soil. Don’t use garden soil or stuff left over from last year’s pots. The classic general purpose potting soil is a peat-based mixture with perlite and limestone, often with compost and vermiculite added. You can make your own or buy bags that are ready-made. For herbs, particularly Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary and lavender, some gardeners like to add some gravel or chicken grit to the mix to aid drainage. Adding sand might not help so much.

Planting combinations

In creating any effective container garden, the pros give plants three distinct roles: as an upright accent, as a lower-growing mound and as a trailing plant. They are known in the trade as “thrillers, fillers and spillers.” The same principle applies to potted herb gardens.

We asked Adam Pyle, horticulturist at the U.S. Botanic Garden, for some of his favorite herb combinations:

Decorative Mediterranean

In a stylish square-topped clay planter, he placed four plants: an upright rosemary, rue, a silver-leafed curry plant (Helichrysum italicum) and a variety of oregano named Kent Beauty.

Floral twist

In a blue glazed pot, Pyle assembled a lot of curly parsley, which flopped and functioned as both filler and spiller. For height he used the feathery bronze fennel alongside a small-leafed and variegated form of basil named Pesto Perpetuo. To provide some visual punch, he added two annuals with edible blooms: Nasturtium (whose peppery leaves also spice up a salad) and a common marigold. Another group of marigolds, called Signet marigolds, have finer leaves and flowers and are well suited to the herb container.

Standard herb combo

In a green ceramic pot, Pyle selected five herbs that tolerate moisture (with adequate drainage). As a thriller, he put in a small bell pepper plant. His was unnamed, but I suggest a diminutive and fruitful sweet bell pepper named Golden Baby Belle. He added dill (variety Bouquet), which is a cool-season herb. Once it flags in the heat of early summer, you could replace it with a scented geranium. He added a red-leafed basil variety and a nasturtium from a group called Alaska, which are more heat-tolerant than other nasturtiums. He finished the ensemble with a trailing common oregano named Hot and Spicy.

Culinary Mediterranean

Pyle likes to put dry-loving Mediterranean herbs in clay pots, which are porous and wick moisture from the soil more rapidly than other types of containers. He also adds extra drainage by placing gravel or other small stones at the base of the pot, incorporating chicken grit into the soil and topping it off with a mulch of small pebbles. You could use washed pea gravel. Pyle employs an expanded glass product named Growstone.

In this recipe, he used rue (not used much as a culinary herb, but with a lovely blue-green fine texture), a novel variety of chives named Cha-Cha, silver santolina, the English lavender Hidcote, compact with indigo blooms, and a caraway-scented thyme, noted for its caraway flavor, fine texture and rot resistance.

Perennial herb combo

This is my recipe for herbs that are winter-hardy and will give several years of service. It’s worth noting that most herbs are short-lived plants, especially in pots, and should be replaced after three years or so. Plant these in a frost-resistant container (not standard terra cotta) and remember to move the pot to a sheltered location in the winter. This will protect the pot from freeze damage and nurture the herbs. (A pot is a colder environment than a garden bed.)

I have suggested five herbs: The twist is to use rosemary as the spiller by selecting a trailing type such as Prostratus. For the thriller, use a lavender — English or French lavandin type — and fill in with hardy sweet marjoram and lemon thyme, the latter a yellow variegated thyme with citrusy oils. Finish the medley with a clump of chives.

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