5 Great Herbs to Grow in Pots and Easy Tips for Growing Herbs in Containers
Even if you only have a tiny spec of outdoor space, if you have some sun, you can grow herbs. Most herbs grow well in containers and some (like mint and lemon balm) should be grown in pots because if you grow them in your garden, they will try to take over. Also, many are pretty forgiving and even beginners can grow them with success.
The following list contains some favorite herbs to grow in pots.
Parsley comes in two types, Italian, also called flat parsley, and curly parsley, which is the more common variety. Many people prefer flat parsley for cooking and curly parsley for garnishes. Parsley prefers full sun but can grow in partial shade. It’s very hardy and will make it through a frost. To harvest, just snip off at the base of a stem. As with most herbs, the more you harvest, the more you’ll get.
Parsley is biennial, which means that it can come back for two years, though some think the leaves are more bitter the second year.
Mint likes full sun, but most will tolerate some shade. Some, like spearmint, can be very tall and leggy and some are low spreaders, so make sure to check your plant tag.
Mint will thrive and get bushy if you keep it pinched back. As a bonus, mint roots easily from cuttings.
You can make an easy tea (called a tissane) by simply pouring water, just after it has boiled, over the leaves and steeping for a few minutes. Spearmint makes a particularly delicious tea.
Oregano loves sun, and not too much water or fertilizer. Pinch back regularly to keep the plant compact and to keep it from blooming. Oregano is a perennial that you can either grow overwinter in a cool place or propagate from cuttings. Try golden oregano or Greek oregano for culinary uses and ‘Herrenhausen’ or ‘Kent Beauty’ for great flowering.
Basil can be a bit temperamental. It is easy to start from seed, but is fussy about temperature—it gets depressed if the thermometer dips below 50 F. If you live in a cold climate, don’t attempt to put basil out early. Basil also
like to be crowded and needs plenty of air circulation to be happy, so give each plant plenty of space. Basil gets cranky if its leaves stay wet, so water carefully. Try to let the soil dry out a bit between watering, but not to the point where the plant wilts. When your plants are about six inches tall, pinch them back so they will grow full and bushy. Make sure to keep harvesting and pinching back for the best production. You don’t want to let basil flower, because it will get bitter afterward, so keep using it or pinching it back.
Rosemary needs full sun and well-draining soil. Let it dry out a bit between watering, but don’t let it dry out completely.
Easy Tips for Growing Herbs in Containers
Herb container gardens are popular for many reasons. Even if you have miles of property and gardens galore, it’s convenient to be able to step just out your door and pick a handful of fresh herbs from a beautiful container garden. Plant maintenance is also more convenient with containers, and there are fewer problems with weeds and critters getting into your crops.
You can grow almost any herb in a container. However, if you’re mixing herbs in the same pot, you have to be sure you’re using plants with similar growing requirements. For example, some herb plants need more water than others, and some are finicky about how much light they get. But as long as you get the conditions right, you should have thriving plants and fresh herbs at your fingertips.
Planning Your Herb Container
You can grow as many types of herbs in one container as you want if they share the same sun, water, and soil preferences. For example, rosemary likes hot and dry conditions while parsley needs steady moisture. Therefore, they would not work well together in the same pot.
Also, don’t forget that herbs can serve as decorative elements in a container garden, adding texture and scent when mixed with annuals or perennials. Again, just be sure to pair them with plants that have similar needs, and make sure they won’t choke out any other plants in the same container, as some herbs have vigorous growth habits.
Choosing a Container for Herbs
You can use almost anything for an herb container, as long as it has good drainage. Most herbs don’t have large root systems, so you can get away with relatively small containers. This is especially true of the herbs that don’t mind drying out between watering. However, the smaller the container, the less soil there is. This means you have a smaller margin of error with too much or too little water.
Some herbs thrive in self-watering containers because they like a constant level of moisture. Plants, such as chives, parsley, marjoram, and mint, are particularly good candidates for growing in self-watering pots. Other herbs, including oregano, thyme, rosemary, and basil, prefer to dry out between watering, so they wouldn’t be good candidates for self-watering containers.
Planting and Caring for Herbs
Help your container herbs thrive with the right soil, sun exposure, and fertilizer. Use a high-quality potting mix that allows for good drainage. This soil, paired with the drainage holes in your container, will help prevent accidentally drowning your herbs.
Moreover, most herbs need full sun for at least six to eight hours a day. That said, containers can really bake on a hot day.
Be careful not to overfertilize your herbs. Most herbs don’t need much fertilizer, and some plants will simply die if they are overfed. Plus, certain herbs, such as thyme and oregano, thrive on neglect and often aren’t as tasty if they are given too much food or water.
Harvesting Your Herbs
The rule of thumb for harvesting herbs is to snip and pinch back often. Consistent harvesting will encourage the plants to branch and fill out which, in turn, will increase your overall harvest. Always tailor your harvesting to the plant’s growth pattern and avoid cutting more than one third of the plant during the growing season. For example, basil leaves should be harvested regularly, and the flower buds should be removed, but basil plants should not be cut back all the way.
The flowers and seeds of some herbs, such as chives and dill, are edible. The leaves of others including oregano and basil will lose flavor and become bitter if allowed to flower. Remember that once a plant flowers and goes to seed, the seasonal growth cycle for that plant will be complete and the plant will no longer put out new growth.
At the end of the growing season, you can bring many of your herb containers inside if you get lots of indoor sunlight. Some herb plants are easier than others to keep alive indoors during the winter, though it’s worth a shot for all your container herbs.
Finally, if you’ve grown more herbs than you can harvest for yourself, consider giving them as gifts. You can do themed herb container gardens, such as a “pizza” garden or an herbes de Provence container garden. Combine herbs and other edible plants in a pretty basket, or just pick a handful of herbs to put in a nice vase for an herbal bouquet. Many herbs like oregano, sage, rosemary and dill also dry well and can be kept in tightly lidded containers out of direct sunlight for use in cooking all year long.