How to Grow Herbs so you can enjoy the goodness of fresh-cut seasonings all year long.
If you enjoy cooking fresh meals, you probably use a lot of fresh herbs. But buying them every time you need them for a recipe can get expensive. Growing your own fresh herbs can save money and provide you with an unlimited supply of the herbs you use most.
But if you live in an urban area and don’t have space for a garden, you may think growing your own herbs isn’t an option. You’d be wrong. Actually, it may surprise you to know that fresh herbs grow beautifully in just about any container. You can grow them outside on a deck, patio, or balcony, or even inside in your kitchen which can give you a beautiful supply year-round.
Growing herbs in pots is not only incredibly convenient, but it’s easy, and even makes your indoor or outdoor area smell wonderful.
How to Grow Herbs in Pots
Planning Your Herb Container Garden
I am a planner and nowhere is this more helpful than when growing plants. The reason it is best to plan ahead, you will not only save loads of time but it will also ensure the very best results with your herb garden. Not all plants are created equal and this is especially true with herbs because some plants grow well together and others don’t. This is called companion planting and something you will want to know a bit on before you begin.
Some herb plants require more sun or less water than others and how they grow will differ as well. Some grow tall while others grow short and if they’re planted together, the tall one will steal the sun from the shorter one.
Planning your garden before you plant is also important if your space is limited. This is true both inside and out. You don’t want to plant too much then find out you don’t have enough space for it all.
When planning your herb garden, think about the herbs you use most in your kitchen. The most common herbs include rosemary, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, mint, and dill. But you may not use all of these herbs frequently enough to want to grow them all.
In our home, basil is a staple. There is nothing quite as wonderful as fresh basil and having a supply right there on my window sill whenever I need it really has transformed my kitchen.
Start with what you use the most; you can always expand your garden if you find you have the space to do so. When I started my first herb garden I chose 4 of my favorites and grew things from there.
SLCG PRO TIP: When gardening the trick to not getting overwhelmed is to start out small. Pick a few of your favorites and give them a try. With only a few you will be more easily able to keep up with watering, trimming, and even using the herbs that you grow.
Choosing the Right Pots for Your Herb Garden
The most important part of choosing pots is the drainage. The roots are where the magic happens and setting things up to ensure they are healthy is the secret to a large, full, and vibrant herb plant. Too much water where the roots are will do more harm than good and can rot the roots down below giving you a lackluster and small herb plant up above.
Most herbs don’t have a large root system so smaller pots tend to work best. And some plants tend to like a little drying out before they’re watered again so less soil is a good option for them. But, with less soil also comes the risk of over or under-watering.
Some herbs that like a constant level of moisture grow well in self-watering containers. These herbs include parsley, marjoram, mint, and chives. Others prefer less moisture like oregano, thyme, rosemary, and basil so they wouldn’t be happy in a self-watering pot.
How to Grow Herbs in Pots
In addition to the right pot, the right soil, and fertilizer, herbs need a significant amount of sun; preferably about 8-10 hours a day. Yes, location in this instance, really does matter. But don’t worry if the spot you chose isn’t perfect. If you don’t get enough direct sunlight to feed your herbs, you can bring your herb garden indoors and add a few grow lights to give them the necessary light.
It is important to use a high-quality potting mix for herbs and make sure your pot has a drainage hole with a tray underneath so you don’t drown your plant.
Heat is another factor to consider. Temperatures that are too hot can dry your herbs and cause them to need more moisture. If you live in a hot climate, you may need to consider an indoor garden.
Herb gardens don’t need a lot of fertilizer and over fertilizing can kill them. Some herbs will also lose their flavor if they’re over fertilized. A few drops of plant food added to the water every couple of weeks is enough to provide nutrients without over feeding.
Best Herbs for Container Gardening
- Basil – Basil is one of the most common herbs to grow. Not only is it great on pasta and in sauces, it provides a nice flavor for salads. It prefers full sunlight, moist soil, and needs fertilizing. It will take about six weeks for the root system to become established, but after that, it can tolerate short periods of dryness. There are several varieties, some growing as tall as 2 feet.
- Cilantro – Also known as coriander, it’s most commonly used for its leaves, but don’t discount its dried ground seeds. It likes a good drainage system for its soil and lots of sunlight. Cilantro grows a long root system so it will need a container that’s at least 12 inches deep. Depending on the variety, it can grow up to 2 feet tall.
- Chives – Chives are essentially tiny onions grown for their leaves and blooms. They are a grassy, clump-forming perennial, have hollow leaves, and their pink-purple flowers are edible. They prefer nutrient-rich soil and a pot with good drainage. They grow best in full sunlight, but they can also tolerate a little shade. They can grow as tall as 18-20 inches.
- Lavender – Lavender is very fragrant and makes a nice addition to cookies and cakes, but also grows beautiful flowers that brighten up your home. The scent is also known for its calming abilities so it’s perfect for making scented candles or oils to encourage relaxation. It’s a bushy shrub so it usually doesn’t like to share a pot with anything else. It needs full sunlight and good drainage; it prefers to stay on the dry side, and it doesn’t like fertilizer. It can grow as tall as 2 feet.
- Tarragon – This classic French herb is most commonly used to season fish; it has a very bold flavor. Tarragon needs good drainage, like a few days of dry soil between waterings, and prefers lots of sun. It can grow as tall as 3 feet high.
- Lemon Balm – Lemon balm spreads quickly and easily so it does better in a container than in your yard to keep it under control. It likes partial shade to full sun and it likes its soil to stay moist, but well-drained. It can grow up to 2 feet tall.
- Lemon Verbena – With its lovely scent and flavor, lemon verbena is perfect for scented candles and tea as well as some baked goods and chicken. It’s a tropical shrub and likes a container of well-drained potting soil and no fertilizer. In full sunlight, it can grow up to 3 feet high.
- Parsley – Whether you use it for cooking or to pretty up your dinner plate, parsley is a popular herb. When planting, keep in mind that it likes regular water and feeding so a self-watering pot and slow-release fertilizer at planting time can keep this herb happy. It likes the sun, but it can tolerate partial shade.
- Mint – Mint is another herb that can be used for so many things. It’s great for baked goods, flavoring whipped cream, or brewing for tea. Its lovely scent is invigorating so it’s a wonderful addition to lotions and candles. Grown in the ground, it can become invasive so growing this herb in a pot is best. Like many herbs, it prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. It’s hearty and can grow in a variety of soil types, but it produces the best leaves in nutrient-rich soil. There are several varieties and its size varies, but it can grow up to 2 feet tall.
- Oregano – Oregano is essential to any Mediterranean cuisine. It doesn’t do well in wet soil so proper drainage is necessary. Also, full sunlight is best; the more sun it gets, the stronger the flavor. Oregano will grow about 2 feet tall.
- Marjoram – Marjoram is similar to oregano, but a little sweeter and milder in flavor and it’s more aromatic. It prefers full sunlight and well-drained potting soil and it can grow as high as 2 feet. It’s a perennial so it will still thrive in the winter indoors.
- Rosemary – Rosemary is another essential herb to Mediterranean cooking. And the fragrant smell will give your kitchen a lovely scent, which also makes it a good addition to scented candles. It can grow up to 3 feet tall and need quick-draining soil to thrive. Keep the soil moist but never wet when growing indoors. It prefers hot, dry, and sunny areas.
- Thyme – Thyme comes in many varieties and they all grow well in full sunlight with well-drained soil. Thyme doesn’t like wet soil so don’t overwater and let it dry out for a few days between watering. It only grows about 10 inches tall so it’s perfect for small containers.
- Sage – Sage is great for seasoning poultry as well as adding to a variety of teas. It likes lots of sun and moist, but well-drained soil. It can grow up to 2 feet high.
Best Herbs to Plant Together
Many herbs do well when planted together, especially ones that require the same amount of light and the same type of soil.
Most Mediterranean herbs will support each other’s growth and even give each other a better flavor.
Some favorites to plant together include:
Other herbs that tend to do well together are:
They all love moisture so they’ll thrive together. Although, parsley is a biennial and will die after about 2 years so it will need to be removed from the grouping.
Herb Growing Guide
To successfully grow herbs in pots, there are a few things you’ll need to consider before and after planting.
Find Sun – Almost all herbs are sun lovers and require a minimum of 6 hours a day of direct sunlight, some more, although in warmer regions they do like to get some afternoon shade to cool off.
Choose the Right Containers – Your container needs to be large enough to hold the herb’s root system. To find the right size, choose a pot that’s at least 1/3 the height of the expected size of the plant. For instance, a plant that can grow up to 2 feet tall will need a pot at least 8 inches deep. Check the plant’s height on the plant tag or seed packet. For plants that grow larger, like lemon balm and lavender, larger is definitely better when it comes to both depth and circumference. Regardless of which type of pot you choose, all of your herbs will require drainage holes.
Choose Good Soil – Your herbs will require nutrient-rich soil to thrive so choose a good quality potting soil, preferable one that provides moisture control to prevent against over and under watering. Potting soil is better than garden soil for your container herb garden. It’s not as dense as garden soil so it allows more water and air to circulate around the root system. If you keep your garden growing instead of replanting every year, you’ll want to add a soil revitalizer over the existing soil about once a year to renew the soil’s natural nutrients.
Water According to Needs – While some plants prefer to go dry between waterings, others prefer to have their soil constantly moist. Read the watering instructions on the plant tag or seed packet to ensure your giving your herbs the proper amount of water without drowning them.
Harvesting Fresh Herbs from Pots
As you can see by the herb guide above, most can grow very tall. Proper harvesting will not only ensure continued health and growth, it will also help to keeps your herb plants under control.
Pick leaves often to encourage new growth, but don’t overharvest. Never harvest more than 1/4 of the herb at a time. For herbs with leaves that grow in clumps, harvest the outer leaves first, working your way in to the center. For herbs that have an upright stem, you can simply snip off individual branches.
Hydroponic Herb Gardens
In addition to a container herb garden, there is another way to grow herbs; hydroponically. A hydroponic herb garden allows you to grow herbs in water instead of soil; the root system grows directly in water.
This kind of garden can take up more space and it does require special equipment so you’ll need to keep that in mind. For starters, it’s best grown indoor with grow lights so you’ll need to purchase those and create a space with a table to set up your garden.
In addition to lights, you’ll need a variety of other equipment like growing containers that can hold water, grow cubes, distilled water, pH testing kit, and an air pump to circulate the water.
It can be more challenging to manage than a container garden, but it will give you healthy herb plants in about 2 months’ time.
Now that you know how to grow herbs in pots, what are you waiting for? You can easily plan, organize, and plant your garden over a weekend and start cooking with fresh herbs sooner than you’d think. You’ll have so many fresh and tasty herbs, you’ll want to find new ways to use them every day.