Growing Herbs In Containers
My favorite way to grow herbs is in containers on our patio. Herbs are super easy to grow, add flavor and aroma to our food, plus they provide nectar to bees and other beneficial pollinators.
I prefer growing herbs in containers because they’re beautiful to look at, they give you great bang for your buck, and you can better manage the more invasive types like the mint family. It’s so convenient to step outside and snip what you need.
Where To Locate Your Herb Garden
The best place for your herbs is where you can reach them in a pinch! I have my herb containers on our patio a stone’s throw from the back door and kitchen.
Make sure the site you choose receives 6 to 8 hours of sunlight each day for optimal results. Some folks like to edge their vegetable gardens with herbs or mix them into perennial beds. Good news: herbs are usually pest-free and most are deer and rabbit resistant. (unlike my petunias…sigh! Liquid Fence® to the rescue.)
If you plant them in containers, make sure the pots have good-sized drainage holes so surplus water can drain away. Herbs can’t stand to have their roots sitting in too-wet soil. I prefer to use larger pots and put several varieties together than using too small pots which dry out quickly.
How To Care For Your Herbs
Once herbs are established in your garden, they need very little attention. I recommend using “Potting Mix” rather than “Potting Soil” when planting herbs. Potting Mix has a lighter consistency since it’s made mostly from organic matter such as peat or composted plant matter. This helps aid drainage and provides space for the roots to grow.
Water only when the soil is dry 1/2″ below the surface. Regular harvesting will keep the plants productive and from getting too leggy. As far as fertilizer goes, most herbs do best without it. Heavily harvested herbs such as basil, parsley and chives could use a little boost, but go easy with the fertilizer. Too much can affect the fragrance and flavor.
Can’t decide which herbs to grow? Check your spice collection and see what you use most often. You can save a lot of money by growing your own herbs and nothing beats the freshness!
Best Herbs To Grow In Containers
Basil: One of the most popular and beloved Italian herbs. Basil plays nice with parsley and thyme in a pot. It prefers full sun and average soil. I’m growing sweet basil and lime basil this year. Sweet Basil is so good in pesto, served with ripe tomatoes and soft mozzarella cheese, and added to my husband’s homemade pasta sauce. Lime Basil works well with chicken, fish, and salads. Tastes best fresh and not dried.Borage: I just started growing this culinary, ornamental, tea plant beloved by bees. A hardy annual, borage is easily grown from seeds sown in full sun. The young foliage makes a great addition to salads, soft cheese, and yogurt as a potato topper. The blue, star-shaped flowers are cheery and edible! I’ve seen them frozen into ice cubes, crystallized for cake decorations, or tossed into salads for color and texture. It’s considered a good growing companion for other plants such as strawberry, squash and tomato.
Chives: Chives are grassy, clump-forming perennials with hollow leaves. Basically tiny onions, chives are grown for their leaves and blooms rather than their bulbs. I inherited several plants from the previous owner of our townhouse and they sure are hardy. They can tolerate light shade, but do best in full sun. Because they’re hardy in Zones 3-10, you can leave them outdoors year-round. Works well in any recipe calling for a mild onion flavor.
Cilantro (also known as coriander): This herb can be used for its tangy leaves (cilantro is a staple in Mexican cooking) or its dried, ground seeds which are the orange-scented spice known as coriander. Plant this annual herb in well-drained soil. Cilantro grows best in sun, although it tolerates some shade. Since it has a long taproot, place it in a container that is at least 12 inches deep. Not everyone likes the taste of cilantro which can be a bit musty-like. It works especially well in salsas.
Dill: Now this flavorful herb isn’t just for pickles! Both the seeds and the leaves have a distinctive flavor and aroma. It’s a great source of antioxidants (such as beta-carotene), and it’s even said to cure hiccups. Dill requires full sun and grows best in deep soil that’s not too dense. I like adding it to salads, soups, fish dishes (great with salmon!) and dips. Dill is also a food source for the swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. (see photo at bottom of page)
Lavender: This bushy perennial shrub with a heavenly fragrance makes a great companion to roses. It does best in full sun and well-drained potting mix. Best to keep it on the dry side and avoid fertilizer. Lavender has many uses including potpourri, sachets, oils, soaps, dried flower arrangements, and even cooking. I’m growing the classic Lavender … English Munstead in the garden. Prune it after flowering to keep it compact.
Lemon balm: This old-fashioned favorite spreads freely and self-sows readily, is perfect for container gardens so it doesn’t take over the yard. Plant in partial shade or full sun and in moist, rich, well-drained potting mix. I love the citrusy herbs … excellent made into tea, added to salads, poultry and fish dishes. Also refreshing added to fruit drinks and wine. It has been traditionally grown to attract honey bees and to pollinate fruit trees.
Lemon verbena: This is a tropical shrub (hardy in Zones 9-10) that’s commonly grown as an annual in container gardens. Grow plants in pots filled with well-drained potting mix in full sun and avoid fertilizer. This is the most “lemony” of the herbs with its sharp citrus scent and flavor. Great in liqueurs, vinegars, candies, cookies, ice cream, fish and poultry dishes. Yum…I’m getting hungry just typing this!
Mint: Definitely grow mint in a container unless you want it to takeover your yard and your neighbors … it’s very invasive! I made the mistake of planting it in our vegetable garden when we were first married. Oops! Grow it in full sun or partial shade, it isn’t very picky. Mint can grow in many soil types and degrees of sunlight, but it produces the best leaves in rich soil. Peppermints and spearmints are the best for cooking. Oh so fragrant, it makes great jellies, drinks (my hubby whips up superb Mint Juleps!) candies, desserts and sauces.
Oregano: This herb is an essential ingredient in Mediterranean cuisines. The plant does best in full sun and well-drained potting mix. The more sun oregano receives, the more pungent the flavor of the leaves. It does not tolerate wet soil. Greek oregano has the best flavor. Italian oregano is a delicious marjoram-oregano cross. Oregano is one herb I use more of dried than fresh. Delicious in soups, pasta sauces, and meat loaf.
Buy Quality Herb Plants Here … Including Basil, Mint, Oregano, Sage and More
Parsley: Don’t just use parsley as a garnish…eat this nutritious herb! I’ve read that a good-sized sprig of parsley supplies the daily minimum requirements of vitamins A and C. Plant in full sun and average soil. Parsley’s flavor is best fresh and used at the end of cooking to enliven flavors. I like to use it in salads, coleslaw, potatoes, rice, and minced on top of most soups just before serving. Most cooks prefer the flat-leafed version, often called Italian parsley. I want to try ‘Parsley Laura’, and not just because I like the name…it’s said to have a less intense parsley flavor and a hint of citrus.
Rosemary: Rosemary is an attractive, tender evergreen shrub, that likes hot, dry, sunny spots. Quick-draining soil is the key to good growth. It’s drought-tolerant. The delicate, needle-like leaves are used to flavor stews, meats, vegetables, roasted potatoes, stuffing, vinegars, herbal breads and cookies.
Sage: Sage is a favorite for seasoning poultry and flavoring stuffing. Best grown in full sun and moist, well-drained potting mix. There are many attractive and useful varieties for the ornamental and herb garden. Sage attracts butterflies and bees. I’m growing Sage officinalis which has a strong, warm flavor that also enhances pork, soups, butters, and casseroles.
Tarragon: A classic French herb with a mild anise scent and flavor. Plant it in full sun to part shade and well-drained potting mix. It tolerates drought well and should not be overwatered.
French tarragon is a sprawling perennial plant that grows from 12 to 24 inches tall. Tastes great with fish, chicken, egg dishes, potato and chicken salads, sauces and dressings. Tarragon is easy to dry, but also makes fine vinegar.
Thyme: Thyme comes in many varieties, but all grow best in full sun and well-drained soil. Thyme does not tolerate wet soil, so avoid over-watering. This favorite herb also attracts beneficial honeybees. Thymes grow in one of three ways. Creeping thymes hug the ground closely. Other thymes form low mounds of wiry branches. The third group grows into small upright shrubs which develop a woody trunk.
Thyme boosts the flavor of meat, fish, and vegetables, and it also makes nice vinegar. I especially enjoy lemon thyme which is best used fresh. The dark-green lemon-scented foliage can be used in any recipe calling for lemon flavoring.