Potted Herbs: Growing Herbs In Containers

A Variety Of Potted Herbs
(Image credit: LiliGraphie)

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 (5 cm.) 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:

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.