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Herb Container Garden Basics

It's easy and fun to grow herbs in container gardens.

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Pizza Herb Garden

Photo © Kerry Michaels

Herb container gardens are the best. I love growing herbs in containers because they’re beautiful, they give you great bang for your buck and it’s easy and convenient. Even if you have miles of property and gardens galore, it is really great to be able to step out your door and pick a handful of fresh herbs from a beautiful container garden. Besides, when I’m cooking dinner it’s often dark, and rather than rooting around my garden wearing a headlamp, it is much easier to turn on my porch light and go out to my herb container gardens and snip some fresh herbs.

You can grow almost any herb in a container garden and most are very easy. However, herbs can have different water requirements, and some are more finicky than others, so be sure to put herbs that require similar care in the same pot.

Light

Most herbs need full sun – at least 6 hours a day. That said, containers can really bake on a hot day, so if you live somewhere where temperatures soar, your herb container gardens may need to be shaded during the hottest part of the day.

Soil

Use quality high quality potting soil because most herbs need good drainage. Also make sure that your container has drainage holes so you don’t drown your herb container gardens.

Fertilizer

Be careful not to over-fertilize herbs. Most don’t like it and some herbs will flat out croak if they are fussed with and overfed. Some herbs, like thyme and oregano thrive on neglect and won’t be as tasty if they are given too much attention, water or food.

Choosing a Container for Your Herbs

You can use almost anything for an herb container, though make sure whatever you choose has good drainage. Most herbs don’t have large root systems so you can get away with smaller containers. This is especially true of the herbs that don’t mind drying out between watering. That said, the smaller the container, the less soil there is, so you have a smaller margin of error when it comes to watering.

Self-Watering Containers

Some herbs thrive in self-watering containers because they like a constant level of moisture. Plants like chives, parsley, marjoram and mint would be good candidates for growing in self-watering pots. Other herbs, like oregano, thyme, rosemary, and basil prefer to dry out between watering so wouldn’t be good candidates for self-watering containers.

Planning Your Herb Container

You can grow as many types of herbs in one container as you want, as long as you make sure that all the herbs in a single pot share the same sun, water and soil preferences. For example, rosemary likes it hot and dry while parsley needs steady moisture. They wouldn’t be perfect in the same pot (though to be honest, I have pushed this envelope and put unmatched bedfellows together, fairly successfully). I also like to grow pots with one type of herb and then group the pots.

Plants Per Container

I'm a big fan of crowded, bountiful container gardens. I pack in plants and most do fine. Particularly since herbs thrive if you keep pinching them back and harvesting them, you can usually keep them from strangling each other. One caveat to this is basil, which needs good air circulation so really doesn’t like crowding. Also, if you're trying to save money, and are patient, buy small plants and let them grow to fill your container.

Herbs in Container Garden Design

Don’t be shy about using herbs as decorative elements in any container garden. They can look fantastic and provide a great texture and scent mixed with annuals or perennials. Again, just be sure to pair them with plants that have the same requirements for light and water.

Choosing Herbs

Grow what you eat or what you think is beautiful. I grow a lot of sage because I love the way it smells and looks. I don’t often use it to cook, but it still is one of my favorite plants. I use lots basil for cooking and like to grow enough so that I can make enough pesto to freeze and use throughout the winter. I also use huge handfuls of parsley so I grow lots of that too. Rosemary is expensive to buy and I love how it looks, so I grow a lot of that too.

Harvesting Herbs

The rule of thumb is the more you pick, the more you’ll get. Also, you want to pinch most herbs back to make them bushier and well formed.

Herbs Indoors

At the end of the season, if you have lots of sun, you can bring many of your herbs indoors. All herbs are worth a try, though some are easier than others to keep alive inside through the winter.

Herb Container Gifts

Herb container gardens make great gifts. You can do themed herb container gardens, like a "pizza" garden or an herbes de Provence container garden. Or combine herbs and edible plants in a pretty basket.

Related Video
How to Plant an Herb Garden

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