In the beginning stages of my gardening adventure, I found myself without a spacious garden or a permanent plot to cultivate my own food. It wasn’t long before I stumbled upon the ideal answer to my predicament: the world of container herb gardening. Before diving into my list of 13 easy-to-grow herbs that thrive in pots and containers, let’s go over some essential tips that have helped me succeed in small-space gardening. By following these guidelines, you can grow your own fresh herbs for delicious meals and enhance your culinary skills.
Tips for Successful Container Herb Gardening:
- Selecting the right container: Choose pots or containers with adequate drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. Pick containers that are the right size for the herbs you plan to grow, giving them enough space to spread their roots.
- Potting soil: Opt for a high-quality, organic potting mix that provides excellent drainage and aeration. This will ensure your herbs have the nutrients they need to grow strong and healthy.
- Amending soil: To boost the nutrient content of your potting soil, consider adding organic matter like compost or aged manure. You can also use organic fertilizers, such as worm castings or fish emulsion, to promote growth and maintain healthy plants.
- Watering: Consistent watering is crucial for container-grown herbs. Be sure to water your plants when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch. Keep in mind that containers can dry out more quickly than garden beds, so monitor the moisture levels closely, especially during hot weather.
- Sunlight: Most herbs thrive in full sun, requiring at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day. However, some herbs, like mint or parsley, can tolerate partial shade. Ensure you place your containers in a spot that provides the right amount of sunlight for the herbs you’re growing.
Now, let’s explore the 13 container-friendly herbs, their benefits, annual or perennial classification (in USDA zone 10b), and useful growing tips.
1. Mint: Fresh and Cooling
- Culinary use: This incredibly refreshing herb can be added to water, cocktails, salads, teas, or simply enjoyed on its own. It pairs well with various fruits and vegetables and is a popular ingredient in Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian cuisines.
- Growing tip: Mint is an aggressive grower, so it’s crucial to keep it contained in pots to prevent it from taking over your garden. Choose a medium-sized container and place it in a spot that receives partial to full sun. To propagate mint, take a cutting from a healthy plant and place it in a cup of water. After about a week, it should grow roots and be ready for transplanting.
2. Parsley: Bright and Peppery
- Culinary use: This versatile herb adds a mild bitter flavor that balances dishes, making it a popular addition to soups, salads, and condiments like chimichurri. It’s also high in vitamins.
- Growing tip: Start parsley from seeds 4 weeks before your last frost date or transplant seedlings 2 weeks after the frost date. Choose a container with good drainage and place it in a spot with at least 6 hours of sunlight daily. Harvest parsley regularly, trimming from the outer leaves first to encourage new growth. In zone 10b, I let my parsley go to flower and self seed for the next year’s crop.
3. Sage: Warm and Earthy
- Culinary use: Sage is highly aromatic and imparts a warm, slightly bitter taste to dishes. Brown butter sage is a classic pairing, perfect for drizzling over pasta or roasted vegetables (like in my artichoke ravioli recipe here). I also like it when seasoning poultry and to have on hand for all my autumn recipes.
- Growing tip: Sage prefers well-draining soil and a sunny location. Purchase a transplant, and choose a container at least twice the size of the plant to allow for growth. Sage can be slow-growing, so be patient. Prune it back at the beginning of spring and mid-summer to encourage bushiness.
4. Dill: A Distinctive Herb
- Culinary use: Dill, with its unique grassy, licorice, and slightly soapy flavor, is a delightful addition to your cooking repertoire. It works wonders in dishes like baked or cured seafood, tzatziki dips, and as a refreshing salad garnish, adding a distinctive taste that’s hard to replicate.
- Dill is an annual herb, requiring replanting each year and even multiple times throughout the season.
- Growing tips: Plant dill seeds or transplants in a container in early spring. As summer approaches, the plant will bolt and produce flowers. Harvest the seeds to use in your cooking or to save for the next growing season. A medium-sized container can accommodate two dill plants, making it easy to grow in limited space. Let the seeds fall where they may to enjoy their self-seeding nature.
5. Rosemary: Aromatic and Robust
- Culinary use: Rosemary offers a delightful blend of flavors, reminiscent of a pine forest with a hint of lemon. Its resilience makes it ideal for high-temperature cooking, and it shines in dishes like focaccia or roasted meats. Its aroma alone can transport you to a Mediterranean getaway.
- Rosemary is a perennial herb, growing larger over time to fill the container it’s planted in.
- Growing tips: Purchase a small transplant and place it in a larger container than its original pot. Choose a well-draining soil and provide a sunny location for optimal growth. In colder climates, bring the container indoors during winter to protect it from freezing temperatures. Prune the plant regularly to encourage bushiness and prevent it from becoming too woody.
6. Thyme: Delicately Flavorful
- Culinary use: Thyme’s delicate, earthy flavor lends itself well to a variety of dishes, such as roasted vegetables, grilled meats, and soups. The flavor is subtle, yet adds an extra layer of complexity to any dish, making it a versatile addition to your culinary arsenal.
- Thyme is a perennial herb, returning year after year to provide you with a continuous supply of flavor.
- Growing tips: Plant thyme in a container with well-draining soil and place it in a sunny spot. Thyme requires minimal watering and can even thrive in drier conditions. As the plant matures, it will begin to trail, creating a lovely cascading effect. Prune it back occasionally to maintain its shape and promote bushier growth.
7. Lemongrass: Tropical Aroma
- Culinary use: Lemongrass is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisines for its citrusy, slightly sweet flavor. It is commonly found in soups, curries, and marinades, infusing dishes with a refreshing, aromatic note. I also sometimes like to drop a piece of lemongrass in hot water as a quick tea option.
- Lemongrass is a perennial herb in warmer climates but is often grown as an annual in colder regions.
- Growing tips: Start with a small transplant or propagate a stalk purchased from a grocery store by placing it in a glass of water until roots form. Plant it in a container with well-draining soil and place it in a sunny location. Water your lemongrass moderately, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. Prune the plant occasionally to maintain its size and promote bushier growth. Lemongrass can also help deter mosquitoes in your yard.
8. Bay Leaf: Timeless Flavor
- Culinary use: Bay leaves are used in slow-cooked dishes such as soups, stews, and sauces for their subtle, earthy flavor. They are a staple in many cuisines such as Mediterranean and French cooking, lending a deep, complex taste to a variety of dishes. Remember to remove the leaves before serving!
- Bay leaf, sourced from the bay laurel tree, is an evergreen tree that can be grown as a perennial in a container.
- Growing tips: Start with a small bay laurel transplant, and plant it in a container with well-draining soil. Place the container in a sunny location, ensuring it gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Water your bay tree regularly, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings. Prune it occasionally to maintain its shape and to encourage bushier growth.
9. Cilantro: Bright and Zesty
- Culinary use: Cilantro is commonly used in Mexican, Indian, and Asian cuisines for its vibrant, zesty flavor. It pairs well with spicy dishes, salsas, and guacamole, and it adds a lively, fresh taste to your recipes.
- Cilantro is an annual herb that requires reseeding or replanting each year.
- Growing tips: Sow cilantro seeds directly in a container filled with well-draining soil. Position the container in a sunny spot, but provide some afternoon shade in hotter climates. Water cilantro moderately, letting the soil dry slightly between waterings. Harvest cilantro regularly to prevent it from bolting (going to seed) and to extend its productivity.
10. Chives: Mild Onion Delight
- Culinary use: Chives, with their mild onion flavor, add a delicate touch to your dishes. They are perfect for garnishing salads, soups, and omelettes, or as a subtle flavor enhancer in savory dishes. Chives also offer beautiful purple flowers that can be used as an edible garnish, adding a touch of elegance to your plate.
- Chives are a perennial herb, coming back each year to provide a fresh and flavorful addition to your cooking.
- Growing tips: Plant chives in a container with well-draining soil and place it in a sunny location. Water your chives moderately, allowing the soil to dry slightly between waterings. The plant requires minimal maintenance, but it’s essential to cut it back regularly to encourage new growth and prevent it from becoming too dense. As the flowers bloom, trim them back to keep the plant focused on producing flavorful leaves.
11. Basil: A Summer Favorite
- Culinary use: Basil is a beloved herb in Italian and Mediterranean cooking, providing a sweet, slightly peppery taste to dishes. It is the key ingredient in dishes like pesto and pairs perfectly with tomatoes, mozzarella, and pasta dishes.
- Basil is an annual herb that requires reseeding or replanting each year.
- Growing tips: Start with a small transplant or sow seeds directly in a container filled with well-draining soil. Place the container in a sunny location, ensuring it gets at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. Water basil consistently, keeping the soil evenly moist. Pinch off flower buds as they appear to encourage bushier growth and extend the plant’s productivity. Harvest basil regularly to promote new growth and to keep it from becoming too leggy.
12. Oregano: Mediterranean Essence
- Culinary use: Oregano, with its strong and earthy flavor, is a popular ingredient in Mediterranean, Italian, and Mexican cuisines. Its savory taste pairs well with tomato-based dishes, grilled meats, and pizza, making it a versatile herb for everyday cooking.
- Oregano is a perennial herb that will continue to provide its distinct flavor year after year.
- Growing tips: Start with a small transplant and plant it in a container with well-draining soil. Place your oregano in a sunny spot and water it moderately, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between waterings. Oregano is an easy-going herb that doesn’t require much maintenance, but it can spread quite a bit. Trim it back regularly to maintain its shape and to encourage bushier growth.
13. Tarragon: Sophisticated Flavor
- Culinary use: Tarragon, with its mild, licorice-like flavor, imparts an air of sophistication to your dishes. Its subtle, yet distinct taste works well in sauces like béarnaise, vinaigrettes, or classic French recipes like chicken tarragon. It can also add a delicate touch to egg and fish dishes.
- French tarragon, the culinary variety, is a perennial herb that comes back year after year, providing a continuous supply of its unique flavor.
- Growing tips: Start with a small transplant, as French tarragon cannot be grown from seed. Plant it in a container with well-draining soil and place it in a sunny spot with some afternoon shade. Be cautious with watering, allowing the soil to dry out between waterings, as tarragon is sensitive to overwatering. Prune the plant occasionally to maintain its shape and to promote bushier growth.