How to grow herbs in containers

‘Dolce Fresca’ basil growing and thriving in a container in full sun. Photo by All-America Selections

Keep your favorite herbs within easy reach for cooking and seasoning by growing them in containers. A few pots set by your door and grill or on the patio, deck or balcony make it easy to include some homegrown flavor.

Start by growing those herbs you like to use for seasoning food and beverages, making pesto or preserving. Include some with fragrance for a bit of aromatherapy or for your craft projects.

Make sure the plants you select will thrive in the amount of sunlight in the growing space. Most herbs prefer full sun but some like mint, thyme, chives, parsley and lemon balm will tolerate some shade. A bit of afternoon shade is welcome to many sun-loving plants growing in hotter regions. Check the plant tag or seed packet for detailed planting information.

You can grow individual plants in their own container. Place these among other pots to create an attractive display. Or mix several different herbs in one larger container to create an herb garden in a single pot.  Make sure all the herbs will thrive in the same soil moisture and sunlight.

In general, place three or four plants in a 10 to 12 inch pot, four to six in a 14 to 16 inch container, and six to eight in a 16 to 20 inch planter. Adjust this number based on the size of the transplants purchased and the mature size and growth habit of the herb selected.

Use a container with drainage holes to provide proper drainage and reduce the risk of root rot. Terra cotta pots dry quickly and are a good choice for those gardening in wetter regions or who tend to overwater. Plastic, fiberglass, and glazed pots don’t dry out as quickly.  Self-watering pots have water reservoirs to extend the time between watering.

Use a quality potting mix that provides adequate drainage, as most herbs require well-drained soil. Whether planting seeds or plants, you will want to leave space between the top of the potting mix and the container. This allows you to water thoroughly without washing the soil out of the pot. Leave a space about half an inch in small planters and an inch or more between the top of the pot and potting mix in larger containers.

Water new plantings and seedlings often enough to keep the soil slightly moist. Gradually reduce frequency and water thoroughly when the top inch of soil is crumbly and dry. Check containers once a day and more often in extremely hot weather. Water thoroughly as needed.

Reduce watering and increase success by incorporating Wild Valley Farms’ wool pellets ( into the planting mix. This sustainable soil amendment reduces watering by up to 25 percent and adds air space for better plant growth.

Harvest a few leaves and stems as needed throughout the growing season. Regular harvesting encourages more growth for future harvests.  Herbs have the most intense flavor when harvested just before flowering. You can remove even more when large amounts of herbs are needed for preserving and craft projects. Cut annual herbs back by 50 to 75 percent and perennial herbs by one-third at one time. The plants will recover for future harvests.

Make room for some herb-filled containers to enjoy this summer.  They make great additions to outdoor gatherings for you and your guests to enjoy their beauty, fragrance, and flavor.

About Melinda Myers
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and was commissioned by Wild Valley Farms for her expertise to write this article. Myers’ website is