How to Create a Container Herb Garden

Enjoy not paying for overpriced bundles of herbs at the grocery store

Planting herbs do not have to be a big production or take up a lot of space, especially if planted in a collection of pots that can sit on a deck or edge of a patio. An herb container garden is a great introduction to gardening for beginners, and it is an easy way to make sure herbs are always on hand for culinary creations.

One of the only real requirements is finding a spot in full sun, as most herb varieties enjoy at least 6-8 hours of sun a day.

When selecting containers, buy a bigger pot than you think you need. Larger containers dry out more slowly than smaller ones and will need to be watered less. Make sure that your container has good drainage. This means, of course, a drain hole, but it is also is a good idea to raise the base of your container with pot feet. Good drainage also is a result of a proper potting soil mix. Avoid using garden soil as high organic, and clay content can cause waterlogged plants.

You can combine different varieties of herbs in the same container, but you need to take care that the combined herbs have the same water requirements. Rosemary, lavender, thyme, and sage all have low water requirements and, therefore, would make good container companions as they like to dry out in between waterings. Basil, parsley, and tarragon, like a lot more moisture and would be happy planted together. One family of herbs that does NOT play well with others is anything in the mint family. Mints (and lemon balm) spread aggressively and should always be planted in a separate container. It is even recommended that you plant mint in a container in a garden setting as it can quickly become invasive.

A few herbs, like dill and cilantro, do not like to be transplanted and may be best grown from seed sown directly in the container.

Cilantro adds the extra difficulty that it really does not appreciate the hot summer weather and often bolts (flowers and goes to seed) and then quickly declines during the hottest part of the summer. The best way to deal with this is to treat cilantro as a cool-season crop, plant it in early spring, and then again in late summer & early fall. You can also try planting slow-bolt varieties, sowing a new crop every few weeks, and moving the pot to a cooler and slightly shadier location. This, however, will only slightly delay the bolting. With cilantro, it might be best to accept the nature of the plant.

Don’t be afraid to pinch and harvest your herb plants. This stimulates growth and makes for a denser, bushier plant with more foliage. Typically you can harvest up to 50-75% of the plant’s growth.

One thing to remember is not to use any chemicals or pesticides on your herbs that are unsafe to be eaten. This might mean that you might need to share your parsley or fennel with the caterpillars of the Black Swallowtail butterfly since they are one of its food sources. In this case, we might suggest you plant a little extra to share!

While some herbs are annual and will need to be replaced every year, others, such as thyme, sage, and chives, can overwinter outdoors in our Philadelphia region area. Just be sure to provide excellent drainage. Many mints are also winter-hardy. Tender perennial herbs like Rosemary can be brought inside during the winter if you have a sunny window; otherwise, plan to replace your herb garden each spring after the chance of frost has passed.

Herbs can do more than provide calorie-free, natural flavorings to enhance and make food delicious. They’re also an incredible source of antioxidants and help rev up your metabolism and improve your health at the same time.

Suzanne Somers