Herb container gardens are popular for many reasons. Even if you have miles of property and gardens galore, it's convenient to be able to step just out your door and pick a handful of fresh herbs from a beautiful container garden. Plant maintenance is also more convenient with containers, and there are fewer problems with weeds and critters getting into your crops.
You can grow almost any herb in a container. However, if you're mixing herbs in the same pot, you have to be sure you're using plants with similar growing requirements. For example, some herb plants need more water than others, and some are finicky about how much light they get. But as long as you get the conditions right, you should have thriving plants and fresh herbs at your fingertips.
Planning Your Herb Container
You can grow as many types of herbs in one container as you want if they share the same sun, water, and soil preferences. For example, rosemary likes hot and dry conditions while parsley needs steady moisture. Therefore, they would not work well together in the same pot.
Also, don’t forget that herbs can serve as decorative elements in a container garden, adding texture and scent when mixed with annuals or perennials. Again, just be sure to pair them with plants that have similar needs, and make sure they won't choke out any other plants in the same container, as some herbs have vigorous growth habits.
Choosing a Container for Herbs
You can use almost anything for an herb container, as long as it has good drainage. Most herbs don’t have large root systems, so you can get away with relatively small containers. This is especially true of the herbs that don’t mind drying out between waterings. However, the smaller the container, the less soil there is. This means you have a smaller margin of error with too much or too little water.
Some herbs thrive in self-watering containers because they like a constant level of moisture. Plants, such as chives, parsley, marjoram, and mint, are particularly good candidates for growing in self-watering pots. Other herbs, including oregano, thyme, rosemary, and basil, prefer to dry out between watering, so they wouldn’t be good candidates for self-watering containers.
Planting and Caring for Herbs
Help your container herbs thrive with the right soil, sun exposure, and fertilizer. Use a high-quality potting mix that allows for good drainage. This soil, paired with the drainage holes in your container, will help prevent accidentally drowning your herbs.
Moreover, most herbs need full sun for at least six to eight hours a day. That said, containers can really bake on a hot day. So if you live in a climate where temperatures soar, your container herbs might need to be shaded during the hottest part of the day.
Be careful not to overfertilize your herbs. Most herbs don't need much fertilizer, and some plants will simply die if they are overfed. Plus, certain herbs, such as thyme and oregano, thrive on neglect and often aren't as tasty if they are given too much food or water.
Harvesting Your Herbs
The rule of thumb for harvesting herbs is to snip and pinch back often. Consistent harvesting will encourage the plants to branch and fill out which, in turn, will increase your overall harvest. Always tailor your harvesting to the plant's growth pattern and avoid cutting more than one third of the plant during the growing season. For example, basil leaves should be harvested regularly, and the flower buds should be removed, but basil plants should not be cut back all the way.
The flowers and seeds of some herbs, such as chives and dill, are edible. The leaves of others including oregano and basil will lose flavor and become bitter if allowed to flower. Remember that once a plant flowers and goes to seed, the seasonal growth cycle for that plant will be complete and the plant will no longer put out new growth.
At the end of the growing season, you can bring many of your herb containers inside if you get lots of indoor sunlight. Some herb plants are easier than others to keep alive indoors during the winter, though it's worth a shot for all your container herbs.
Finally, if you've grown more herbs than you can harvest for yourself, consider giving them as gifts. You can do themed herb container gardens, such as a "pizza" garden or an herbes de Provence container garden. Combine herbs and other edible plants in a pretty basket, or just pick a handful of herbs to put in a nice vase for an herbal bouquet. Many herbs like oregano, sage, rosemary and dill also dry well and can be kept in tightly lidded containers out of direct sunlight for use in cooking all year long.