How To Start Your Own Container Herb Garden

Last Updated on February 19, 2024 by Kimberly Crawford

Have you ever wanted to grow your own herbs but felt limited by space or experience? Start your own container herb garden and you’ll find it’s a practical solution to these common concerns.

A container herb garden is simply a collection of herb plants grown in pots or containers, offering a flexible approach to gardening.

The benefits of this method are numerous: it’s space-efficient, portable, and accessible for beginners and seasoned gardeners alike. Additionally, it allows for a controlled environment, reducing the struggle with weeds and soil-borne diseases.

In this guide, we’ll walk you through the essentials, from selecting the right containers to harvesting your herbs. Get ready to transform your balcony, patio, or windowsill into a lush, fragrant mini garden.

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For many of us across North America, the last frost of the season has passed, which means that right now is the perfect time to jump on planting an herb garden to make the most ofthe growing season.

Choosing the Right Containers

Types of Containers Suitable for Herb Gardens

Selecting the ideal container is a crucial first step in setting up your herb garden. The good news is, herbs aren’t picky about their homes.

You can use a variety of containers, including pots, window boxes, and even hanging baskets. The key is to ensure they provide enough room for your herbs to grow. Here’s a simple table to guide you:

Container TypeGood ForNot Good For
Clay PotsBreathabilityCold climates
Plastic PotsRetaining moistureOverheating in sun
Wooden BoxesRustic lookShort-term use
Metal TinsIndustrial styleRusting
Hanging BasketsVertical spacesHeavy plants

Considerations for Container Size and Material

The size of your container will affect the health of your herbs. Small pots might look cute, but they can restrict growth and require frequent watering.

On the other hand, very large containers can hold too much water and lead to root rot. As a general rule, choose a pot that is at least 6 to 12 inches deep for most herbs. This will give your plants plenty of space for their roots and help ensure they get the nutrients they need.

When it comes to material, each has its pros and cons. Clay pots are porous, which helps with air circulation and drainage but can dry out quickly.

Plastic pots are lightweight and retain moisture well, but they can deteriorate over time. Wooden containers offer a natural look but may rot if not treated.

Metal containers can add an industrial edge to your garden but may conduct heat and cold more than other materials.

Drainage Requirements

Drainage is non-negotiable in container gardening. Without proper drainage, water can pool at the bottom of your containers, leading to root rot and fungal diseases.

Ensure your containers have holes at the bottom. If your chosen container doesn’t have them, you can usually add some yourself using a drill.

Here’s a quick guide to help you understand the importance of drainage:

Drainage HolesPrevent water-logging
SaucersProtect surfaces from water damage
Gravel or PebblesImprove drainage and prevent soil from escaping

By selecting the right container, you’re setting the stage for a thriving herb garden. Remember, the container is more than just a vessel; it’s the foundation of your garden’s health and success.

garden containers

Selecting Herbs for Your Garden

Popular Herbs for Container Gardening

When starting your herb garden, picking the right herbs is as important as the containers you choose. Some herbs that thrive in containers include basil, chives, mint, parsley, and cilantro.

These herbs are not only popular for their culinary uses but also for their adaptability to container living. They can grow well in the confined space of a pot and are known for their ability to flourish with proper care.

Factors to Consider

The herbs you select should be based on several factors:

  1. Climate: Herbs like basil prefer warm environments, while parsley can handle cooler temperatures. Knowing your local climate and the needs of each herb will help you choose the right plants for your garden.
  2. Space: If you have limited space, consider herbs that can be grown vertically, like thyme or rosemary. Some herbs, like mint, can be invasive and are best grown alone to prevent them from overtaking other plants.
  3. Culinary Use: Think about the herbs you often use in your cooking. If you love Italian food, basil and oregano might be staples. For those who enjoy making teas, mint and chamomile could be great choices.

Tips for Buying Healthy Herb Plants and Seeds

When you’re ready to buy your herbs, whether you choose to start from seeds or young plants, look for signs of good health:

  • Seeds: Purchase seeds from a reputable supplier to ensure they are high-quality and free from disease. Check the packaging for the expiration date to ensure they’re still viable.
  • Plants: Look for plants with vibrant, green leaves and sturdy stems. Avoid plants with yellowing leaves, spots, or signs of wilting. Check the soil in the pot; it should be moist but not waterlogged.
What to Look ForSeedsPlants
QualityReputable supplier, expirationVibrant leaves, sturdy stems
HealthDisease-freeNo yellowing, spots, or wilting
Soil ConditionN/AMoist soil, adequate drainage

By considering these factors and choosing wisely, you can ensure that your container herb garden will be a source of fresh flavors and delightful aromas for your kitchen. Remember, a little research goes a long way in creating a garden that suits your space, climate, and taste.

Select plants

Soil and Fertilizer Essentials

The Importance of Well-Draining Soil

Good soil is the heart of any garden, especially a container herb garden. Well-draining soil is essential because it ensures that water doesn’t stay in the soil too long, which can cause root rot and kill your plants. Herbs prefer soil that allows water to pass through easily while still holding enough moisture to keep the roots hydrated.

Soil Mix Recipes for Container Herbs

Creating the perfect soil mix for your herbs can make a significant difference in their growth. A basic recipe for a well-draining soil mix is to combine two parts potting soil, one part perlite, and one part compost. This mix ensures good aeration and provides nutrients to your herbs.

Potting SoilHolds moisture and nutrients
PerliteImproves aeration and drainage
CompostAdds nutrients and improves texture

Organic vs. Synthetic Fertilizers

When it comes to fertilizing your herbs, you have two main choices: organic or synthetic fertilizers.

Organic fertilizers, such as fish emulsion or compost tea, release nutrients slowly and improve the overall soil health. Synthetic fertilizers provide nutrients quickly but can build up in the soil and may harm beneficial microorganisms.

Fertilizer TypeBenefitsConsiderations
OrganicSlow-release, improves soil structureMay have a stronger smell, more expensive
SyntheticQuick nutrient availabilityCan build up and harm soil over time

How to Fertilize Your Herbs Properly

Fertilizing your herbs properly is key to their growth. Here’s how you can do it:

  1. Read the Instructions: Always follow the directions on the fertilizer’s packaging for the best results.
  2. Moderation is Key: Over-fertilizing can harm your herbs. Use a half-strength solution more frequently for a gentle nutrient boost.
  3. Timing: Fertilize your herbs during their active growing season, which is usually in the spring and summer months.
  4. Application: Apply liquid fertilizer to the soil, not directly on the plant leaves, to avoid burning them.

Remember, healthy soil equals healthy plants. By choosing the right soil mix and fertilizing thoughtfully, you’ll create the perfect environment for your container herbs to thrive.

Planting Your Herbs

Step-by-Step Guide to Planting Herbs in Containers

Planting herbs in containers is a straightforward process. Here’s a guide to get you started:

  1. Choose Your Container: Ensure it has enough space for your herb to grow and has drainage holes.
  2. Prepare the Soil Mix: Use the well-draining soil mix recipe provided earlier or purchase a high-quality potting mix.
  3. Fill Your Container: Leave about an inch of space from the top to allow for watering without overflow.
  4. Plant Your Herbs: Dig a small hole, place your herb plant or seeds in, and gently cover with soil.
  5. Water Thoroughly: After planting, water your herbs until you see water coming out of the drainage holes.
  6. Place in Proper Light: Position your container in a spot where your herbs will receive the right amount of sunlight.

Spacing and Arrangement for Optimal Growth

Proper spacing and arrangement are crucial for the health and productivity of your herbs. Each herb has its own space requirement, but a general rule is to leave about 6 to 12 inches between larger plants and 3 to 6 inches for smaller ones. This spacing ensures that each herb has enough room to grow without competing for light, water, or nutrients.

Techniques for Sowing Seeds and Transplanting Seedlings

When starting from seeds:

  1. Sow Seeds Sparingly: You can always thin out the extras later. Cover them with a thin layer of soil.
  2. Keep the Soil Moist: Use a spray bottle to mist the soil to keep it moist without washing away the seeds.
  3. Provide Warmth: Some seeds need warmth to germinate. Place them in a warm area or use a heat mat.

When transplanting seedlings:

  1. Be Gentle: Handle the young plants carefully to avoid damaging the roots and stems.
  2. Acclimate Seedlings: Gradually introduce them to the outdoor environment over a week to prevent shock.
  3. Plant at the Same Depth: Transplant seedlings to the same depth they were growing at previously.

By following these steps and techniques, you’ll give your container herbs the best chance to establish themselves and grow into healthy, productive plants.

Location and Sunlight

Understanding the Sunlight Needs of Different Herbs

Herbs have varying sunlight requirements that are essential to their growth. Most herbs, like basil and rosemary, thrive in full sun, which means they need about 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily. However, some herbs, such as mint and parsley, can tolerate partial shade and might prefer it in hotter climates. Knowing the sunlight preferences of each herb will help you position them to get the right amount of light.

Finding the Best Location for Your Container Herb Garden

To find the best location for your container herb garden, consider these factors:

  1. Sunlight: Observe the patterns of sunlight in your space throughout the day to find spots that receive the required hours of sun.
  2. Accessibility: Place your containers in a location that is easy for you to access for watering and harvesting.
  3. Protection: Choose a spot that is sheltered from strong winds and away from the intense heat reflected by walls or pavements.
  4. Rotation: If possible, rotate your containers occasionally to ensure all sides of the herbs receive sunlight.

Managing Sunlight Exposure Through the Seasons

As the seasons change, so does the angle and intensity of sunlight. Here’s how to manage sunlight exposure:

  1. Summer: During hot summers, herbs in full sun may need some afternoon shade to prevent wilting.
  2. Winter: In winter, maximize sunlight exposure by placing your containers in the sunniest spot available.
  3. Spring and Fall: These seasons may require adjusting the position of your containers as the days lengthen or shorten.
  4. Indoors: If growing herbs indoors, use south-facing windows or supplement with grow lights during darker months.

By understanding and managing the sunlight needs of your herbs, you can ensure that they have the energy required for photosynthesis and growth, no matter the season. Proper sunlight exposure will lead to a robust and flavorful harvest from your container herb garden.

Watering Your Container Herb Garden

Watering Techniques for Container Herbs

Effective watering techniques are crucial for the health of your container herbs. Here’s how to water them correctly:

  1. Use a Watering Can or Hose with a Gentle Spray: This will avoid disturbing the soil and damaging the plants.
  2. Water at the Base: Aim the water at the soil level rather than over the foliage to reduce the risk of fungal diseases.
  3. Water in the Morning: This gives the plants time to absorb the water before the heat of the day and helps prevent evaporation.
  4. Check the Moisture Level: Before watering, check if the soil is dry an inch below the surface.

How to Tell if Your Herbs Need Water

Knowing when to water your herbs is key. Here are signs to look out for:

  1. Dry Soil: If the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch, it’s time to water.
  2. Wilting Leaves: This can be a sign of both underwatering and overwatering. Check the soil to determine which it is.
  3. Light Containers: If the container feels lighter than usual, it likely means the soil is dry.
  4. Slow Growth: Underwatered plants often have stunted growth.

Tips for Avoiding Overwatering and Underwatering

To maintain the right balance:

  1. Well-Draining Soil: Use a soil mix that drains well to prevent water from pooling around the roots.
  2. Drainage Holes: Ensure your containers have holes to let excess water escape.
  3. Consistent Schedule: Establish a regular watering schedule while adjusting for rainfall and changes in temperature.
  4. Mulching: Apply mulch to the soil surface to help retain moisture and reduce the need for frequent watering.
  5. Monitor Weather: Reduce watering on cloudy or cool days and increase it during hot spells.
  6. Use Saucers: Place saucers under containers to catch excess water, but empty them to avoid soggy conditions.

By following these watering techniques and tips, you can provide your container herbs with the right amount of water they need to thrive without the stress of overwatering or underwatering.

Ongoing Care and Maintenance

Regular Maintenance Tasks

Maintaining your container herb garden is essential for healthy growth and bountiful harvests. Regular maintenance tasks include:

  • Pruning: Trim your herbs to encourage bushier growth and prevent them from becoming leggy. Pruning also helps in maintaining the plant’s shape and size, making it suitable for the container environment.
  • Deadheading: Remove spent flowers from herbs like basil and lavender to promote more foliage growth and prevent the plant from going to seed early.
  • Weeding: Keep an eye out for weeds, even in containers, as they can compete with your herbs for nutrients and water.
Maintenance TaskPurposeFrequency
PruningEncourages growth, maintains shapeAs needed
DeadheadingPromotes foliage, prevents seedingWhen flowers fade
WeedingRemoves competition for resourcesAs needed

Pest and Disease Management in Container Herbs

Pests and diseases can still affect container herbs. To manage these issues:

  • Inspection: Regularly inspect your herbs for signs of pests or disease, such as discolored leaves or chewed foliage.
  • Natural Remedies: Use natural remedies like neem oil or insecticidal soap to treat infestations without harming beneficial insects.
  • Good Airflow: Ensure there is adequate space between your containers to promote good airflow and reduce the risk of fungal diseases.
PestsNatural remedies, manual removalRegular inspection, clean tools
DiseasesRemove affected parts, improve airflowAvoid overhead watering, proper spacing

Seasonal Care Adjustments

Seasonal changes require adjustments in the care of your container herb garden:

  • Spring: As temperatures rise, increase watering and start fertilizing as your herbs begin active growth.
  • Summer: Protect herbs from extreme heat by providing shade during the hottest part of the day.
  • Fall: Prepare for cooler weather by reducing watering and moving tender herbs indoors if necessary.
  • Winter: For perennial herbs, protect them from freezing temperatures, and for annuals, harvest the remaining herbs before the first frost.
SeasonCare AdjustmentReason
SpringIncrease watering, begin fertilizingSupport new growth
SummerProvide shade, monitor water needsProtect from heat, ensure hydration
FallReduce watering, move herbs if neededPrepare for temperature changes
WinterProtect perennials, harvest annualsProtect from cold, utilize harvest

By performing these ongoing care and maintenance tasks, you can ensure your container herb garden remains healthy and productive throughout the year. Remember, consistent attention and timely interventions are the keys to a thriving garden.

Harvesting and Using Your Herbs

When and How to Harvest Your Herbs

Harvesting your herbs at the right time ensures peak flavor and potency. Here’s how to do it properly:

  • Best Time to Harvest: The ideal time is in the morning after the dew has evaporated but before the sun is at its peak, as this is when the oils, which give herbs their flavor and aroma, are most concentrated.
  • How to Harvest: Use clean, sharp scissors or shears to snip off leaves or stems. For continuous harvesting, never take more than one-third of the plant at a time. This allows the herb to recover and continue growing.
Herb PartHarvesting TechniqueTips
LeavesPick individual leaves or snip stemsHarvest regularly to encourage new growth
StemsCut stems above a leaf nodePromotes bushier plants

Storing and Preserving Herbs for Later Use

To enjoy your herbs beyond the growing season, use these storage and preservation methods:

  • Drying: Hang bunches of herbs upside down in a warm, dry, and well-ventilated area away from direct sunlight. Once dried, store them in airtight containers.
  • Freezing: Chop fresh herbs and place them in ice cube trays with water or olive oil, then freeze. Transfer the frozen cubes to a freezer bag for long-term storage.
  • Refrigerating: Wrap fresh herbs in a damp paper towel and place them in a resealable bag in the refrigerator.
Preservation MethodProcessBest For
DryingHang or lay flat in a dry areaHerbs with low moisture content
FreezingFreeze in ice cube trays with liquidMost herbs, especially soft-leafed
RefrigeratingStore in a damp paper towel and bagShort-term storage of fresh herbs

Simple Recipes and Ideas for Using Fresh Herbs

Fresh herbs can transform simple dishes into flavorful meals. Here are some ideas for using them:

  • Infuse Oils: Add fresh herbs to olive oil and let them steep to create infused oils for dressings and marinades.
  • Herb Butter: Mix chopped herbs into softened butter, then refrigerate or freeze for a tasty spread or cooking ingredient.
  • Salads: Toss whole or chopped fresh herbs into salads for a burst of flavor.
  • Cooking: Incorporate herbs into soups, stews, and sauces during the cooking process to infuse the dish with their essence.

By harvesting, storing, and using your herbs, you can enhance your cooking with homegrown flavors and make the most of your container herb garden. Whether you’re enjoying them fresh or preserved, herbs add a special touch to any meal.

Troubleshooting Common Problems

Identifying and Resolving Issues with Container Herbs

Even the most well-maintained herb gardens can encounter issues. Here’s how to identify and resolve common problems:

  • Yellowing Leaves: This could indicate overwatering, poor drainage, or nutrient deficiency. Check the soil moisture and adjust your watering schedule accordingly. Improve drainage by ensuring your containers have holes and consider feeding your herbs with a balanced fertilizer.
  • Leggy Growth: Spindly stems often result from insufficient light. Move your containers to a sunnier spot or supplement with grow lights if indoors.
  • Pests: Aphids, spider mites, and other pests can be controlled with insecticidal soap or neem oil. Regularly inspect your plants and treat infestations early.
  • Fungal Diseases: Overly damp conditions can lead to fungal issues like powdery mildew. Improve air circulation, water at the soil level, and remove affected foliage.
Yellowing LeavesPale or yellow leavesAdjust watering, improve drainage, fertilize
Leggy GrowthLong, weak stems with few leavesProvide more light
PestsVisible insects, damaged leavesUse insecticidal soap or neem oil
Fungal DiseasesWhite powdery residue, black spotsImprove air circulation, remove affected parts

Preventative Measures to Keep Your Herb Garden Thriving

Prevention is always better than cure when it comes to gardening. Here are some preventative measures:

  • Proper Watering: Overwatering is a common issue. Water only when the top inch of soil is dry to prevent root rot.
  • Adequate Spacing: Ensure your herbs have enough space for air to circulate freely, reducing the risk of disease.
  • Regular Feeding: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer to provide a steady supply of nutrients.
  • Clean Tools: Always use clean pruning tools to prevent the spread of disease.
  • Monitoring: Keep a close eye on your plants for early signs of stress or disease, allowing for quick intervention.

By proactively identifying issues and implementing preventative measures, you can minimize problems and keep your container herb garden flourishing. A little vigilance and regular care go a long way in maintaining the health and productivity of your herbs.

Expanding Your Container Herb Garden

Tips for Scaling Up Your Garden

When you’re ready to grow your container herb garden, consider these tips:

  • Evaluate Your Space: Look at your current setup and determine where you can place additional containers without overcrowding.
  • Larger Containers: Opt for larger containers that can accommodate more plants or allow existing plants more room to grow.
  • Vertical Gardening: Utilize vertical space with hanging baskets, wall planters, or tiered stands to add more herbs without taking up additional floor space.
  • Repotting: Transfer herbs to bigger pots to give their roots room to expand, which can lead to more vigorous growth.

Introducing New Herbs and Companion Planting

Adding variety to your garden can be beneficial:

  • New Herbs: Research herbs you haven’t grown yet that can thrive in your climate and with the light conditions you have available.
  • Companion Planting: Some herbs can be planted together to enhance growth, deter pests, or save space. For example, basil and parsley can complement each other when grown in the same pot.
  • Rotation: Rotate crops by planting different herbs in the same container after a season to prevent soil depletion and reduce disease risk.

Creating Themed Herb Containers

Themed containers can add interest and purpose to your garden:

  • Culinary Themes: Create an Italian-themed pot with basil, oregano, and thyme, or a salsa-themed container with cilantro and chives.
  • Medicinal Themes: Grow a medicinal herb garden with plants like lavender, chamomile, and mint known for their therapeutic properties.
  • Aesthetic Themes: Design your containers for visual appeal, combining herbs with various textures and colors, such as purple basil with green parsley.

By scaling up your garden thoughtfully, introducing new herbs, and experimenting with companion planting and themed containers, you can enhance the enjoyment and productivity of your container herb gardening experience.

Whether you’re looking to increase your culinary herb selection or create a beautiful and functional plant display, there are endless possibilities for growth and creativity.


In conclusion, starting and maintaining a container herb garden is a rewarding endeavor that brings fresh flavors and greenery to your space, regardless of its size.

By understanding the essentials of choosing containers, selecting and planting herbs, and providing ongoing care, you’re equipped to cultivate a thriving garden.

Remember to monitor and adjust for sunlight, water wisely, and address any issues promptly to keep your herbs at their best.

Whether you’re expanding your garden, introducing new herbs, or creating themed containers, the joy of harvesting and using your homegrown herbs is unmatched.

Embrace the process, and enjoy the bounty of your efforts as you infuse your meals and your life with the vibrant touch of freshly picked herbs.


Recommended Books and Websites for Further Reading

To deepen your knowledge and get more inspiration for your container herb garden, explore these resources:

  • Books: Look for titles like “The Container Herb Garden” by Stephanie Rose or “Herbs in Pots” by Rob Proctor and David Macke, which provide in-depth information on growing herbs in containers.
  • Websites: Websites such as the Old Farmer’s Almanac offer planting guides and care tips, while Fine Gardening provides expert advice on all aspects of gardening, including container cultivation.

Sources for Quality Seeds and Plants

Finding good sources for seeds and plants is crucial for a successful garden:

  • Local Nurseries: These often have a selection of herb plants that are suitable for your region’s climate.
  • Specialty Online Retailers: Companies like Burpee or Johnny’s Selected Seeds offer a wide variety of herb seeds and plants, including organic and heirloom options.

Online Communities and Forums for Container Gardeners

Joining online communities can offer support, advice, and inspiration:

  • Forums: Platforms like GardenWeb and the Plants forum at permies are great places to connect with fellow gardening enthusiasts.
  • Social Media Groups: Look for Facebook groups or Reddit communities dedicated to container gardening where members share their experiences and tips.
  • Blogs: Follow gardening blogs like A Way to Garden for personal insights and stories from seasoned gardeners.

Utilizing these resources can greatly enhance your container gardening journey, providing you with a wealth of information and a supportive community to help your herb garden flourish. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced gardener, there’s always something new to learn and discover.

we know what you’re thinking: You only have a tiny balcony, you don’t know the first thing about gardening or maybe you even forgot to water your last few houseplants. But you don’t need to have an expert green thumb to have an herb garden.