How to Grow a Container Garden for Herbs

Updated: Nov. 06, 2023

Follow this step-by-step guide to creating a container garden for herbs. Plus, find out which herbs are the easiest to grow in pots.

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The Perks of an Herb Container Garden

Woman's Hands Planting Herbs On TerraceWestend61/Getty Images
Follow a few simple tips to grow your best herbs yet.

Growing herbs in containers has its perks, in both the kitchen and the garden. In fact, it’s easier to grow herbs in pots than in the ground, because you have more control of what’s going on in the container, says Sue Goetz, a garden designer and author of Complete Container Herb Gardening.

“What I love about container gardening with herbs is that you can put them anywhere—on a balcony, patio or windowsill, or tucked in a corner of the garden,” Sue says. She also notes that pots just outside the kitchen offer easy access to fresh herbs while you’re cooking.

Choose Your Herbs

Illustrated herbs in potsSpicyTruffel/Getty Images
Grow the herbs you want to use in your favorite recipes.

Only select herbs you want to cook with. “Grow what you love. If you don’t use sage, you’re not going to want it taking up space,” Sue says.

Because some herbs such as sage, lavender, rosemary and thyme tend to germinate slowly, purchase seedling plants from your local nursery, Sue suggests.

“For herbs that are easy to grow, such as chives, basil and parsley, you can start with seeds, but I like the instant gratification of a plant,” she says.

Some herbs that are best for beginners include:

For more variety, try these little-known herbs.

Find the Perfect Container for Herbs

Mixed Herbs In PotsSilviaJansen/Getty Images
Basil, chives and rosemary growing in containers

When picking a container, you have many options. Choose any vessel that fits the style of your garden or home. Just make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom.

“I love to put herbs in terra cotta, but you can use glazed pots, fun galvanized metal containers or plastic,” Sue says. You can also use fabric planters, which come in several sizes.

Find out how to grow a vertical herb garden in a shoe organizer.

Plant Herbs in Good Soil

“Start with a really good-quality potting soil, because it’s well-draining and nutritious,” says Sue, who prefers organic potting soil and an occasional dose of liquid fertilizer. Garden soil compacts too quickly in pots, which reduces soil drainage.

Can you reuse potting soil in planters?

Add Sun and Water

Most herbs need six to eight hours of full sun to thrive. Read the plant label or seed packet carefully for success.

“The real bonus of containers is that if there’s a part in the garden that’s shady, you can scoot the planter off the patio and into more sun,” Sue says.

Sue adds that gardeners should only water herbs when the soil is dry. Poke a finger about an inch into the soil to gauge the moisture. (Psst—these plant waterers make caring for herb plants easy!)

Your plants’ moisture needs depend on the kind of pot. “Clay terra-cotta pots dry out faster, so you may need to water those every day, while plastic ones don’t lose water as fast, so maybe it’s every couple of days,” Sue says. Once you get into a watering rhythm, it will be no time until your first harvest.

Want to grow herbs indoors? Try an AeroGarden.

How to Harvest Herbs From Containers

container garden for herbsDarwel/Getty Images
Harvest basil in the morning when it’s most flavorful

Frequent harvesting promotes fresh growth. Use your fingers to pinch off sprigs of chives, parsley, cilantro or basil. Herb snips work for basil, parsley and dill, and for woody herbs such as oregano or thyme. For large clumps of herbs, use pruning shears.

Harvest foliage herbs such as oregano or basil before they flower, clipping them in the morning when they have the most flavor.

Next: Don’t make these common mistakes with fresh basil.