Whether you have a large garden, small garden or no garden at all, you can have the joy of a few pots of herbs. Most herbs are extremely well suited to growing in containers, and there’s nothing better than having fresh herbs to cook with. Best of all, you can keep the pots right outside your door so you don’t have to get wet if it’s raining and you need a bunch of chives!
Which Herbs to Grow?
Choosing which herbs to grow depends on whether you are growing herbs to cook with, or to create your own herbal teas and remedies, or simply to enjoy them in the garden.
If you want to grow kitchen herbs, then a selection of plants such as chives, basil, coriander, oregano, sage and parsley will serve you well. Mint is an ideal herb to grow in a container, as it can be extremely invasive and take over the garden if given a chance.
If you like to drink herbal teas and tisanes, try growing things like peppermint, lemon verbena, chamomile, and lemon balm.
If you simply want plants to enjoy while you’re outside then lavender is a must, and thyme is another good one – the variegated varieties are pretty, and have sweet little flowers.
Choosing a Container
If you are planning to leave your pots outside during the winter, make sure you choose one that is frost-proof. Traditional terracotta pots always look good with herbs – perhaps in a few different sizes to add interest. Or you may prefer something fancier.
Make sure your containers have holes in the bottom for drainage, and are at least 10cm (4”) in diameter, though larger than this is better. The deeper the pot is the better, giving the herb’s roots plenty of space to grow. You can use large containers to group a few herbs together.
Planting Your Herbs
You can try growing herbs from seed in a propagator or greenhouse, or buy them as small plants from a garden centre. You may be tempted by cheap herb plants for sale in supermarkets, but these should be avoided as they are usually grown under glass and won’t do well when you place them outside. Wait until late spring, when the weather is warmer, to plant your herbs out.
Place some broken tiles, stones or gravel in the bottom of the pot – this will help with drainage.
When selecting compost, a soil-based one is best as it is closer to the type of ground the herbs would be growing in naturally. Soil-based composts also hold water better than peat-based composts. John Innes No. 3 is perfect, packed with long-lasting nutrients that will keep your herbs healthy, and meaning you don’t have to worry about feeding them for a while. Add some coarse grit or perlite to the mix.
Fill the pot to about two-thirds with compost. Gently remove your well-watered herb from its pot – support the plant and turn upside down, tapping the bottom of the pot to release it. If the roots are very tight and matted, carefully tease them free slightly. Place the plant in your new container, centring it if it is going to be alone in the pot, or positioning it to the side if you are planting more than one herb in the pot.
Make sure the top of the root ball is about 3cm below the rim of the container. Do not pack lots of plants together in one container – give them plenty of room to grow and mature. Top up the pot with compost so that it just covers the root ball, leaving the finished level 2-3cm from the top of the pot. Firm down gently, making sure the plants are securely bedded in, and top up the compost as needed. Finally, give your container a nice, long drink of water.
Spread a layer of gravel or woodchip on top of the compost to help keep weeds out and moisture in.
Growing Tips for Herbs
The most important thing is to make sure you water your herb pots regularly. Container-grown plants need much more watering than those in the ground. Don’t let them become waterlogged though, as herbs will soon suffer if their roots are too soggy. During dry periods in summer you will need to water every day – in the morning, so that the plants have damp soil to draw on throughout the day.
Feed your herbs weekly, using a proprietary feed such as seaweed that will promote leaf-growth.
Most herbs like plenty of sun, so try to position them where they will get a good few hours of direct sunlight. The exceptions are salad herbs such as mustard, sorrel, rocket and parsley which are happier in partial shade.
Remove flowers from annuals to help prevent them from going to seed. With perennials deadhead the flowers, or pick them for drying. Lavender flowers can be picked, dried and used in pot pourri or lavender sachets to keep your drawers fresh.
In the autumn, prune back perennials, cut back on watering, and move tender plants indoors to protect them from frost.
In the spring, re-pot any herbs that have become too large for their container, and plant new annuals.
Terracotta containers can soak up a lot of water, leaving the plant dry. This problem can be solved by lining the pot with a plastic bag, ensuring that there is a hole in the bottom of the bag for drainage of course.