Growing Herbs in Containers
Growing your herbs is a great way to have fresh, flavorful ingredients whenever you need them. Plus, herbs like basil and oregano give off enticing scents when you touch their leaves or walk by. Some even have flowers for added interest while attracting pollinators like hummingbirds and honeybees to your backyard.
But what if you don’t have a big backyard or garden space? Or what if you’re not interested in planting a slew of herbs?
Well, you’re in luck. Growing herbs in containers is the perfect option for those with limited space. Or for those just looking to have an ample supply when needed for a quick pick-me-up of your favorite dish.
The Best Gardening Containers for Herbs
It’s simple. The best gardening containers for growing herbs – find one that works.
If you’re not interested in investing in an herb planter box, it’s easy to come up with something homemade.
For instance, have you ever seen herbs growing out of an old gardening boot? Or an old bucket? For many creative DIY gardeners, these options do the trick. Add soil, some herbs, and drainage holes, and voila, you have a gardening container.
Others prefer more traditional options like bona fide herb planter boxes. For instance, companies like EarthBox offer the perfect container gardening solution for those folks with their Junior gardening system.
The system includes a gardening container, an aeration screen, a water fill tube, a mulch cover, and a drip tray. In addition, you can complete the package with a planting kit featuring ready-made fertilizer and organic potting mix.
And yes, you can even tack on an automatic watering system for a soup-to-nuts solution.
Best Materials for Herb Planting Boxes
One of the keys to a gardening container is moisture retention. For example, terra cotta planters are porous. As a result, you’ll need to water more frequently. However, many herbs like thyme, rosemary, and basil prefer to dry out before watering. So, that makes it less of a concern.
But remember, terra cotta isn’t terribly durable, especially when exposed to temperature extremes. Consequently, it’s always best to store them indoors over winter.
Stone or cement gardening containers look great and often become fixtures in a landscape. They’re also durable. But good luck moving them around.
Then there are good, old plastic containers. They’re affordable and easy to move. So, if you want to ensure your plants get appropriate sunshine, you can move them around with minimal stress.
They’re also good at retaining moisture, a plus for plants that like consistent moisture, like mint, parsley, and chives.
How to Select the Best Gardening Container Size for Herbs
If you’re looking for a small herb harvest to grow indoors, using a gardening container that’s at least four inches is best. Move outdoors where watering concerns become more prevalent, and you should bump to six inches.
This rule of thumb applies to one plant per container. It also is based on smaller herb plants. And if your planting boxes are outdoors, you can expect to water them fairly frequently.
To be safe, it’s best to consider a 10-inch gardening container per plant. It allows plants to fill out without competition for space.
If you want to use a planting box for more than one plant, you must start with at least a 12-inch gardening container. For instance, the EarthBox herb planter box is 23 inches long. So you can grow several herbs in the container. You can reference their planting guide for more information.
Selecting Herbs for Container Gardening
Start by selecting the herbs you enjoy and will use the most. Pretty simple, huh?
For example, if you love Italian cuisine, an herb planter box featuring basil, garlic, oregano, rosemary, and thyme sounds Bellissimo (beautiful)!
If you’re a fan of spicy Mexican dishes, you’ll want to focus on peppers like chiles. And if you like your Mexican hot, consider growing habanero or scorpion peppers. Cilantro, mint, thyme, and oregano add the perfect complement.
The beauty of any herb container garden is that you decide but with one caveat.
Companion Planting Your Herbs
Your herb planting box needs to incorporate similar plants.
If you’re a container gardening beginner, you’re likely unaware of companion planting. Simply, it’s about planting your container with plants having similar needs for sunlight, nutrients, water, etc. On a side note, you can learn more about companion planting here.
For example, herbs like rosemary, lavender, sage, thyme, and oregano prefer similar growing conditions. So companion planting dictates that you include these plant varieties in a container.
However, you have a poor match if you throw in plants like basil, chives, parsley, and lemongrass that prefer moist conditions. In short, depending on how you water your gardening containers, some plants will thrive, while others may die.
The same holds for sunlight. Some herbs can thrive in more shady locations – cilantro, rosemary, mint, etc. On the other hand, others prefer full sun to flourish – sage, oregano, dill, chives, etc.
Here’s the point. Have several gardening containers on hand. That way, you can mix and match them to ensure they house herbs having similar needs. As a result, you’ll improve your yields and success substantially.
Don’t Skimp on Your Soil Mix for Herb Container Gardens
Herbs are like any other living thing. The better you take care of their needs, the better they grow. For herbs, care starts with the soil.
It needs to be light and enriched with organic materials. But, equally important, it requires providing drainage. So that means incorporating ingredients like perlite, vermiculite, or peat moss. They help to retain moisture without compacting your gardening container’s soil.
And drainage is the holy grail for any herb gardening container. Otherwise, your herb’s roots can waterlog and destroy your container garden.
Good drainage focuses on two primary ingredients:
- Soil quality
- Drainage holes in your gardening container
With drainage concerns covered, you can continue to focus on your soil.
For added nutrients in your soil mix, include compost or manure. They’ll complement your soil base. But ultimately, creating a foundation that makes a light, airy soil mixture with crucial nutrients, water absorption, and drainage is essential.
You can learn more about how to choose suitable growing media here.
Watering and Feeding Your Container Herbs
Typically, most herbs benefit from a fertilizer mix using a 5-10-5 ratio. If you aren’t familiar, the ratio refers to the combination of nitrogen, phosphate, and potassium. A good dose of nitrogen ensures good plant color, while a higher amount of phosphate keeps the herb’s roots healthy.
Timing-wise, you can fertilize monthly. Remember that container-grown herbs have confined roots. So avoid overfeeding. With many herbs, overfeeding can lead to rapid growth, reducing their oil concentration. That, in turn, makes them less aromatic and flavorful.
It’s best to feed your herbs lightly with a slow-release organic fertilizer. Alternatively, you can use a half-strength solution of organic liquid fertilizer like fish emulsion, kelp, or compost tea.
Here’s a tip. If you see your herb’s leaves turning yellow, it could reflect a nitrogen deficiency. That’s where applying fish emulsion can provide a quick fix.
The Fun Part – When to Harvest Your Gardening Container Herbs
Here’s the crux. You want to harvest when your herbs have the most substantial amount of essential oils. Doing so ensures the most flavor.
For instance, if you’re growing foliage herbs like basil or oregano, you’ll want to harvest them immediately before they flower. Conversely, herbs grown for seeds like coriander should be harvested after the seeds have matured and dried.
Equally important, the time of day plays an essential role. Herbs have more flavor early in the day. Otherwise, the sun’s heat dissipates the herb’s oils. That’s particularly important if you plan on drying the leaves for later use.
Ultimately, it’s not as simple as snipping away your herbs whenever you like. So stay tuned for another article with more details on herb harvesting!
Count on EarthBox if You’re Looking to Grow Herbs in Containers
We’re the top-rated and most trusted supplier of container gardening systems. We’ve been helping gardening enthusiasts like you grow all kinds of plants in our planting boxes for nearly 30 years.