If you’re someone who likes to use fresh herbs to season your meals, it’s hard to beat growing your own. Most herbs require little care or nutrients to survive, and a herb container garden can fit nicely on your windowsill. Not only that, but herbs can keep producing year-round. Cultivating your own herb container garden is a great way to enjoy delicious, fresh, garden produce with minimal time and work.
Why Grow a Herb Container Garden
Unlike several traditional garden plants, herbs do best in small spaces. Many grow in marginal soil without having to add any fertilizer. Some can be aggressive, and they’ll take over garden beds unless you’re very careful. Growing a herb container garden is one way to keep them right where you need them and under control.
16 Best Herbs for Containers
Growing a herb container garden is a great way for novice gardeners to get fresh herbs for their dishes. We’ve picked out the 17 best low-care herbs that do wonderfully in containers. You can purchase kids for your herb garden setup, or you can mix and match pots and window boxes to get the job done.
Basil is many people’s go-to herb, and there are dozens of different varieties you can choose when you shop, including Spicy Globe, Dolce Frensca, Nufar, and Genovese. They love to grow in sunny locations because Basil is a warm weather annual herb that does excellent when you put it in small pots. A lot of people can struggle to grow this plant, but if you give it plenty of sunshine and a soil type that drains very well, this addition to your herb container garden will give you plenty to work with.
Like most herbs, basil responds best if you harvest it frequently, and it’ll give you consistent fresh growth when you trim it back. This is arguably one of the best herbs for container gardens. You want to pinch off any flower buds that appear because once it starts to flower, the flavor profile declines.
Basil by Nostepinne / CC BY 2.0
Cilantro is a very leafy plant that you may hear called coriander. This addition to your herb container garden will go to seed very quickly, so it’s a good idea to sow it every few weeks in spring and later summer, or you can buy several plants. For the best growth, put your cilantro in a space that gets full sun for six to eight hours a day, and it should have a container that is a minimum of six inches deep. Keep the soil evenly moist, and be prepared to use it fresh in salsas, salads, and as a garnish in stews and soups as it doesn’t dehydrate well.
Cilantro by Amy G. / CC BY-NC 2.0
Chives have a zing that is very nice for livening up your meals. It can grow in partial shade or full sun, and it grows best in well-drained but fertile soil. If you allow them to regrow year in and year out in the same pot, you’ll want to divide the plants every few years in the spring. This can help prevent your chives from getting root bound.
Chives tend to flower early in the summer months, and this makes the stems too tough to eat. Garlic chives flower later in the summer or early in the fall to give you garlicky greens. To extend the harvesting time, make a point to cut back your chives in midsummer to get a secondary harvest. The blossoms are edible, and it’s easy to grow them using root divisions or seeds.
Garden Chives by John Munt / CC BY-NC 2.0
Dill is a biennial herb, and many people grow it as an annual. It offers feathery leaves with a very strong flavor that is popular in pickling. It’s well-suited for a herb container garden because there are a few underground bugs like tomato hornworms and caterpillars that like to eat it. So, you can have a harder time growing dill outside of a pot.
Even better, if you add dill to a pot with thyme or other companion plants, it can help deter pests that would attack the other herbs. Dill can get between two and four feet tall, and it develops a very long taproot. So, you’ll need to add a five-gallon pot to your herb container garden that is a minimum of 12 inches deep. You may also have to stake it to keep it from falling over, or pick out a dwarf cultivar.
Dill by Peter Stenzel / CC BY-ND 2.0
5. French Tarragon
Very tolerant of sandy soil with a low nutrient content and light, French tarragon is a very novice-friendly herb to add to your herb container garden that has several uses. You can create a tarragon vinegar that you can use in everything from vegetable dishes to salad dressings. Tarragon is also a nice complement to roasted beets, green beans, potatoes, and more. It’s easiest to grow this herb by buying a starter plant, getting a cutting, or by using root division. You can pair it with rosemary and lavender to get a wonderful scent.
French Tarragon by Satrina0 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
6. Greek Oregano
Oregano is a very fast growing herb for your herb container garden, but putting it in a pot is a quick and pretty way to control the growth. The small leaves are packed with flavor, and they’re perfect to add to homemade pizza and bruschetta, or you can add it to marinades or vinaigrettes. Greek oregano has some of the best flavors for culinary use, but Syrian Oregano is another option with pretty silvery leaves.
Greek Oregano by Carolee Mitchell / CC BY-NC 2.0
7. Lemon Balm
A cousin to the mint family, lemon balm has the same aggressive growth habit that mint does. It can quickly take over your small garden space. Because of this habit, you should add lemon balm to your herb container garden where you can control the growth. It’s a hardy perennial that will survive in zone five, and you can overwinter it in pots. You want a potting soil and compost mix with frequent watering sessions to keep it happy and bring out the flavor. Lemon Balm has glossy green leaves that taste and smell like lemons. It works well in lemonade, tea, fruit salads, and marinades.
Lemon Balm by Judy Dean / CC BY-SA 2.0
8. Lemon Verbena
Technically speaking, lemon verbena is a perennial. However, it won’t grow all year round unless you’re in zone nine. Some gardeners in colder climates have been successful in adding it to an indoor herb container garden during the winter months. Other people treat it like an annual and buy new plants each year. No matter what you choose, you’ll need well-drained, loose soil and place it in a sunny location. It does well with compost added to the soil, and you have to be careful that you don’t water it too much.
It’s prized for the fresh flavor and clean scent, and it works well in desserts and teas. If you plan to grow it in a pot year-round or bring it indoors in the winter, the pot will have to be at least a foot in diameter. This will help lessen the shock that comes from the temperature changes.
Lemon Verbena by Satrina0 / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Marjoram is a perennial that many people choose to grow as an annual, and it’s very closely related to oregano with a milder flavor. It’s an essential spice in many kitchens, and it grows well in a herb container garden as it usually won’t get more than a foot tall. It’s also low-maintenance, and this makes it great for novice gardeners. The first container should be six inches wide and deep, and you can get bigger pots as needed. You can take stem cuttings in the fall to propagate new plants indoors.
Marjoram by Rhonda Fleming Hayes / CC BY-ND 2.0
If you’re after a perennial to add to your herb container garden, try mint. It has a very aggressive growth habit that can quickly take over spaces, so it’s essential to keep it contained. There are many types of mint available to try, including chocolate mint, spearmint, peppermint, strawberry mit, and mojito mint. You can plant several varieties in a bigger pot.
You can add your mint leaves to summer drinks or fruit salad, and they dry well to use later in tea. Mint likes rich soil and ample moisture, and you can use one-third compost to two-thirds potting mix in this container. In garden beds, mint is invasive if you don’t cut it back, but it’s easy to grow in containers.
Mint by James Jardine / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Just like mint, oregano will grow quickly and spread throughout your garden if you don’t keep it contained. Adding oregano to a wide, deep planter with one or two annual vegetables or other herbs will help control it. Interplanting also helps enhance oregano’s insect-repelling properties to keep your vegetables safe. You can grow it inside in a bright windowsill.
The most common type of oregano you can add to your herb container garden is Greek oregano. It holds the flavor for many months and dries very well for later use. Many people use sweet marjoram interchangeably with oregano, but it has a less pungent and full-bodied taste. You can plant it from cuttings, seed, or division.
Oregano by Joi Ito / CC BY 2.0
Many people choose to grow flat-leaved and curly parsley in containers and garden beds. The unique leaf texture that you get with curly parsley makes it a great planting partner to use with various ornamental plants like geraniums, million bells, petunias, and other strong summer-blooming plants. The bright green coloring also provides a nice shot of contrast to your companion plants.
Parsley is extremely easy to grow, and you want to start it from seeds that you sow indoors using a grow light before you add it to your herb container garden. You can also purchase seedlings from your garden center. It does best with regular feeding and soil moisture, and you may want to add a slow-release organic fertilizer when you plant it to keep them growing to late fall. It likes full sun, but it can tolerate partial shade.
Parsley by James Jardine / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Rosemary is a very woody shrub that has needle-like, aromatic foliage that adds a welcome depth of flavor to your herb container garden. It works well with potatoes and chicken-based dishes. You can grow it inside in a pot on a sunny windowsill outside of zone five, or it can be an annual if you choose to grow it outside. It’s easy to bring indoors for winter though.
There are several cultivars available with rosemary, and most will grow upright while some cascade down to make them a nice addition to the edges of your planters and pots. Gorizia rosemary is an upright cultivar with large leaves, and Arp rosemary is a more cold-tolerant cultivar. The quickest way to kill this plant is to give it too much water. You want to keep the moisture consistent without having wet feet.
Rosemary by BellaEatsBooks / CC BY-NC 2.0
If you smell sage, you’ll most likely think of Thanksgiving. The earthy, dark scent of this herb seems to work well with various poultry dishes. However, sage has a host of other uses attached to it, both medicinal and culinary. It’s also the perfect companion plant for herb container gardens due to the slow growth and predictable growing habit.
You can plant your sage in big pots or planter boxes, and it’ll give you a colorful and aromatic display. A lot of gardeners use purple sage to add visual interest to their gardens, and pineapple sage can add contrast to any mix. It’s a Mediterranean herb that loves to be in full sun. It will grow well in marginal soil as long as it drains well. You can propagate it using divisions, cuttings, or through buying plants.
Sage by BellaEatsBooks / CC BY-NC 2.0
Another perennial to add to your herb container garden is sorrel. This is one of the earthiest herbs you can get to sprout and produce during the spring months, and it’s a nice addition to any mixed planter box or pot. French sorrel is very popular, and you can use it raw by adding it to spring salads or layer it into sandwiches. You’ll get a more mild flavor if you cook it. The root will expand as it grows, and you should divide or trim it each year to keep it thriving.
Sorrel by cheeseslave / CC BY 2.0
Thyme is arguably one of the best herbs you can add to your herb container garden. It’s drought-tolerant, low maintenance, and it can handle neglect. It also looks very nice when you plant it in front of a container where the tiny leaves can spill over the sides. Don’t overwater it and give it full sun. It prefers for the soil to be on the dry side. Lemon thyme or English thyme are best for culinary uses.
Thyme by Tony Buser / CC BY-SA 2.0
Container Planting Requirements & Tips
It’s a good idea to remove the herbs you buy from the tiny plastic containers they come in. You should replant them in bigger pots so the roots have plenty of room to grow. Leave a few inches between the plants in your herb container garden to give them room to grow into the space.
Virtually any container type will work out, but your herb container garden will be at the fullest when the pots are a minimum of eight inches in diameter. As long as the container you pick has good drainage holes, it should grow well. It may be tempting to stick as many seedlings in the pots as possible, but they won’t stay small forever. If they get crowded, they won’t produce as much.
If you want to try companion planting, it’s a good idea that you use the herbs in the pot that have the same growing requirements. For example, cilantro and parsley both like slightly more water. However, thyme and rosemary prefer a thorough watering before drying out between watering sessions.
Frequent watering sessions wash the nutrients out of the soil, but you can replenish these nutrients by adding a liquid fertilizer. You can also add a slow-release fertilizer, and you should try to add it when you plant or transplant your herbs for the first time and then continue on once a month. Always follow the directions to ensure you don’t burn your plants.
You can encourage fresh growth throughout your herb container garden by harvesting them frequently using a sharp pair of herb snips or smaller pruners. Don’t be shy when it comes to clipping or pinching your herbs back.
Try to find a very sunny space for your herb container garden. A lot of herbs like full sun, or six hours of direct sunlight every day. Some herbs like partial shade, or three to four hours of sunlight a day to grow strong.
It can be very tempting to fill your herb container garden with regular garden soil, but this soil type will compact in the pot to reduce the soil porosity and drainage. Herbs require good drainage. Fill the pots with a potting soil or a mixture of aged compost and potting soil. Worm castings are a great way to help boost the soil nutrients and water retention, and you should only have to add a handful to your containers.
Pruning Your Herbs
The woody perennials are usually the only ones in your herb container garden that you have to prune. Herbaceous herbs and annuals will grow to the space you leave them in your pot, and frequent harvesting will encourage fresh growth. Some woody herbs are rosemary, sage, and thyme are what you want to prune before they get too tall and stop creating new growth. The following are tips to help you prune the herbs correctly:
- Cuts – Make all of your cuts just above the lower node on the plant. The goal is to remove around the top third of the branches.
- Ideal Pruning Window – The best time to prune the herbs is during the spring. However, if you miss the window, you can prune them back after they flower during the summer. Freshly cut spots are very sensitive to new growth and the frost will kill them. So, if the weather has already turned and you waited too long, it’s better to hold off until next spring.
- Trimming – You can trim the plants very lightly at other points during the growing season to get the shape you want. However, make sure to do any bigger cuts during the ideal pruning window. Even for indoor herb container gardens, you want to trim them to maximize the growth potential and keep the compact growth habit from getting too leggy.
We’ve touched on 16 of the best herbs to add to your indoor herb container garden, and many of them will survive both indoors and out in warmer weather. Keeping them neatly pruned will encourage new growth and ensure that you have fresh herbs whenever you want to use them.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.