Growing the Best Herbs for Containers

Growing Herbs in Small Spaces

Growing the Best Herbs for Containers

Reading Time: 5 minutes

Growing the best herbs for containers needn’t be difficult. Most herbs can live their lives happily in containers. Especially herbs for culinary use. I learned this bit of wisdom from my mom. We had a postage stamp of a yard and mint was the only herb planted in the ground (and yes, it took over the lower portion of that tiny backyard, and crept into our neighbor’s grass). Lesson learned.

Mint is an invasive herb and one of the best herbs for containers. Mom eventually planted the mint, along with her cherished Lebanese herbs of basil, parsley, and thyme in a big black iron wash kettle rummaged from a yard sale. That iron kettle now sits in a place of honor in my herb garden, planted with several varieties of basil.

My basil grows front and center in my herb garden nestled in my mom’s iron kettle. Now I love growing herbs outside in the ground. I’ve learned, though, that some herbs are better suited for pots. Especially some of the culinary herbs.

Herbs that grow in winter do well in pots. My rosemary and bay don’t survive our harsh winters outside, but grow happily indoors during winter in containers. Here are some tried-and- true tips for growing the best herbs in containers.

Types of Pots

Garden expert and colleague, Ron Wilson of Natorp’s Garden Outlet, is an avid container gardener. Planting herbs in pots is the way to go, according to Ron.

Most herbs can grow in most any container. The most important element is drainage, and lots of it.


Size Matters

Width and depth are important, since some herbs like tarragon spread their roots in horizontal fashion, while dill has a long tap root.


No matter how good your garden soil is, don’t use it in containers. Think of hitchhiking insects and drainage. “Soil-less” growing mediums are good for containers.

Feeding and Watering

Plan on feeding and watering potted herbs more frequently than in-ground herbs. Don’t overdo it. Too much will produce lush growth, but flavorful oils won’t develop. I like to use a weak compost tea when my herbs need a boost.

Go Multiple

Plant several herbs in one container, as long as the growing requirements match.

Location, Location, Location

Most herbs love the sun, while others can tolerate some shade.

Best Herbs for Containers

Hard to choose! I’ve narrowed it down to these favorites. These are some of the best herbs to grow in containers as well as my favorites to use in the kitchen. Just remember the few simple tips I mentioned and you’ll be a successful container herb gardener, too!


This sun-loving perennial does best in sun but will tolerate some shade. Mint is without a doubt one of the best herbs for containers. Even so, the stems will reach out and try to root anywhere there’s moisture and/or soil, so keep mint pruned.
Put pots of peppermint and pennyroyal outside near the kitchen door to deter ants and other insect pests.


In the Kitchen 
Mint is classic in teas, and is delicious with peas and in salads.


This tender perennial can take some drought. Its piney fragrance is a lovely addition to a container herb garden.
Rosemary is an herb of remembrance and memory. Tuck a few rosemary sprigs into your holiday cards.

In the Kitchen 
Chop rosemary and toss with quartered potatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Roast at 425 degrees F until tender. Perfect with grilled meats.


Sage comes to mind for one of the best herbs for containers. The annual variegated sages make perfect pot specimens, as their growth habit is less vigorous than garden sage.

Sage tea helps keep your mind alert.

In the Kitchen
Wrap pork tenderloin in sage leaves and prosciutto. Drizzle with olive oil and give it a shake of black pepper. Roast at 425 until an internal temperature reaches 145-150 degrees F. Yum!


A superstar annual when it comes to growing the best herbs in containers. Cilantro loves sun but hates heat. It flowers and bolts to seed quickly under those conditions. The seed is called coriander. Make successive plantings of cilantro.

Cilantro helps remove heavy metals from the system.


In the Kitchen 
Add cilantro the last five minutes of cooking time for an explosion of flavor. Use the stems as well as the leaves.

Bay Laurel

The best herbs for containers include the tender perennials in the bay family. Bay likes a sunny location but appreciates a shady place during very hot summer afternoons.

Bay leaf oil soothes sore muscles.

In the Kitchen 
Add bay at the beginning of cooking time. It rounds out the flavor of foods, allowing you to use less salt.


I grow stevia and place pots of this tender perennial on the stoop by the back door, on the deck, and in the herb garden. That’s because the little ones love plucking leaves of this natural sugar substitute and wrapping them around a mint leaf. Nature’s chewing gum!

In the Kitchen 
Use to sweeten beverages. Make stevia extract by simmering leaves in water. Freeze in ice cube trays.


As a biennial, parsley sends up leaves the first year, and the second year it flowers, goes to seed, and dies.
Parsley is a sun lover and makes a great companion plant for container grown edible flowers. Parsley is nature’s vitamin plant. It contains iron, calcium, vitamin C, among others.

In the Kitchen
Parsley is a must in my family’s tabouleh. We like the old-fashioned, crinkly parsley. In cooking school, we use the more mild-flavored Italian parsley.


When grown in a sunny spot, you’ll see an explosion of growth with basil, a favorite annual herb. For smaller pots, spicy bush or globe basil gives a season’s worth of smaller, tasty green leaves. Basil is used in aromatherapy to uplift and harmonize the spirit.


In the Kitchen
Caprese salad is simple and elegant: sliced tomatoes drizzled with olive oil, a bit of salt and pepper, and a finish of fresh basil.


Both onion and garlic chives self-sow and can overtake an herb garden. These perennials are best grown in sun but tolerate some shade.
Chives, as members of the onion family, are good for heart health.

In the Kitchen
Chive flowers make a lovely and flavorful vinegar.


Cooks adore this peppery, perennial herb. In a sunny location, bush and trailing thymes are suitable.
Thyme was one of the strewing, healing herbs in by-gone days.

In the Kitchen 
No need to chop leaves. Strip from the stem and stir into vegetable sautés.

Now that you have a great source of growing herbs in containers, which ones will you try? We’d love to hear from you in the comments below!

Originally published in the July/Aug 2019 issue of Countryside and regularly vetted for accuracy. 

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