Culinary herbs are easy to grow, deliciously yummy, and pretty to look at. It’s lovely to have a little bit of greenery out on the patio that is also useful in the kitchen! Best of all, planting a container herb garden is perfectly suited to beginner gardeners, so don’t worry if you’re new to gardening.
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Planting a Container Herb Garden
Herbs are the perfect container plants. They don’t mind having small containers, are flexible with water and light requirements, and generally don’t take too much fuss to grow. This article describes exactly how to find the best supplies for your herb garden plus the correct planting steps to follow (including a free printable cheat sheet version of the supply list and instructions).
Once you pick your favourite herbs to grow, planting the garden comes together quite quickly. Finding herb plants is relatively simple and maintaining them is much easier than many vegetable or flower plants. It shouldn’t take more than an hour or two to shop for the supplies and plant your herb garden.
The Best Herbs for Your Container Herb Garden
As with choosing crops for a larger garden, be clear about your own gardening goals when choosing herbs. Consider the herbs you’d like to grow, eat, and have quick/fresh access to rather than simply buying the first herbs you see for sale.
For instance, I like to use a lot of fresh oregano in my cooking. Having a large oregano plant is much more important to me than having sage, because I rarely use sage. I have friends, however, who use sage all the time to make smudge sticks. They grow much more sage than I do. Think about what herbs you already use in your day-to-day life and start your garden plan there.
Here are a few herbs that are great for container gardens:
Herbs for Full Sun
These herbs thrive when they get at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. They’ll also appreciate soil drying out a bit between waterings.
Herbs for Partial Sun
These herbs thrive when they get between 4-6 hours of sun (give or take…). They’ll also appreciate more consistent watering than their full sun counterparts.
- Lemon Balm
Despite the sun and water guidelines above, it is possible to grow many herbs with less than ideal sun and moisture conditions. I’ve grown thyme and rosemary indoors in the wintertime where they definitely did not get much light at all. They lived and tasted fine. Don’t let less than ideal conditions stop you from planting your own container herb garden!
Finding Organic Herbs for Your Herb Garden
To plant an organic herb container garden, it’s important to take several considerations to avoid chemicals that are not permitted in organic gardening. The first step is to find plants that have not been treated with chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or fungicides.
Some garden centres offer organically-grown herb starter plants specifically for home herb gardeners. Ask a knowledgable staff member where the plants are sourced and how they are grown before buying them. Another great alternative is to get your plants from a friend who is an organic gardener. Many perennial herbs grow quite large and can be divided up into many smaller plants. Ask your gardener friends if they can give you a division of their herb plants or if they know of a local plant sale where organic plants are offered by local gardeners.
If you can’t find organically-grown herbs for your garden, it is completely possible to grow your own herbs from seed. Growing herbs from seed is a bit trickier and more time-intensive than buying starter plants, but it’s completely possible. Many seed companies offer organically-grown seed, either available locally or available to order online. If you do choose to grow your herbs from seed, use these instructions to grow your seeds into healthy seedlings.
Finding Organic Potting Soil For Your Herbs
Once you’ve found organically-grown herbs, the next step is to find organic potting soil for your container herb garden. Using outdoor soil from your garden is generally discouraged for container gardening. The limited space and lack of connection to an established soil ecosystem makes it preferable to choose a mix specifically designed for container gardening. These mixes will drain well, hold nutrients, and provide aeration to plant roots. By using a high-quality potting soil, you’ll also avoid bringing in any soil-bourne diseases or other potential soil contamination.
Unfortunately, many brands of potting soil sold in large and small retailers alike contain chemical fertilizers and other ingredients which are not approved for use in organic gardening. Fortunately, there are easy ways to check and make sure the soil you’re buying is indeed safe for your organic herb garden.
The first thing to check on a bag of potting soil is the ingredients. Never buy potting soil that doesn’t have clearly-listed ingredients. If there are no chemical/synthetic fertilizers listed on the package, another good indication to look for is the OMRI-Listed label. OMRI (the Organic Material Review Institute) is the certifying body for organic gardening supplies, so seeing the OMRI label on the bag indicates that the product is certified as approved for organic use.
The Best Potting Mix For Organic Herb Container Gardens
For my container herb garden, I used PRO-MIX Premium Organic Moisture Mix. This mix is OMRI-Listed for organic use. It contains Canadian peat moss as the bulk of the mix, coconut coir to help protect against over and under watering, and perlite for soil aeration. This mix of main ingredients is well-suited to growing fruits, herbs, and vegetables in containers. It also contains enough organic plant fertilizer to feed the herbs for 3 months. If this Moisture Mix is not available in your area, the Vegetable and Herb Mix is another great OMRI-Listed organic option.
I originally started using the PRO-MIX line over other potting mixes not only because of the OMRI-Listed status, but also because of the mycoactive mycorrhizae ingredient in the mix. Mycorrhizal fungi are much-loved by organic gardeners because they form a symbiotic association with roots grown in the soil. In a mycorrhizal system, the fungus that colonizes the root tissue stimulates increased plant growth due to increased water and nutrient uptake. It’s a very cool relationship…which is also totally organic!
Finding the Right Container for Your Herb Garden
Finding the perfect container (or containers) for your patio herb garden can be a challenge. The container or containers you pick will indicate whether or not your herbs will be planted all together in one container, or will be split apart into their own mini containers.
Some gardeners like to group herbs together in a single container to create a living foliage arrangement. Taller herbs like rosemary and chives are generally placed in the back of the container (or centre of a large container), while progressively smaller herbs are planted out towards the edges. Herbs that have similar water and light preferences are often grouped together in a single container. These types of combined container herb gardens are a great choice for small-space gardeners and also as gifts for your foodie friends.
Other gardeners like to separate their herbs into different containers. This is especially helpful when growing “aggressive” herbs like oregano and mint, which tend to spread quickly and crowd out their neighbours. Having separate containers is also nice because you can easily replace any plants that “don’t make it”, or that you don’t absolutely love. Lastly, it’s simple to apply different amounts of water, sunlight, and plant food to your different herbs when they’re in different containers.
Drainage for Your Herb Container Garden
Herb container gardens, like all container gardens, require adequate drainage. This means that the container you’re using should have a hole (or holes should be carefully drilled in it). Not all containers come with holes, so be sure to check before planting. I’ve gotten quite used to drilling holes in containers because they often do not come with them.
If the drainage hole in your container is large, cover it from the inside with a piece of garden fabric, burlap, or a coffee filter to keep the potting soil from falling out of the bottom. This filter layer will allow water to drain out without causing the soil to fall out. I generally prefer to drill a few small holes, not much bigger than a pencil, in new containers. I don’t have to line the bottom with anything this way as the soil doesn’t really fall through small holes.
Considerations for a Large Container Herb Garden
Large containers will get quite heavy when full of soil and plants. It can also be quite expensive to fill up these large containers with high-quality potting soil. In this case, some gardeners opt to fill up the bottom portion of the container’s volume with something other than potting soil to make the container cheaper to fill or lighter to move.
If you do take this route, I recommend using perlite to add lightweight volume rather than filling the bottom of the container with cobbles or styrofoam. Perlite is a lightweight, low-density popped natural mineral that is safe for organic gardening. Wide, low containers can be filled with a bottom layer of perlite, while tall and thin containers can have perlite mixed into the bottom layer of potting soil (to avoid the container becoming top-heavy). Perlite can be found with the potting soil in your local garden centre.
How to Plant a Container Herb Garden
Planting an herb garden in a container (or containers) is simple if you get the right supplies and follow the planting instructions. Here are the basic supplies you’ll need and the steps to follow to plant your own container herb garden:
Supplies: What You’ll Need for a Container Herb Garden
- Container with drainage hole
- Organic herb plants
- High-quality organic potting soil (I used PRO-MIX Organic Moisture Mix)
- Filtered water or rainwater
- Plant labels (optional)
Steps: Planting a Herb Container Garden
- Inspect each herb before planting. Remove any dead leaves or other debris from around the base of the plant.
- Arrange the herbs in the configuration they will be planted. Place them inside the container or beside it to get an idea of how the finished arrangement will look.
- Take the first herb out of it’s container. If there are lots of visible roots on the outside of the soil plug, gently massage a few roots away from the mass to encourage the plant to spread out in the new larger pot.
- Place the herb plant in the bottom of the container to see how well it fits. The top of the soil around the herb should be within 1 inch or 2-3 cm of the top of the container. This distance will maximize the amount of soil for the plant while still allowing for it to be watered easily.
- If the herb is sitting too low, add some potting soil to the bottom of the container before planting the herb. Lightly compress the potting mix before placing the herb on top of it. If the herb is sitting too high in the empty container, the container may be too small. If you plan to use it anyway, gently massage some of the soil out of the bottom of the plant’s root system so the herb fits with enough room to water. Herbs may not thrive in containers that are too small.
- Fill the area around the herb with potting soil, lightly compressing it with each trowel full of soil mix. Add potting mix around the herb until the plant is steady in the container herb garden.
- Plant the rest of the herbs in the container, one-by-one.
- Fill remaining space with potting mix, compressing it lightly. Level off the top of the soil so the mix is within 1 inch or 2-3 cm of the top rim of the container.
- Water the container herb garden thoroughly.
- Place your herb garden container where it will get the correct amount of sunlight for the herbs you’ve chosen.
With the potting soil and water involved in the steps above, it’s sometimes easier to have a printed set of supplies and instructions than reading off a screen. I’ve put together a simple cheat sheet of the supplies and instructions for you to use when you’re in the middle of gardening. Download your copy using the form below:
Printable Herb Garden Instructions
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Print the cheat sheet out, use it as a shopping list, and take it out to the patio with you when you plant your container herb garden.
Caring for an Herb Container Garden Organically
I’ll soon be publishing an article about caring for your herbs organically. Check back or subscribe to my email list (see top sidebar) to learn how to feed and care for your new organic herbs! Read more about how to garden organically here.
Here’s a Pinterest image for you to pin if you’d like to make your own herb container garden at a later date:
What are your favourite herbs to grow? Do you have an organic container herb garden on your patio yet? Share your stories and questions in the comments section below!
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