PHOTO: Bad Alley/Flickr
If you’re curious about container gardening and want to start with plants that will thrive, look no further than herbs. Most are low-maintenance, requiring little attention when it comes to watering, feeding and pruning. Plus, they don’t mind having their roots confined—some even thrive in these conditions. Herbs are also flexible: They’ll happily take your guidance and grow in a way that is convenient for you. Although most need quite a bit of sun, many will thrive in a sunny kitchen window and will provide you with fresh and fragrant spice for meals.
If you’re curious about container gardening and want to start with plants that will thrive, look no further than herbs. Although most need quite a bit of sun, many will thrive in a sunny kitchen window and will provide you with fresh and fragrant spice for meals.
Here are some of the most common culinary herbs that are the easiest to grow in containers.
Basil is to herbs what tomatoes are to vegetables—it’s easily the most popular herb to grow in any garden, and its culinary uses are seemingly endless. Basil is a friendly herb that grows well with other herbs and flowers and makes a great pest-repelling companion plant, especially for tomatoes, due to its strong aroma.
Soil and Growth: An all-purpose organic potting mix, perhaps with a bit of sand and lime mixed in, is all basil needs to get going. Basil is incredibly sensitive to cold temperatures and will turn black and wilt at the slightest hint of cold.
Light: Basil craves heat and thrives in the summer months. Make sure your basil gets a full day of bright sun.
Water and Feeding: Like other Mediterranean plants, basil likes soil that gets a bit dry between waterings. If young basil begins with good soil, it won’t need much in the way of fertilizer. If grown in poorer soils, feed basil with a high-nitrogen fertilizer, such as composted chicken manure, twice during the growing season.
In cultures around the world, the leaves of the bay tree have been used to give soups, stews, roasts and other slow-cooking dishes a unique depth of flavor. Bays are evergreen trees and their leaves can be harvested and used fresh throughout the year. When grown in the ground, bay trees can reach staggering heights, up to 15 feet tall, but are quite manageable and very attractive when grown in containers. They’re amenable to pruning and shaping and are hardy enough to withstand root pruning in order to remain a manageable size for smaller containers.
Soil and Growth: Bay does well in a basic, well-draining, organic potting mix. When planting a bay tree, be sure not to cover the top of the root ball with soil. Because bay is a frost-sensitive perennial, plant it in a container that’s easy to move indoors for winter.
Light: Bay likes full sun with a bit of afternoon shade. Protect it from cold winters by providing a sunny spot indoors and give it as much light as possible until you move it back outside in the spring.
Water and Feeding: Water bay sparingly, and don’t allow it to sit in standing water. Feed once per year in the spring with worm castings sprinkled on the top of the soil. Fertilize with lime every few years if the plant remains in the same container and soil.
This sun-loving annual is often mistaken for parsley but the flavors couldn’t be more different. Many Americans correctly associate cilantro with the distinctive flavors of Mexican and Southeast Asian cuisines. Also called coriander, many herb growers make the distinction that the name cilantro refers to the leaves and the name coriander to the plant’s seeds.
Soil and Growth: Cilantro grows and goes to seed quickly in hot weather, so the best time to harvest its juicy, pungent leaves is in the late spring and early summer. Because cilantro can develop a significant taproot, be sure to give it a deep container filled with rich, well-draining soil.
Light: Like many herbs, cilantro loves full sun. It will successfully grow in a sunny windowsill or other bright location indoors.
Water and Feeding: Cilantro doesn’t need much in the way of fertilizer, but it’s a heavy drinker. Don’t let it dry out more than an inch’s depth into the soil between waterings.
Mint may seem like a simple herb, but don’t let its sweet leaves and easygoing nature fool you. Mint has many healing and nutritional properties and is used in everything from digestive tonics and teas to sweet treats and cosmetics. There’s a seemingly endless selection of mint varieties for home gardeners to choose from, though the most popular are peppermint and spearmint.
Soil and Growth: Unlike some of the other herbs profiled here, mint is a hardy perennial that sends webs of roots below ground and firmly establishes itself where it is planted —and eventually, where it wasn’t. For this reason, mint is the best herb for container gardening. It’s not fussy: It will grow in anything from rich to poor soil and in any type of container.
Light: Mint likes full sun but will appreciate a bit of shade during the heat of summer afternoons.
Water and Feeding: Mint is a heavy drinker and will do best with regular waterings.
Herbs are incredibly pungent, nutritional and medicinal in nature, and rosemary is no different. Essential oils extracted from this heat-loving perennial are used to fight colds and infections and boost the immune system, just to name a very few. Like bay trees, rosemary is a beloved culinary herb that is absolutely captivating when grown in containers. Also like bay, rosemary is very flexible when it comes to pruning and shaping: Many varieties are easily coaxed into graceful topiaries. It’s the perfect balance of being a visually pleasing yet incredibly useful plant.
Soil and Growth: Plant rosemary in a fertile, well-draining organic soil. Though this herb is a perennial, it will need your help in colder climates – protect rosemary from hard frosts by bringing your container indoors, or finding a very sunny spot inside for the winter (you may even choose to supplement with a grow light).
Light: Rosemary loves (and thrives in) high, full sun.
Water and Feeding: Arguably, the hardest part about growing rosemary successfully is getting watering just right. Too much water, especially in the winter when growth naturally slows, can rot the roots; too little, especially in the hot climates that rosemary loves, may result in irreparable heat damage. Rosemary is not resilient to late waterings and may struggle to come back. Fertilize with a liquid seaweed during the spring.
There are so many wonderful herbs that grow famously in containers and in companionship with other herbs, flowers, and vegetables. The five listed here are just a few of the easiest to grow, easiest to source, and the most useful for a variety of households. The beauty of container gardening is its ease and simplicity: It can be done just about anywhere and with a limited budget.