A garden is not complete without herbs. In fact, I think that any beginning gardener should begin with herbs. Right after I graduated college, I lived in a small apartment with a small balcony. On the balcony, I grew rosemary in a small container. That rosemary plant followed me to my next apartment, and the next apartment, until I finally planted it in my current garden. Herbs are accessible for the beginning gardener with relatively low maintenance and ultimate satisfaction. I’d venture to say that herbs are low risk, high reward. If you’re short on space, or you’re like me and just want to cram as many plants as humanly possible in to every nook and cranny – herbs are the perfect container solution.
Herbs well-suited for container are:
- Bay Leaf
In this post I’ll give you a brief overview of why you may want to grow each herb, whether it is an annual or perennial (in my zone which is USDA 10b) and useful tips for growing.
AS AN HERB: Mint is incredibly refreshing. I prefer it in ice water, cocktails, salads, teas, or on its own.
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Mint is a perennial. Grown in your garden, mint will last an indefinite period of time.
TIPS FOR GROWING: I absolutely INSIST that you grow it in a pot or in a contained environment or else it will take over your entire garden. Mint grows prolifically, and fast. Mint roots or rhizomes will shoot through your soil and pop up feet away. Even if you try to remove mint, it will likely leave behind rhizomes and allow a new plant to grow. You can either buy a mint plant from your nursery, start from seed, OR you can take a cutting from a restaurant or a friend and stick the stem in a cup of water. Set out the cup of water in a sunny spot in your house. In about a week the mint cutting will grow roots. You can then transplant the mint into a container of your choice outside in a spot that gets partial to full sun. Grown properly, you can have mint year round!
AS AN HERB: So, why parsley? Some people find parsley to be too bland or just all out don’t understand why we need to use parsley. Here’s the deal, parsley helps to balance out flavor in your home cooked dishes. Parsley is considered to be a mild bitter flavor. I often use parsley in soups, salads, or in condiments. A chicken noodle soup is NOT complete without parsley. A tabbouleh is NOT complete without parsley. A chimichurri is NOT complete without parsley. All of those dishes are well rounded because parsley imparts a mild bitter taste that completes your palette.
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Parsley grows as an annual. You will need to replant it each year.
TIPS FOR GROWING: I recommend either starting from seed about 4 weeks before your last “frost” date or buying a transplant 2 weeks after your “frost” date. Use your parsley regularly, trimming from the outside in.
AS AN HERB: There is truly NOTHING like brown butter sage. As a topping on a plain pasta, a roasted veggie, on its own!? Nothing. Like. It. You can also grow sage as a lovely aromatic. Dried sage is known for its aromatic cleansing properties when burned.
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Sage is a perennial. Sage is grown year round which means that once you buy it, you should be set for a while.
TIPS FOR GROWING: I prefer to buy sage as a transplant rather than starting from seed. Purchase sage about 2-4 weeks after your “frost date.” Buy a container larger than the transplant you have. Sage will slowly grow to fit the container it is in – I’d opt for a container twice the size. I like to trim back my sage at the beginning of spring and in mid summer.
AS AN HERB: Do I even need to make a case here? O.K. here it goes: dill is an incredibly unique flavor in the realm of grass meets licorice meets soap!? Hear me out. It’s tough to describe something as unique as dill. I like dill on baked and cured seafood, in dips and spreads like tzatziki, and as a salad garnish.
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Dill is an annual. You will need to replant it each year and multiple times through out the season.
TIPS FOR GROWING: Grow dill in a container either from seed or as a transplant in early spring. As summer approaches, your dill will begin to bolt and turn in to a flower. You can save the dill seeds to add to food or for growing next season. In my case, I let the dill go to seed and drop seeds wherever they may land. Dill doesn’t take up too much space so you can fit 2 plants in a medium container.
AS AN HERB: Rosemary tastes like a Christmas tree meets a lemon. Growing rosemary is like having a forest – without the forest. Rosemary holds up well in high temperature cooking. My all time favorite way to use rosemary is on focaccia. Here’s a link to my super duper easy focaccia recipe: Easy Focaccia for Beginners. Just add some sprigs of rosemary and voila!
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Rosemary is a perennial. It will grow larger and larger over time to suit the container it is grown in.
TIPS FOR GROWING: Opt for a plant that is smaller. I purchased my front yard rosemary plants as 6 inch plants and they are now 3 feet tall and 2 feet wide each. Rosemary benefits from pruning later in the growing season. Most varieties will produce blue flowers that attract bees. Rosemary makes a great hedge or border plant and will grow to fit the container you use. I would opt for a larger container than you think you need.
AS AN HERB: Thyme adds a lemony pepper taste to any dish. In roasts and soups, it helps to complement the savory aspects. Within the family of thyme, there are many types of varieties that have subtle taste variances. For ease of cooking, I prefer French thyme. It is easier to slide the leaves off of the branch with French thyme. With other varieties you can end up with woody bits in your dishes.
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Thyme is a perennial. Similar to rosemary, thyme will grow throughout the year to fill up the container it is planted in.
TIPS FOR GROWING: Thyme, similar to rosemary, will grow to fit your container in an impressive amount of time. Thyme will grow out instead of up like rosemary. There are so many varieties of thyme and I personally grow 4 varieties in my garden. I recommend lemon thyme, French thyme, English thyme, and pizza thyme.
AS AN HERB: Underrated, yet indispensable, I present lemongrass. Lemongrass imparts a lemon-like flavor on any dish. I prefer to use lemongrass in dipping sauces, stews, and curries. I use lemongrass in situations where lemon zest and/or lemon juice would overwhelm the dish.
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Lemongrass is a perennial.
GROWING TIPS: I have found lemongrass extremely well suited for growing in containers. I currently have two lemongrass plants that grow surprisingly well in single cinder block containers. Lemongrass also makes a good pest deterrent so you can grow it as a bordering hedge. to harvest, cut a singular stalk at the base of the plant.
8. Bay Leaf
AS AN HERB: A wise woman once told me that, “bay leaf is nature’s MSG.” Bay leaf is a difficult flavor to peg but we all know that you need it when it comes to flavoring your stews, soups, and stocks. Why? When dried, bay leaf has a minty, pine-like flavor that helps to round out the heartiness of a rich dish.
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Bay leaf is a perennial.
GROWING TIPS: I grow my bay leaf on my side yard in the same nursery pot it came in. It grows similar to a hedge. During the winter, some of it dies back a bit. Keep your bay leaf well-watered with good drainage. I prune mine back a bit at the end of summer.
AS AN HERB: Cilantro can be used in a wide variety of dishes and suit many purposes. As a garnish, in a salad, in a salsa, and much more. For me, cilantro has a citrus-like taste. For others, it tastes awfully like soap. If you love cilantro like me, growing it as an herb will definitely bring you joy!
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Cilantro is an annual. Successively sow cilantro seeds in your container or replant throughout early spring through fall.
GROWING TIPS: Cilantro is prone to bolting. Bolting occurs when it is warm outside. When your cilantro bolts, it will grow a very thick stem, produce flowers, and set seed called coriander. You will want to continue to plant seeds about every other week to ensure you have enough cilantro throughout the season.
AS AN HERB: Chives are a delicate herb – they don’t taste so good when you cook them in a dish. I opt to use chives as a garnish on almost any dishes. A little snip of chive goes a long way in providing an onion-garlic like taste to a dish.
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Chives grow as a perennial.
GROWING TIPS: Chives make a great border along a raised bed or beautifully in a small pot. I have a few chive plants in my garden and even grow a garlic chive variety in a small cinder block. Chives benefit from regular harvesting. You will want to cut at the very base of the chive leaf.
AS AN HERB: Basil. Need I say more? Fresh garden basil is a summer staple. Fresh tomato sauce, pesto, caprese, or in a cocktail!?
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Basil is grown as an annual. You may want to plant several plants to last you throughout the summer time.
GROWING TIPS: Basil is definitely on the higher end of the maintenance scale but still relatively easy to grow. I’ve had a lot of friends tell me mid-winter that they are having difficulty growing basil. Basil needs heat and full sun to thrive. To grow basil successfully, the temperature should average around 70 degrees.To encourage your basil to grow bushy, “pinch” your basil regularly. Once your plant has it third set of leaves, pinch the center leaves. This will encourage your basil plant to grow out instead of up. If your basil bolts up, it will likely flower and go to seeds. To prolong your harvesting season, pinch your basil back regularly.
AS AN HERB: Oregano has a very powerful taste. Most people have this herb in their pantry as a dried herb. I recommend fresh and dried oregano as a way to spice and add a peppery taste to dishes.
ANNUAL or PERENNIAL: Oregano is a perennial.
GROWING TIPS: Grow oregano in a container and regularly prune back to avoid your plants from getting leggy and weak. Oregano makes a good hedge or border plant.
Are you growing any of these herbs in your own container garden? Are there any other herbs you would recommend growing in containers?