Creating a Container Herb Garden

Build Your Container Herb Garden Using Cartons, Pots & Boxes!

Not everyone has an easy and convenient space in which to grow herbs, but even if you don’t, you can still cultivate herbs. if you don’t have a garden you can use a small balcony or patio area using containers to create a container herb garden.

Many herb gardening beginners start their herb gardening by using very basic containers such as plastic ice cream or yogurt cartons or wooden boxes lined with plastic sheeting. Any of these will work, but its much better if you can get hold of some clay pots.  Clay pots aren’t expensive and they’ll last a lot longer than plastic or wood.  The other big benefit of clay pots is that they keep the soil inside cool on a hot day.

Planting herb pots and containers isn’t a new thing.  Hundreds of years ago the Romans, Greeks and Egyptians grew their herbs in pots or containers, and more recently the Victorians were big fans of the container herb garden.

Pot to create Victorian container herb garden

Victorian Pot

In fact the Victorians designed and made lots of different types of clay pots for their gardens, and it’s still possible to get hold of good looking Victorian garden pots in antique shops and at antique fairs.  If you want to make your container herb garden rather special try and find an antique Victorian pot that you can use to create a container herb garden.  The one illustrated in the photograph is a very superior example, but there are also lots of less impressive and cheaper pots around.

If you decide to use clay garden pots, you’ll find lots of different types and shapes to choose from at your local garden center with styles ranging from modern to classic (like the one in the photograph). Use your imagination to select a pot that’s right for the herb garden you plan to create.

If you visit your local garden center or shop on-line you’ll probably find herb boxes (also called herb planters) for sale.  These are sometimes prefilled with a selection of herbs.  They are a good choice if you just don’t have the time to create your own container herb garden and don’t mind spending a few more dollars just to get started with your container herb garden.

What Size Pot? How Many Pots?

When you set about creating your herb garden make sure that you get a container that’s big enough to take a reasonable number (five or six at least) of herbs.  A 12″ diameter pot is a good size to start with, although I can guarantee that after the first year with your container herb garden you’ll want to get a larger pot and grow a wider range of herbs.

Wooden trough as a container herb garden

Herb Garden Trough

In the picture opposite the herbs have been planted in wooden troughs up against a sunny wall.

If you’re creating a container herb garden it’s not always a good idea to put all your herbs together in one pot.  Some herbs are best grown in individual pots.

Mint is a good example of a herb which should be grown in its own pot because it has a strong and vigorous root system and has the habit of taking up more than its fair share of soil space wherever it’s planted.  For this reason lots of gardeners choose to plant their mint in a separate pot alongside all their other herb boxes or pots.

When you are choosing the pot for your container herb garden make sure you get one that doesn’t have too narrow a top.  Those wonderfully-shaped Ali Baba-type garden pots might look fantastic, but the’re not a good choice if you want to plant more than a couple of herbs in them.  I have used Ali Baba pots for my lavender plants. I plant each pot with just one lavender plant so that they have plenty of room to grow and spread out. When they are fully grown and in flower they look fantastic – and they are really appreciated by the bees.

The “Soil Mix” for Your Container Herb Garden

When you’re planting a container herb garden it’s important for the soil to have the right texture to allow the roots of the herbs to expand and take in air and water.  You can use ordinary garden soil, but soils in different locations can vary a lot, so it’s best to make up your own soil mixture. An alternative is to buy a specially prepared compost.

If you feel like getting really “hands on”, why not make your own “herb compost”. The ideal mixture is a combination of good quality compost (which contains the necessary plant nutrient) mixed with a gritty/sandy material that will help with drainage and breathing.

If you decide to make your own herb compost you can use any good quality compost mixed with Perlite. This combination will give you the ideal soil mix for your herbs. Perlite is easy to get hold of from garden centers and DIY stores, and can also be purchased on-line for a good price. Use 1 part of Perlite to 2 parts of compost and mix them  together thoroughly.  There are lots of different views on how to make an ideal soil mix for a container herb garden, some of them quite complicated, but I find that the compost and Perlite mix works very well.

Before you put your compost and Perlite mix into your container pot, lay some stones or stony gravel over the hole in the bottom of the pot. This will help to ensure that the drainage is good and the roots of your herbs don’t become waterlogged. I use old broken pot pieces in my container pots. Use whichever you can get hold of.

Fill your pot almost to the top with your soil mixture, and then plant your herbs making sure that they are at the same depth as they were in the pots they came in.  Also, make sure that there is sufficient space between each plant to avoid overcrowding as they grow. These distance requirements vary from herb plant to herb plant because some herbs can grow very large and over-shadow and stifle smaller less vigorous herbs.

The video below contains lots of useful information about choosing the herbs for a container herb garden.  


More information on creating your container herb garden can be found in my digital book, “The Secrets of Successful Herb Gardening”. It includes a comprehensive catalog of over 60 different herbs with details about planting distances, soil conditions and much, much more. Use the link in the sidebar of this page to find out more about it.

Create a “Mobile” Container Herb Garden

container herb gardens

Round Cast Iron Trolley

One big advantage of planting an herb garden in pots or herb planters is that you can move them around to catch or avoid the sunlight in your garden.

Unfortunately, once you have planted your container herb garden with herbs it can become too heavy to move easily.  

You can solve this problem by buying or constructing a container herb garden trolley (often called a “dolley”). 

Here are some more examples of plant container trolleys.

Care of Your Container Herb Garden

In general herbs like lots of sunlight and water.  You should water your herbs once a day, but avoid over-watering.  However, the disadvantage of watering container-grown plants a lot is that the water leeches the nutrients out of the soil mix.

Herb Growing Liquid Plant Food Herb Growing Solid Fertilser
Miracle-Gro Liquid Fertilizer
Miracle-Gro Solid Fertilizer
Organic Herb Growing Potting Compost
Miracle-Gro Organic Potting Compost
Miracle-Gro Potting Compost Mix

A lot of composts you can buy have a mixture of compost and added nutrients, but even so the soil in your pot or container needs to be provided with additional fertilizer regularly to make up for the nutrients that are washed away.

To make up this nutrient loss either use liquid fertilizer (ideally once a week) or lightly fork a solid fertilizer (plant food) into the soil around your herbs. If you use solid fertilizer you don’t need to use it as frequently.

I have been using the Miracle-Gro products for several years and have found them to be excellent.  They can all be purchased from Amazon at either very competitive or “sale” prices.

If you shop regularly with Amazon you may also be able to get Amazon products delivered free of charge.

At the end of the growing seasons many of the herbs in your container herb garden will have grown very large.  If you intend to continue growing your herbs in pots or containers the best thing to do is to throw these plants away after you have harvested them and start afresh the following year. However, when you get more experienced you will be able to take stem and root cuttings from some of your herbs and use these to create a new herb garden the following year. 

Another alternative is to transplant these overgrown herbs into your garden (if you have one).

More Information

The information in this article should be sufficient to enable you to make a good start with your container herb garden.  My book “The Secrets of Successful Herb Gardening” will provide you with lots of extra, useful information to help you with your herb growing.

Wishing you every success with your container herb garden.

Adam Gilpin Signature



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