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How to grow herbs in pots

Val Bourne / 20 April 2015

Read our guide to planting up a summer herb container, ideal for even the smallest garden or kitchen windowsill.

Compact herbs such as thyme are excellent grown in containers

Growing herbs in the garden is an excellent way of getting the satisftion of eating homegrown food with very little work. You also don't need to have a sprawling vegetable patch - any patio, decking, balcony or even windowsill can house a container of fresh growing herbs, as long as there is enough sunlight for them to thrive.

Container herbs are very easy to look after - they don't need fertiliser, and actually benefit from being planted in quite poor soil. Many varieties also do not need much watering, particularly Mediterannean herbs such as sage, rosemary and thyme. Read our guide to growing Mediterranean herbs.

Making your herb container attractive

Be creative with your summer herb container. You could use rustic wicker or gunmetal grey galvanised metal and both suit the fresh, spring-zing of aromatically pungent herbs like lavender, sage, chives, basil, mint and thyme.

The trick to creating a summer herb container that is as attractive as it is practical is to mix the textures and go for lower growing varieties.

Seek out some fine-leaved thymes. Add a prostrate rosemary to flow over the edge. Then select some larger, rounder leaves including basil and sage. Both come in a variety of colours. ‘Icterine’ is a variegated golden sage, ‘Purpurea’ is a faded-damson and ‘Tricolor’ is a bold combination of green, purple and cream.

Order from an organic herb specialist (like Jekka McVicar) because the range and quality will be better.

If going outdoors, place your herb container close to the kitchen in a sunny position so that you can snip as needed. Herbs benefit from regular harvesting as it promotes vigourous growth and means you don't need to prune.

Herb growing tips

Herbs need a poor diet so John Innes no 1 is ideal, because the nutrient levels are low but the compost contains enough loam so it hold moisture.

Pack your plants in. A two foot-wide container can be packed with thirty or more herbs, or you can plant a small wicker basket instead. You can put these plants into the garden in the autumn if you wish to.

Thymes, mints and basils are equally diverse and some are lemon-scented whilst others are highly pungent. Go for crinkly parsley and lots of marjoram.

Unite the planting with potfuls of upright chives randomly used throughout - then your container will satisfy the palate and look stylish.

Water regularly for the first month until the plants are established, then cut down on the watering.

Remove and either pot up or compost the plants at the end of the year and clean the container ready for next year. Perennial herbs such as sage and rosemary can be planted in the ground in good time for winter.


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The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated. The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.