Planting herbs: tips for growing herbs in pots & in the garden

Sabine
Sabine
Sabine
Sabine

I am currently studying agricultural and food economics. As a keen hobby gardener, plants take up most of my free time. A few years ago, I got especially interested in herbs, which is why I completed my studies to become a certified herbalist in 2018.

Favourite fruit: apples, cherries
Favourite vegetables: potatoes, fennel

Growing your own herbs is all the rage. After all, herbs are the spice of life, and no kitchen garden is complete without them. Find out how to successfully grow herbs on the windowsill, balcony and in the garden bed.

Herb garden bed
There are many options to growing your own herbs [Photo: JoannaTkaczuk/ Shutterstock.com]

Herbs do not take up much room; so if you are short on space, you can easily grow them in pots and on windowsills. Our herb growing guide also covers which herbs to grow at home as well as where and how to plant herbs.

Planting herbs: step-by-step instructions

Many herbs grow well in both pots and garden beds. But whichever method you choose will affect the care required. Herbs in pots need to be watered more often because their root balls tend to be a lot smaller. In garden beds, on the other hand, it is important to make sure you choose a suitable location and protect them properly over winter. Garden beds also need to be weeded regularly, which can be quite time consuming. If you want to be able to use your herbs sooner rather than later, buy young plants instead of growing your own from seed. Plant out your store-bought young plants as soon as possible as they are often densely sown and root bound.

How to plant herbs:

  1. Loosen the soil with a suitable growing medium
  2. Dig a hole that is deep enough for planting (the plant base should be at ground level after watering)
  3. Remove the herb from the pot, loosen the roots and place it inside the hole
  4. Fill with loose soil
  5. Water straight away

Selecting herbs

Herbs can roughly be divided into two categories: annuals and perennials. On top of this, each herb has specific location requirements. Here is an overview of what needs to be considered when planting each kind of herb and which species go particularly well together.

Herbs planted together in raised bed
Not all types of herbs are suitable for companion planting [Photo: Irina Kvyatkovskaya/ Shutterstock.com]

Annual herbs

Botanically speaking, plants are considered annuals if they reproduce just once in a growing season and die at the end of it. However, some plants are also considered annuals in our part of the world because they are not hardy enough to survive the winter. When bred specifically for high yields, hardiness can decrease. Dill (Anethum graveolens), chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), coriander (Coriandrum sativum), borage (Borago officinalis) and nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus) are all considered annual herbs. A basic rule to follow when planting herbs is to not plant annual and perennial herbs together. This is actually practical too because many short-lived herbs species prefer an annual change of location. It is important to pay attention to increased susceptibility to disease and growth habits when companion planting with herbs. The best annual herb for companion planting is probably basil (Ocimum basilicum), which, due to its essential oils, can protect its neighbouring plants from pests and fungal diseases.

Perennial herbs

Well-known examples of perennial herbs are thyme (Thymus vulgaris), oregano (Origanum vulgare), sage (Salvia officinalis), chives (Allium schoenoprasum), fennel (Foeniculum vulgare), savoury (Satureja), tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus) and lemon balm (Melissa officinalis). Lemon balm is a particularly good companion planting herb as it gets along with most others. Just avoid planting it next to basil, as these two herbs do not enjoy each other’s company. Savoury, oregano and sage are great companion herbs and thrive when planted together.

Mediterranean herbs

Sunny locations are ideal for growing Mediterranean herbs. These include savoury, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), basil, lavender (Lavandula angustifolia), oregano, sage and thyme.

Potted Mediterranean herbs in pallet box
Mediterranean herbs prefer dry locations [Photo: Cornelia Pithart/ Shutterstock.com]

Due to their Mediterranean origin, these herbs tend to prefer more nutrient-poor soils and do not cope well with waterlogging. When choosing herbs to plant outside in garden beds, bear in mind that many Mediterranean herbs are not hardy.

Herbs that are not winter hardy:

  • Basil
  • Lemon verbena
  • Rosemary
  • Bay

Herbs for semi-shady locations

Watercress (Nasturtium officinale), dill, parsley (Petroselinum crispum), fennel, tarragon, chives, lovage (Levisticum officinale), peppermint (Mentha x piperita) and chamomile do not need constant sunshine to grow. Plant these herbs on the east or west side of your house for optimal growing conditions. These herbs also usually prefer slightly moist soils that are rich in humus and nutrients.

Herbs for the windowsill

It’s a great idea to plant herbs on the windowsill, within easy reach of your kitchen. After all, who truly enjoys walking out to the garden on cold, rainy days just to get a handful of herbs? Plus, not everyone has a garden or balcony. Fortunately, most herbs thrive in pots on a windowsill.

Herbs growing in pots indoors next to a window
Herbs love a sunny spot on the windowsill [Photo: Christine Bird/ Shutterstock.com]

Especially in winter, having fresh and aromatic herbs in the kitchen feels like a treat. Chives and parsley, for instance, can easily be dug out of the garden in autumn and grown in a pot on the windowsill through winter. Plus, their lovely greenness and delightful aroma, will help lift spirits during the darker months of the year. Replant Mediterranean and non-hardy herbs into pots before the first frost and move them inside for the winter.

Tip: Put a layer of gravel or clay shards in the bottom of the pot to ensure water can drain away easily. This helps avoid waterlogging.

Tips for growing herbs on your windowsill:

  • Repot from time to time
  • Avoid watering too much or too little
  • Make sure to fertilise
  • Harvest correctly to maintain healthy growth

Herbs for the balcony

Larger pots and hanging balcony planters are great for growing herbs on the balcony. Depending on which way the balcony is facing, you need to consider the location requirements of individual herbs. South facing balconies get the most sunlight, which means that these plants will need more watering because the soil in the pots tends to dry out quicker. On north-facing balconies, you have the exact opposite situation. Due to less sunlight, the water inside the pots evaporates very slowly, so water less often. East and west facing balconies have the optimal growing conditions for the delicious herbs that prefer semi-shady locations.

Planting herbs in a balcony planter outdoors
Herbs grow well in window box planters [Photo: martiapunts/ Shutterstock.com]

As well as location and soil, planter size also plays a crucial role in successful growing. Some herbs, such as dill and lovage, have relatively deep roots and therefore need a pot that is tall enough for them. However, very deep-rooted herbs or plants with dense root systems, such as tarragon or wormwood, are not suitable for growing as potted plants on a balcony.

Planting herbs in the garden

Of course, herbs can be grown in the garden too. Base your choice of herbs on your needs and intended uses to make the most of your space. It is also much easier to take care of your herbs and to harvest them if you plant them in a convenient spot.

Herb beds

Monastic gardens are famous for having a very structured layout where herbs are divided into groups and planted in symmetrical beds. These beds are usually bordered by low hedges, fences or paths. Cleverly built paths between the beds allow easy access to the herbs and can be very useful, especially in wet weather. On top of that, geometrically designed beds are quite easy to maintain, and a clear structure makes finding the individual herbs a lot easier.

Rows of different herb types
Geometrically arranged garden beds are relatively easy to care for [Photo: Del Boy/ Shutterstock.com]

When planting herbs, remember:

  • The location requirements of each kind of herb differs
  • Avoid mixing annuals with perennials
  • Place taller-growing plants in the middle or at the back
  • Plant drought-tolerant herbs at the edges
  • Place sprawling herbs in their own spot

Herbs often thrive in mixed plantings. They grow well planted beside flowers, vegetables and soft fruit bushes. Flowering herbs, such as marigold, borage and marjoram, also blend into ornamental gardens wonderfully. Some herbs even support the growth of other plants by releasing beneficial chemicals – making them a great addition to your vegetable patch! For instance, basil, when planted between tomatoes, cucumbers or cabbage, wards off mildew and whiteflies. With a bit of careful planning ahead, planting just a few of the right plants can be enough to deter pests. Herbs such as chives and parsley are super easy to preserve and grow well in larger quantities if needed. Aromatic herbs with deep root systems such as tarragon and wormwood are best grown in smaller amounts.

Tip: Some herbs prefer to grow alone or require a certain distance from other plants. This includes lovage, lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and wormwood (Artemisia absinthium).

Growing herbs in raised beds

Herbs grow fantastically in raised beds and since most herbs do not have very deep roots, a height of about 50cm is perfectly sufficient.

Herbs in a raised bed
Herbs are easy to care for and harvest in raised beds [Photo: Heike Rau/ Shutterstock.com]

Make sure there is adequate drainage when planting Mediterranean herbs in raised beds. The ideal location of the raised bed depends on which herbs you want to grow. Some herbs love sunny spots, while others grow better in partial shade.

Herb spiral

If you are short on space and would like to plant your herbs close together, including those that do not get along so well, a herb spiral is a great solution. It is made up of several microclimates, ranging from sun to shade, and well-drained to saturated soils.

A herb spiral is a small stone wall laid out in the shape of a spiral filled with soil. The size of the spiral varies on the amount of space available, but it creates a beautiful focal point in the garden. The hill-like shape creates different habitats for the plants. Plant moisture-loving herbs such as mint, parsley or chives at the foot, then put thyme and large thyme (Thymus pulegioides) at the top as they love a sunny, dry location. Place mint, cress, sorrel (Rumex acetosa) and chives on the shady north side, and Mediterranean herbs like sage, rosemary and lavender on the sunny south side. Find out how to make your own herb spiral in just 10 minutes!

Herbs in a herb spiral
A herb spiral creates different microclimates in little space [Photo: Bildagentur Zoonar GmbH/ Shutterstock.com]

Want to learn more about growing herbs in polycultures? Read our article on companion planting with herbs.

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