Container Herb Gardening for Beginners

Have you tried to grow plants before only to stand by helplessly as they wither away and die?
Do you live in a small apartment and long for a garden? Are you limited to a small balcony, patio or no outside space at all? If you think you have no room, know nothing about gardening or are clueless about herbs, flowers or vegetables, this web page is for you! You can still have a container garden.

Prepare to acquire two green thumbs and plan container gardens in the most unexpected places.


Herbs are easy to grow, disease resistant, hardy, look beautiful and are useful! Many herbs are perennials which means they grow for years (unlike annuals which grow for only one season never to return!) The 20 herbs I have selected for this web page are the most common with names you will recognize and uses you will appreciate. All of the herbs listed here can be easily found in your local garden center.

Herbs are also inexpensive to purchase and maintain. It would cost more to buy a sprig of fresh rosemary in your local supermarket than to buy one plant and grow it into a mighty shrub that will keep you stocked with fresh, pesticide free herbs for years to come.

For complete growing and care instructions for the easiest and most useful 20 herbs click here!


Containers come in all shapes and sizes with a wide variety available at your local garden center. Plain terra-cotta is attractive and inexpensive. There are also some very attractive, lighter weight plastic containers available.

However, you may want to consider getting a little more creative! An old enamel sink makes an excellent balcony herb garden. Got an old baby bath tub lying around and the baby’s in your house have long since grown up? That would make a great container too. Go to your thrift store and look for unusual containers that could be used for growing herbs.

Take a look in your garage or under the kitchen sink. That old broken teapot you’ve been meaning to fix – forget about it! Use it as an herb container. Got an old metal bucket you no longer use – fill it with potting soil and plant herbs in it.

What about making your own containers? Recycle used plastic soda bottles; cut them down to about six inches high and plant away. Some other ideas: Large water or fruit juice bottles, plastic tubs from cottage cheese, cream cheese and dips. What about that old pan you no longer use or that broken vase? Just ensure you poke/drill a hole in the bottom for drainage.

A great idea for drainage trays is to use those large juice bottles but cut them down to just 1 1/2 inches high. Or you could take a large oblong water container and cut it down to 1 1/2 inches and stand several small pots in it.


For growing herbs in pots I would recommend buying potting mix which contains water storing polymers to help the soil stay moist and a combination of fertilizers.

You could also make your own planting mix following the formula below.

Planting mix:
Use equal amounts of topsoil, sand, peat moss, perlite (not as much of this).
NB. Vermiculite is a corklike matter and retains too much moisture, perlite, which is volcanic, will not.


For a container garden you won’t need much! Maybe a small trowel but a big old spoon would work just as well. A mister or spray bottle is handy for watering new seedlings or spraying pests!
Sowing from Seed

Sowing seeds indoors:
A southern exposure is best.
Most herbs like a slightly acid soil 5.5 – 6.5 Ph
Best temperatures for growing herb plants indoors: 70′ before germination and 60-65′ after. The higher temperature required for germination can be acquired by wrapping pots in plastic wrap which will increase the temperature by 5′-10′. Use planting mix

Cluster sowing: Chives, Marjoram & Thyme. Evenly sprinkle seeds across a 4 inch pot containing planting mix, cover with sand. Mist daily till germination. Dill, summer Savory & Parsley. Fill pots with potting mix. Cluster sow seeds (sprinkle liberally in the surface of your potting soil) and water well.

Spot Sowing:basil, chervil & coriander. Sow 3 or 4 seeds per pot, when seedling are 2 “ high, pull out all but the most healthy. Water with skimmed milk.


Taking Stem Cuttings: (Sage, Rosemary, Bay) break off or cut off (using a sharp knife not scissors) a new side shoot or tip of the main stem. Just below the node. Wet the sand/perlite mixture and pat it down. Remove lower leaves. Insert about ½ inch into a mixture of perlite and sand. Potting soil or vermiculite will keep the plant too moist encouraging wet rot. Mist daily until roots form – this should take 2-6 weeks.

Cutting Mix: perfect for rooting new cuttings. This should consist of equal amounts of sand and perlite. The sand should be fine clean ‘play sand’ which can be purchased from a hardware or toy store.

Root Divisions

Root divisions: Mint, Tarragon, Oregano. Dig up the entire plant in early spring pull or tear it into pieces.

Types of herbal gardens

If you have a patio or balcony or a small yard, you have a lot of options depending on the amount of space you have available, you could have a selection of pots and containers.

Use your space wisely; is there a sunny wall you could place small pots on? Remember to refer to the ‘growing conditions’ and ensure you place shade loving plants in the shade and sun loving plants in the sun!

If your space outside is very limited, buy a strawberry container and fill with several herbs around the sides. As well as being economical with space, this is also very attractive.

If you think you have no outside space at all, have you considered a hanging basket? Yes, you can grow a selection of herbs in a hanging basket. How about pennyroyal, prostrate rosemary and creeping thyme trailing down the sides and perhaps some sage in the middle to give it height? You can also have a hanging basket indoors.

If you have exterior stairs, potted plants down the stairs looks very attractive. Window boxes are also a good alternative for urban gardeners with limited outdoor space.

If you have a metal railing or wooden deck railing there are several inexpensive attachments at your garden center which will enable you to hang plant pots vertically.

OK, you have NO OUTSIDE SPACE at all. No problem! We can make room indoors. Most of the herbs listed above can easily be grown indoors. A sunny window the best location. If the window ledge is big enough, place potted herbs on it. If there is no ledge consider mounting a shelf of placing a suitable piece of furniture in front of the window as a plant stand. You could also have a hanging basket in front of the window. Grouping plants together like this is both attractive and convenient for watering, care and harvesting.

What if the only suitable window is right over your kitchen sink? Go into the house wares section of your local Wal-Mart, Target, Kmart, they have rustproof, inexpensive shelving expressly for the purpose of providing shelving over sinks.

Don’t just think kitchens either, what about the bathroom, living area, entry way? Let your imagination run wild and get creative.

Moon gardens

Assuming your herb garden is outside, when will you enjoy it? If you will be sitting out on your balcony or deck at night, have you considered a moon garden? Plants that look especially magical at night under the light of the moon are those with blue, white or gray hues.

Use lot’s of different colored thyme’s, lavender with it’s silvery leaves and rosemary’s blue flowers are all very attractive in the moonlight. Other herbs associated with the moon are mugwort, yarrow, moon flower (datura) lambs ears, horehound, forget-me-knots and evening primrose.

Purple sage and opal basil give a striking dark contrast.


Test the soil in your containers every day with your finger. If it’s dry an inch below the surface – water. If you can’t water your plants on a regular basis, consider self-watering containers.
Organic cure for aphids and other garden pests

One of the easiest I have used is plain soap and water. Just combine 1 part grated soap to 5 parts water. Allow the soap to dissolve in the water, and spray on the affected plant. Soap and water spray can be used as a general first defense against most garden pests and diseases.

Organic cure for powdery mildew: has the appearance of white cotton wool found on roses. Combine 1 part milk to 4 parts water and spray. This works extremely well, but needs to be repeated to keep the problem under control.

Bug juice- 2 cloves garlic, some cayenne in a cup of water or cider vinegar. Pour into a blender and then strain. Pour this into your spray bottle and spray affected plants.

If you want an organic garden (and why wouldn’t you?) use a product like liquid fish emulsion or liquid seaweed. Also, young seedlings can be irrigated with skimmed milk.


Mulching should be done each spring, and repeated as the decomposing material breaks down. Make sure the soil is moist beforehand, especially during hot weather. Carefully spread a thick layer of mulch on top of the soil around the stem and over the root area of each plant. If you have enough mulch you can cover the entire container, but it is better to give each plant a healthy dose than to spread it thinly throughout.

Use oak leaves, pine needles or boughs as a mulch on acid loving plants.

Preserving herbs:

Harvesting, drying, grinding, pounding, powdering and rubbing

Why oh why would you want to do any of these things? Using dried herbs is extremely quick and easy when you don’t have time to harvest, clean and chop. Drying also ensures you have a supply of your own aromatic and organic herbs all throughout the winter months.


Always harvest herbs after the due has evaporated off the plants but before it gets too hot if possible. Try not to harvest after a heavy rain. Rain can wash away the aromatic oils from many herbs.

Never pick more than one third of the plant if you want it to survive, this should be more of a pruning than a massacre! While harvesting, give some thought to what the plant will look like after you are finished, and try to maintain an even shape.


Take herbs out of direct sun light immediately. Wash herbs only if they really need it under cold running water and allow them to dry well. Herbs can be dried by hanging in small bundles or by placing them on a drying rack.

Dry until leaves are brittle enough to break between your fingers, but not so dry that they crumble. Your dried herbs should be similar in color and fragrance than they were when fresh. Don’t compare your dried herbs to store bought dried herbs which are usually lighter in color more brown or yellow looking).

Storing Dried Herbs:

A tightly capped glass jar, preferable dark glass to protect from the deteriorating effects of light is best. If you are going to recycle glass jars, ensure they are properly washed and dried before placing herbs inside.

Store in a cool dry place. Like inside your kitchen cupboards.

Remember to label your jars! And while you’re on, place the date of harvest on that label too.


Combine 4 oz of dry herb (or 8oz fresh) with one pint of alcohol such as vodka or gin in a large jar with a secure, airtight lid. Never use rubbing or isopropyl alcohol, as these are poisonous! Leave the mixture for two weeks, shaking the jar twice per day.

When the two weeks are up, strain the mixture discarding the herbs and bottle. Try starting your tincture on the new moon and finishing on the full moon to take full advantage of the moons cycle.


Herbal tea’s used medicinally are known as infusions or tisanes and are much stronger than regular herbal tea bags you might find at the store.

Bring one pint of water to a rolling boil then remove from heat. Immerse 1 oz (that’s about 2 cups) DRIED herb to the water and cover. Let the mixture stand for 10-15 minutes. The dried herb will have absorbed about 1/2 cup of water.

Another way to make an herbal infusion is to make sun tea. This can often be stronger and more potent than an infusion made with boiling water. To make, simply add the same proportions of herb and cool water listed above and allow the mixture to stand in the sun for three to four hours. Drink and enjoy!

Herbal Oils

Herbal oils can be used in cooking or as massage oils. You can even add fragrant herbal oil to your bath! Whatever you decide to do with your herbal oil, the procedure for making it is the same.

Macerate 2oz dried herb (or 4oz fresh) with 1 pint olive oil or any other vegetable oil of your choice. Let the mixture stand in a warm place for three days. Strain the mixture discarding the herb and bottle.


Gently heat 1 pint of olive oil and add 2 oz dried (4 oz fresh) herb. Strain the mixture and discard the herb. Add 1 to 1 1/2 oz beeswax to the oil and stir as the mixture cools. Spoon into a wide mouth jar. If you use the salve seldom, refrigerate to prolong life.