Jekka’s past RHS displays have usually contained a few herbs in pots, demonstrating that you can successfully grow and maintain herbs to gold winning standards in containers. A collection of herbs in containers in a sunny place near the house is a great asset for both garden and kitchen. Not only are they cheaper than shop brought herbs, they taste better, do you good and last longer as well as being attractive to birds and bees.
Jekka’s top 10 herbs for containers
Most herbs will do well in a container but Jekka’s favourites, mainly chosen for their culinary use in the kitchen, are:
- Lemon Thyme (Thymus 'Culinary Lemon', Thymus pulegioides 'Kurt’ or Thymus 'Golden Lemon')
- Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus)
- Oregano Hot & Spicy (Origanum 'Hot and Spicy’)
- Parsley (French or Curly)
- Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor)
- Mint (Mentha)
- Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
- French Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus 'French')
- Lemon Verbena (Aloysia citrodora)
- Winter Savory (Satureja montana)
There are herbs to suit every spot, from a sun-baked courtyard or shady balcony, to the kitchen windowsill. Check out Jekka’s Blog on herbs for different conditions for some more advice. Beware of the pot-grown herbs offered in supermarkets, as they are usually grown under glass and are often too lush and stressed to adapt well to life outdoors.
How to choose your container for herbs
Jekka’s top tip is to pot up a plant one size of pot at a time as going from a 1 Ltr pot to a 10 Ltr pot in one go will stress the plant and can quite often kill it. Therefore, if you have a large decorative pot you wish to use, you should initially sink a smaller pot inside it and pot up until it reaches the size you wish.
Some herbs, such as Parsley and Coriander, have long tap roots and therefore, would prefer to planted in containers which give herbs a deep root run where they can be left undisturbed. ‘Long tom’ pots have the required depth and look good massed together.
Other invasive herbs, like Mint or Horseradish, are preferably grown in sunken containers like old buckets with drainage holes or plastic pots, to restrict root growth.
When choosing your container, make sure it has adequate drainage holes and, if needed, you can put some broken pot, ‘crocks’, in the bottom to make sure the draining hole remains open.
Growing and maintaining herbs in containers
You should position your container herbs somewhere warm and well-lit until the roots have nicely filled (but not overcrowded) the container. The biggest advantage of growing herbs in containers is that you can move them to sunnier positions or more sheltered positions depending on the season. You can also change your garden quite easily by rearranging your pots and therefore, revitalise your space quite quickly.
For best results use a gritty, well-drained substrate in which to grow herbs. Jekka advises using a peat free and loam-based compost; if your options are limited go for a standard John Innes. You can then mix in perlite, vermiculite or horticulture grit to aid drainage.
Herbs require routine watering and feeding when grown in containers. Feed your container-grown herbs regularly with a balanced fertiliser throughout the growing season. We use a liquid seaweed as this contains all the nutrients herbs need and throughout the growing season we “Feed on Fridays”.
Should your container-grown herbs start to look weak check that they are not pot bound. If they are, simply lift the plant and tease apart the roots on the edge of the pot before replanting in a bigger pot. Jekka’s tip is never to put herbs in too big a pot as they will put down roots before any top growth.
As with herbs in the garden, you should cut back herbs after flowering to maintain their shape. For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.
Over wintering herbs in containers
Some herbs die back in winter, for example French Tarragon and Mint, and these are termed herbaceous. Herbaceous herbs will look after themselves if placed where they cannot be frozen, saturated by rain or allowed to become too dry. Suitable places include against a wall, in a cold frame or under shelter, such as an open shed. You can use a sheet of glass or plywood to keep off heavy rain in wet regions. It might be wise to raise your pots on bricks or 'pot feet' to prevent water logging.
If very cold weather is forecast, including wind, protect containers from freezing by wrapping in bubble polythene or horticulture fleece.
Wish to know more?
For more information, read Jekka's guide for growing herbs or her blog containing her top tips for growing on your herbs. You can also sign up to our newsletter or follow us on Instagram @jekkasherbfarm for more tips and to hear when our Master Classes and Herb Experiences for 2022 will be released.