10 Fragrant Herbs for Your Container Garden

What to Plant for Year-Round Foliage and Flavor

Fresh herbs grow in the garden
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Growing herbs is just about the easiest, most beginner-friendly lead-in to gardening—and growing them in containers? Even easier.

Container gardening allows you to plant herbs according to their individual needs and better control soil moisture. Some herbs, like basil and tarragon, like a lot of moisture, whereas others, like thyme and rosemary, prefer their soil on the drier side. Some like to bask in full sun; others benefit from partial shade.

Herbs are notably easygoing. They're attractive, fragrant, and provide fresh, home-grown flavor and garnish year-round. When you consider the environmental impacts of store-bought herbs—that they're grown in energy-sucking greenhouses, shipped on fossil-fueled trucks, and usually packaged in plastic—growing your own seems even more rewarding.

Now, here are the best herbs to plant in containers.

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Overhead view of bunch of basil leaves

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Basil thrives in containers because it likes the warmth, and pots are great at retaining the day's heat. This is the best way to grow basil in northern or short-season climates.

This common pizza and pasta topping likes full sun and constant moisture. It needs at least eight inches of soil depth to establish good roots, and—even though it flourishes in containers—it does not like to be crowded. Basil is an annual herb, meaning it must be replanted every year.

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Plant hand-labeled thyme growing in pot

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Unlike basil, thyme prefers somewhat dry conditions. It will suffer greatly if it develops "wet feet," so planting in light, loamy soil in a container with plenty of drainage holes is ideal. Don't be afraid to put thyme's end of the pot in full sun, either. It loves hot conditions and is exceedingly drought resistant. Water it only when the soil feels totally dry.

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Close-up of marjoram plant leaves

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This aromatic perennial is perfect for window boxes or even for growing indoors. It's low-growing and has a tendency to spread, albeit slow enough to provide a large window for pruning. The most common varieties are sweet marjoram, pot marjoram, and wild marjoram, which happens to be another name for common oregano.

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Overhead view of chives blooming purple flowers

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Chives' grasslike appearance adds diversity and dimension to any container garden. They even add a pop of color with purple pompom flowers that bloom in late spring or early summer. Yes, you can continue to eat your chives after they bloom. You can eat the flowers, too. They have a light oniony flavor and taste best immediately after they bloom.

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Hands cutting from a potted rosemary plant

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Growing rosemary in your container garden will make dressing your potluck potato dishes totally effortless (not to mention free). This lemony, piney herb hails from the Mediterranean region, meaning it likes drier conditions and absolutely worships the sun. Many plant rosemary and thyme together as their needs are practically identical.

While trailing rosemary can tolerate shallow pots, taller, upright cultivars need some depth. About 12 inches of soil is best.

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French Tarragon

Top view of tarragon plant next to stacked clay pots

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French tarragon is the most common type of tarragon used for cooking. It can thrive in a pot, but only for up to three seasons. Although the herb is perennial, its roots tend to outgrow pots after a few years, causing its characteristic deep-green, twisty leaves to lose their distinctive licoricelike flavor.

Plant French tarragon in about 12 inches of well-draining, fertile soil in full sun. Make sure it's spaced at least 18 inches from other plants for air circulation.

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Close-up of a bunch of parsley in herb garden

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Parsley is perfect for container gardening because it doesn't require a ton of room. It likes damp soil and sunny locations, which makes it a great companion plant for basil.

There are two common types of parsley: flat and curly. Flat-leafed parsley is slightly more heat-tolerant than its curly counterpart. It has a smoother texture and can be used in salads whereas curly parsley is best as a garnish.

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Hands with gardening gloves planting lavender in container

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Although it's best known for its beautiful purple flowers, lavender is an herb. Culinary lavender adds a floral flavor and aroma to fatty dishes; both the flowers and stems can be eaten fresh or dried.

Lavender adds height and color to herb container gardens. The smaller varieties are well-adapted to compact spaces. They should be planted in about 12 inches of well-draining, slightly alkaline soil.

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Close-up of veiny sorrel leaves

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Some call sorrel an herb; some call it a vegetable. Regardless of its technical classification or lack thereof, this leafy green plant grows well in containers. The main draw with sorrel is variety. Its spinachlike leaves offer a contrast to the needle leaves of rosemary or the leggy nature of chives and lavender.

Sorrel prefers similar conditions to (and can be planted alongside) rosemary, thyme, and sage.

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Close-up of sage leaves

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Sage likes soil that drains well, and perforated pots give it optimal growing conditions. Best of all would be a clay pot whose porous nature can assist in drainage.

Sage grows as an annual in hot climates and a perennial in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5-8 (which stretches all the way from northern Michigan to the border of Texas and Mexico). It should be planted in a sunny spot, and its soil should maintain a temperature of 60 to 70 degrees.  

Make sure you choose an edible variety like garden sage, purple sage, tricolor sage, or golden sage.

Which Herbs Should You Avoid Planting in a Container Garden?

Not all herbs are suitable for planting in a container garden. Fennel, for example, is sometimes just too big. It might look pretty with its wispy fronds, but it grows a large, stout taproot. Dill, similarly, is a tall plant with notably long roots.

Then, you have creepers like mint, notorious for taking over its environment. Mint is a ferocious spreader, invading neighboring plants with horizontal underground stems. Lemon balm also spreads, although not as mercilessly as mint. A workaround here is to plant these varieties in their own pots to contain the roots, then plant those pots in your container garden.