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Choosing the Right Pot for Indoor Herbs

Herbs of various kinds in pots near the windowsill.

If you have never grown anything before and you want to start an indoor herb garden, every decision can seem so important. After all, nobody starts out planning to fail, and most people want to be successful at this enterprise.

Is the choice of a pot for your herb garden that important? Can it make a big difference to the success of your plants? Choosing a pot for your herbs is one of the first decisions that you will make in indoor herb gardening, so it makes sense to know what goes into this decision.

I’ve been herb gardening for decades and I’ve grown my herbs in so many different kinds of containers that I’ve lost count. When you know what a plant needs, it’s easy to decide whether or not a pot will work for growing herbs.

While most people think that the way that a pot looks is most important, pot choice is actually a very functional part of indoor gardening. The pot needs to meet certain criteria to ensure your success at indoor herb gardening. 

You might be surprised that the choice of a pot for your indoor herb garden is not terribly difficult, but you do have to keep certain things in mind. While your plants can do pretty well in almost any kind of container, they will thrive if you pay attention to the needs of your herbs and know what the herbs will need to grow well.

Three Main Criteria when Choosing Pots for your Herbs

1. Drainage

A black pot with drainage holes.

Drainage is the most important factor in choosing a pot for growing your herbs. This means that the water has to be able to run out of the pot when you water the plants. If you do not have drainage holes in the bottoms of your herb pots, the water will just sit at the bottom of the pot, and this is very bad for the plants.

Plants’ roots need air to help the plant grow well. Also, if the plants sit in soggy soil, they can develop fungal diseases and a problem called root rot.

Many popular herbs originated in semi-arid climates. If they stay damp and wet, they will not grow well. Drainage holes are not optional when you are growing an indoor herb garden.

If you are using a ceramic container for your herbs, and it has no drainage holes, you should probably drill them with a masonry bit and an electric drill. If you’re using a plastic or metal container, you can probably just use a hammer and some nails to poke holes in the bottom of the pot.

2. Sizing Your Herb Pots

Different types of herbs plant in three white pots.

If you want your herbs to grow healthy and strong, you must choose the correct size pot for your herbs. Not all varieties of herbs need the same size pot. Some kinds do well in small pots, some need larger, deeper pots, and others can adapt to whatever size pot that you plant them in.

Plants with deep taproots like basil, rosemary and parsley need pots that are about 8 to 10 inches deep to allow them to grow well. Even better is to give these herbs a pot that is about 12 inches deep.

Plants with shallow root systems, like oregano, chives, thyme, and tarragon can manage in a more shallow pot that is 6 inches deep. 

Some plants will grow to fill whatever size pot that you have on hand. Mint and lemon balm are both herbs that adapt well to large or small pots. 

When you buy potted herbs from the nursery, read the label to figure out how large they will grow. Then you should repot them in a container that will accommodate their mature size. Most herbs need a pot that is at a minimum of six inches in diameter.

If you are planning to grow multiple kinds of herbs in the same pot, be doubly sure to read the plant tags and pot them up in a container that holds enough dirt and allows for adequate soil depth. It may take a month or two to get the lush, full herb pot that you envision, but be patient and eventually the herbs will grow large, full, and bushy in their containers.

3. Pot Materials

Plant rack with various herbs and pot materials.

Herbs grow very well in any kind of pot. Whether it is plastic, metal, terracotta, or ceramic, you can have a lovely herb garden in any of these materials. 

Metal pots are quite common and very convenient. Pots made of metal will last a long time. One thing to watch for when you are using metal pots is that if you put your pots in the sun, the metal can heat up quickly, stressing the plant’s roots and drying the soil out too quickly.

If you use metal pots for your herbs, you may want to pay attention to how hot the pot gets in the middle of the day so that you can adjust the pot’s location and avoid overheating your herbs.

Plastic pots are durable and inexpensive, making them a great choice for herbs as well. If the plastic is dark colored, you may have the same problem with overheating that you have with metal pots. Again, it isn’t a deal breaker, but you do want to be aware that your plants could get too hot in full sun.

Terracotta and ceramic pots are excellent choices for growing herbs. These pots are heavier and thicker than metal or plastic ones, keeping the roots of the plants much cooler in hot weather. When the plant is cooler, the soil will not dry out as quickly and you will not have to water as frequently.

The only downside to using ceramic pots is that large pots will be much heavier. If you need a really big pot, you may want to choose plastic or metal so that you can move it around as needed.

Recycling and Reusing Containers for Herb Pots

Plant metal pot and watering can.

Suppose you do not have very much money, and everything seems too expensive. You may be gardening for the first time and pinching pennies in your budget. Maybe you are growing your herbs inside because you want or need to save money on your grocery budget. Is there a way to get started with indoor herb gardening without breaking the bank?

Actually, yes, you can use all kinds of materials as containers for your herbs. All over the world, people use recycled containers in which to grow their herbs. You do not have to have a perfectly matched, magazine-worthy set-up to grow your herbs.

First, you can search out thrift stores and resale shops for usable containers. If you use a pot that someone else used in the past, be sure that you scrub it out well with soap and water before you add your own fresh dirt and plants. If you do not wash the pots very well, you could possibly end up with plant diseases or insect pests from the old soil that is in the container.

You definitely want to start fresh with nice, clean containers. Suppose even thrift store containers are not an option for you. Does that mean that indoor herb gardening is out of the question? No way! You can simply recycle other containers from your home into planters.

Using scissors or a sharp box cutter, cut the top off of a clean two liter soda bottle, poke some drainage holes in the bottom and fill it with dirt. Now you have a great container in which you can grow some herbs. 

If you eat canned fruits or vegetables, you can use the cans as pots for your soil. Remove the top completely after using the vegetables and rinsing the can, doing your best to remove all sharp edges from the top rim of the can. Add some drainage holes and some potting soil and you have a container for growing herbs.

I have found that the 30 ounce cans are the best size for growing things on my windowsills. Once you have removed the paper labels, these containers have the added advantage of making a rustic decor statement. If you want to change the color of the cans, you can simply spray paint the cans whatever color you prefer. 

Basically, almost any container in your home can be used as a pot for herbs. Look at the things that you are already throwing away. Cut apart old laundry detergent bottles for sturdy plastic pots. Reuse that old cracked plastic wastebasket or plastic pitcher as a container in which you can make seeds come to life. Just wash whatever container that you use to make sure that your plants have a nice, clean place in which to grow.

The main thing that you need is a container that holds adequate soil and has some drainage holes. 

Do I Need a Drip Plate to Catch Water?

Indoor basil in pot with drip plate.

When you water your plants, any extra water will come out of the bottom through the drainage holes. You can buy drip plates to help protect your furniture and floors from this water. You can find inexpensive plastic drip pans in the garden center of your local department or hardware store.

However, you do have other options. You can put your pots in baking pans or on saucers from your kitchen cabinets. You can use the lid of an old sour cream container or a cottage cheese bowl. 

You don’t even have to have a drip pan at all. If worst comes to worst, you can water your plants outdoors on the porch or balcony or over the kitchen sink or even in the bathtub in the bathroom. Just “set the plants in one of these places for five to ten minutes after watering to allow all of the extra water to drip out of the containers. 

One thing to remember when you use a drip plate under your herb pots is to empty the drip plate of any excess water after you water the plants. If the plant is allowed to just sit in a puddle of water for very long, it can develop root rot or fungal diseases. Herbs do not, as a general rule, like living in boggy conditions. 

When you know the criteria for what makes a good planting pot for herbs, you will begin to adapt all kinds of lovely and interesting containers for your indoor herb garden.