Growing an Herb Garden When You Don't Have a Lot of Room
You don't need a ton of space to grow your own herbs. A couple pots or one long container, and you can be stepping outside to your patio or balcony to cut some fresh herbs for dinner every night.
If you're just getting started growing herbs, I recommend creating your own herb planter. It doesn't have to be very big—in fact, you can start off pretty small.
No matter the size of your herb garden, your main goal is to re-create an environment that feels like home to the herbs you'll be growing. Unless you live somewhere like Italy or southern France, the herbs you might want to grow are probably not native to your area, so it's up to you to provide them with their ideal growing conditions inside a planter or pots. When herbs feel like their simple needs are being met, they'll give you harvest after harvest.
This is a quick and easy gardening project that'll have you snipping sprigs of your favorite herbs to bring inside the kitchen every single day.
Growing Herbs in Containers
Most herbs are smaller plants with shallow root systems. The planter, pot, or container you pick to grow your herbs in needs to be at least 6 inches deep, but I recommend going for something that's a foot deep, especially if you're growing herbs in the Apiaceae family like cilantro, dill, and parsley, which grow a large taproot. I also recommend picking something at least a foot wide so that you can grow several different types of herbs in one container.
I have several sizes of steel planters that I grow herbs in. The largest is this rollable steel planter. It was super easy to put together (you can find full directions here), and it can be rolled around my deck to chase sunlight. It's about 2 feet wide x 6 feet long, which gives 12 square feet of gardening space. That may not sound like a lot, but you'd be shocked at how much you actually can grow in this little bed!
Let's look now at how to create your own little herb garden.
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Simple Steps to Create Your Own Small Herb Garden
Step One: Pick a Container for Your Herb Garden
When selecting your container, choose materials that are as close to their "natural" state as possible. My favorites are cedar, steel, and terra cotta clay.
Here are some options for easy herb garden planters on Amazon. If you're shopping around on your own, look for words like "food grade" and "untreated" to ensure you're using the most natural of materials for your organic herbs.
In the video below, I use this 17-gallon steel tub from Behrens to build an herb planter for under $50. I've used this brand a lot, and their tubs are typically easy to find at stores like Home Depot.
Note: If you purchase a steel tub that has a sticker on it, those things can be a pain to remove! I once put together 100 herb planters for a workshop, and I found the best way to get all the sticky residue off is to use a heat source right over the label to remove the glue before pealing off the sticker. Holding a hairdryer close to the label for about 30 seconds should do the trick.
Step Two: Add Drainage Holes to Your Container
If your container doesn't already have good drainage holes in the bottom, make sure to add some with a drill. Space holes every 3 to 4 inches. Herbs dislike having their roots sit in extra water. In fact, the surest way to kill an herb is to overwater it in a container with poor drainage.
Step Three: Put a Weed Barrier Cloth at the Bottom of the Container
Before filling your container with soil, put a landscape cloth, weed barrier cloth, or a strip of burlap inside the bottom of the container to keep the soil from leaving the container every time you water.
Step Four: Fill Your Container with Soil
Fill your container with a well-draining soil. My perfect soil blend is called the 103, and I feature it in my first book, Kitchen Garden Revival. The 103 is a mixture of topsoil, compost, and sand, plus a little something extra to give your herbs lots of nutrients they need to grow.
You'll want to find a coarse sand like paver sand for your soil mix (available in the construction section of most hardware stores). This adds drainage. Remember, most of the herbs you might want to grow are from places like the Mediterranean, so they really love a sandy soil to make them feel at home.
Once you've mostly filled your container with equal parts topsoil, compost, and sand, use your hands or a small tool like a hori hori to mix up the three. You want everything to be nice and combined when you scoop up a handful. The result is a pretty light soil that has food to keep your herbs strong and also structure for their roots to dig into.
The little something extra I mentioned is something like earthworm castings for an extra boost of nutrients for your herbs right as they settle into your container. Sprinkle earthworm castings right on top of your container (it doesn't need to be a lot), and then level your mix with a hand rake or a hori hori.
Step Five: Plant Herbs
When considering which herbs to plant together in a container, the most important consideration is water preferences. I like to plant herbs like rosemary, oregano, marjoram, lavender, sage, and thyme on the outer edges of my raised beds or herb planter, where the soil will dry out first, since they like to stay dry and do well being grown together.
Dill, cilantro, parsley, and basil all like their soil to stay more consistently moist.
The only herb that should not be planted with others is mint, which likes to spread out, and to accomplish this, it sends runners under the soil that can disrupt the tender roots of other herbs. It's best to grow mint in its own container or, at the very least, on the outer edges of your herb planter (and accept that you might just have a container of mint in a year).
Overall, herbs grow more vertically than they do horizontally, which means you can pack more plants together. If you do so, though, make sure you're prepared to harvest leaves often. This will ensure each herb plant has access to the sunlight and air circulation it needs.
Once you've got all your herbs planted, give the container a gentle watering and place it somewhere it'll get 4 to 6 hours of sunlight.
Growing Herbs in Pots
Herbs like lemon balm and mint do best grown in their own pot or small container. You can also grow any of the other herbs in their own pot.
Overall, the larger your pot or container is, the better the herbs inside will be able to maintain themselves. They can tolerate more abuse (like lack of water or too much sun) than if they're just in one small pot, where the soil will dry out much faster. If you are growing in pots, just make sure to monitor the soil's moisture more often than if your herbs were growing in larger containers or raised beds.
I like terra cotta pots because they help regulate the moisture level and come with a nice, big drainage hole. They're also a great budget option but still quite attractive.
Where to Source Herbs for Your Small Garden Space
If you're going to buy mature herbs, the leaves will be ready for harvesting that very same day. I recommend buying organically grown plants from a local nursery rather than from a big box store.
Many of the herbs you buy from the store, especially annuals like basil, come more than one to the pot (to make them look fuller). It's actually best to separate them before planting them in your herb garden so that each little plant has space to grow to its full potential.
Before you separate herbs, give them some water to soothe them because they're about to be a little stressed. Then, use your fingers to gently pull apart different root systems at the soil level. Plant these newly separated herbs right away because they're going to be feeling pretty fragile.
The trick when you plant them is to bury them a little deeper than their neck (where the stem meets the roots) to give them lots of support as they adjust to the single life. Once they settle in, they'll be much happier to have their own space and resources. Give them a nice watering in.
Refreshing a Small Herb Garden Each Season
If you're growing in small pots and containers, you can easily overwinter your herbs indoors.
If you're replanting a favorite herb garden container, it's really easy to prepare it for a fresh round of herbs. No need to replace all the soil—just follow these simple steps.
First, pull any old, spent herbs out. Chives will often return from their roots in the spring, and cilantro often reseeds itself. If parsley still looks healthy, keep it. It's a biennial and can last another year. You choose whether you're going to pull herbs that come back or leave them.
Next, rake the top of the garden space to clear out some of the leaf debris left over from last year. Leaf debris just gives pests a place to hide.
Add a couple inches of fresh compost and rake it in.
That's really all you have to do to get ready for planting. Super easy!
The Best Herbs to Plant in a Small Herb Garden
Here is a comprehensive list of our favorite herbs to grow in a small herb garden:
- Lemon Balm
- Summer Savory
- Winter Savory
Herbs from the mint family (basil, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, oregano, rosemary, sage, thyme, and summer, winter savory, and mint) have shallow roots that make them ideal for pots only six inches deep if that's all you have on hand. Cilantro, cumin, dill, fennel, and parsley will each need at least one foot of soil to stretch down into.
Herbs Are Great Plants to Get Started With
Starting your own small herb garden is the perfect introduction to kitchen gardening. You can fill it with herbs you plant from seed or healthy plants purchased from the store. Herb gardens work in any small space, like a patio, a front porch, even a balcony of a high rise apartment.
Herbs don't take up much space, and they're easy to tend and harvest from. Cut some leaves and come back in a couple days for some more. When in doubt, just plant something ridiculously low maintenance like chives. Once you get a feel for caring for something so easy, you'll want to try your hand at more and more.
Believe it or not, this is just the beginning of what you can plant in your small space. Once you're feeling comfortable with growing herbs, you can explore growing flowering herbs like calendula, marigold, and echinacea.
Thanks for helping me bring back the kitchen garden, one small pot of herbs at a time!
Whether you're a beginner gardener or a seasoned gardener, I would really love for you to take on the challenge of not buying herbs from the grocery store anymore, but growing your own. I know you're going to love the experience. You can get started right away and have tons of herbs all season long!
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