Choosing the Best Pots for Herbs (With Examples)


Choosing the best pots for herbs

Have you ever wondered whether the type of pot affects how well your herbs grow? I did, too! So, I did some research and conducted some experiments to see whether the pot size, material, and even color make a difference in how well your herbs grow.

In this article, I’m going to share with you all the secrets and tips I have gleaned from years of experience growing different herbs in different pots so you can understand which pots are best for your herb garden…

Ultimately, I’ve found that herbs are adaptable and can grow in any pot as long as they are large enough and have drainage holes in the base. However, some types of pots are better for growing herbs than others…

But the bottom line is…

Ceramic and terracotta pots are the best pots for growing most herbs. Ceramic and terracotta pots that are 12 inches across do not dry out as quickly as plastic or metal pots and contain enough soil to retain enough moisture for herbs growing in full sun and to insulate their roots in cold temperatures.

Keep reading for the key considerations when planting herbs in pots so you can choose the best pot for growing herbs in your environment…

Best Pot Size for Herbs

The herbs that we love to grow come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with annuals such as dill and chives typically staying smaller and compact, whereas some cultivars of rosemary can reach several feet across at full maturity yet all herbs grow well in pots due to the favorable drainage conditions.

However, from experience, I think the best pot size for growing herbs is a pot that measures 12-16 inches across with a similar proportional depth.

This is because the pot size should be large enough size to have the capacity for soil that holds moisture for the herbs to cope with high temperatures at the height of Summer in blazing sunshine and also for the soil to act as insulation in the Winter as the roots are the most cold-sensitive part of all herbs.

The size of the pot and its capacity for soil to hold moisture is particularly important as some herbs prefer full sun, which significantly increases the rate at which a pot dries out after watering and causes the herbs to be vulnerable to drought stress and wilting if the pot is too small.

Basil planting wilting because the pot is too small and made of thin black plastic causing it to dry out quickly.
This is a basil plant I rescued that was wilting because the pot is too small and made of thin black plastic, causing it to dry out quickly.

Whilst we do not need to live in a Mediterranean climate to grow these herbs, it is imperative that our pots can hold enough soil to keep the roots warm if you live in a cooler climate like me.

We have to think of it like this…Pots, raise the root system of herbs out of the ground which can leave the roots of herbs vulnerable to frost damage if the pot is too small so a large pot with lots of soil can protect the roots from the worst of the Winter cold.

This significantly increases the chance of the Mediterranean herbs (lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano) surviving Winter as they are habituated to the mild Winters of the Mediterranean and, therefore, particularly sensitive to the cold.

From what I’ve anecdotally observed, smaller pots are one of the most common reasons for perennial herbs dying in Winter.

(Read my article for more on caring for lavenders in winter).

Best Potting Material for Growing Herbs

So I have personally experimented with growing herbs in all different types of pots (metal, wood, plastic, terracotta, and ceramic pots), and I can tell you that herbs can grow in pots made of any material, but there are some types of pots that are far more favorable for growing herbs than others.

I picked up some fancy-looking metal pots from a garden center, and I have lots of plastic pots to hand. What I found is that these pots tend to heat up very quickly when they are in full sun, particularly during the Summer (much quicker than ceramic, terracotta, and clay pots).

Lavender in a metal pot
The metal can heat up in the sunshine and dry out the soil.

This can be a problem as lots of herbs prefer to grow in full sun, which can heat up the soil and the roots, which causes the soil to become dryer much quicker and often causes drought or heat stress, which can quickly dehydrate and even kill green leafy green annual herbs such as cilantro, basil, mint, and dill.

Even my herbs that originate in the Mediterranean region of Europe which are adapted to dryer soil suffered drought or heat stress because their roots heat up too much which causes them to droop or wilt as a sign of stress so avoid metal pots when growing herbs.

I saw some stylish wooden pots, which I thought I’d give a try… What I found was that wooden pots are good for leafy herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint, and dill, as they all require moist soil, and the wood retains moisture better than other types of pots (drainage holes in the base are still important),

However, wooden pots do not suit Mediterranean herbs such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage, and oregano as these herbs prefer dryer soil conditions, so I didn’t even try to grow them in the wooden pots, but the annual herbs grew fantastically well as even in the heat of summer it was easy to keep the soil consistently moist (which is the preference of the leafy, non Mediterranean herbs such as cilantro).

Wooden pots retain too much moisture which increases the risk of root rot (which can turn the leaves yellow) for the drought-adapted Mediterranean herbs.

My personal favorite pots for growing herbs are ceramic and terracotta pots. In my option they are they best pots for growing any type of herbs. This is because they are far more hardwearing to the elements than metal or wood and resist weather better.

Lavender in a ceramic pot
Ceramic pots are the best choice for growing Mediterranean herbs.

Ceramic and terracotta pots tend to be a lot thicker than metal and plastic pots or planters. This means they will not dry out as quickly in the summer and will resist frost a bit better in the Winter to protect the herb’s cold-sensitive roots.

For best practice, I recommend growing herbs in a 12-16 inch terracotta or ceramic pot but you do have to consider that ceramic and terracotta pots can be significantly heavier than metal or plastic pots.

Unglazed clay, ceramic and terracotta pots are also particularly great for Mediterrenanean herbs as they have a porous structure which allows the potting soil to dry more evenly. This is a great quality to have as if like me, you live in a climate with higher rainfall then the Meiterreanean, a breathable pot is going to help reduce the risk of root rot.

The survival rate of my Mediterranean herbs is always much higher in clay pots than, say, plastic pots, which are impermeable and can retain too much moisture for the herbs to survive.

What I’ll say is that plastic is great for my moisture-loving leafy green herbs, such as cilantro and basil, as they can retain more moisture for longer after watering, which helps to mitigate the stress from high temperatures and blazing sunshine.

There are some perennial herbs, such as Lavender and Rosemary, which are not cold-hardy and may require bringing indoors for protection from frost in Winter.

This can be difficult with heavy ceramic and terracotta pots so perhaps a lighter pot would be better if you have to move your pots indoors and outdoors every year.

(Mediterranean herbs prefer fast-draining, dryer soil, whereas leafy annual herbs prefer soil that holds moisture. Read my article Best Potting Soil for Herbs to learn how to create the optimal potting mix for your herbs).

Which Color of Pot is Best?

I know your color may seem like a stylistic choice at first, but one thing I have noticed in my years growing herbs is that black pots absorb the sun in summer and get incredibly hot.

I had some basil in a black pot that was consistently wilting because the soil heated up much quicker, and the soil would dry out much more quickly than my other pots.

So, if you are in a hot country I would just avoid black pots and go for a lighter color, that reflects the light an helps the soil keep cool!

Good Drainage in the Base of the Pot

As we discussed, the most important feature of any pot for any herb plant is that it has drainage holes in the base. Without drainage holes in the base, water just collects at the bottom, saturating the soil and causing root rot, which causes the herbs to turn yellow or brown and die back.

It is equally important that the drainage holes are kept clear of compacted soil or anything else that may block water from flowing freely from the base of the pot.

What I have done in the past is add a 1-inch layer of gravel or stones to the bottom of the pot to form a structure that ensures excess water is allowed to flow freely out the base of the pot without being obstructed.

Pro tip: If you live in a climate with high rainfall, another sensible precaution is to elevate the pot on ornamental feet or little stands to elevate it off the ground so that water can escape easily and does not pool at the bottom of the pot. This will ensure the soil can dry out between bouts of watering (which is important if you are growing drought-adapted Mediterranean herbs).

(Read my article, how often to water herbs).

Avoid this Common Mistake!

Another mistake I see when it comes to growing herbs in pots is to choose the correct type of pot with drainage holes but to place the pot in a tray or container to catch the runaway water. Often people do this to stop watering leaking and keep their patio dry.

Lavender in pot with a tray
Avoid using a tray or saucer underneath potted herbs, as this causes root rot.

Herbs should always be watered with a generous soak so that water trickles from the base of the pot to encourage healthy root development which makes them more resistant to drought.

If water collects in a tray underneath a pot of herbs, the soil is too damp, which promotes root rot, which can kill the herbs.

(Read my article on how to revive dying herbs).

Key Takeaways:

  • The best pots for growing herbs are ceramic and terracotta pots that are at least 12 inches across. Ceramic and terracotta pots resist weather better than metal and plastic pots or planters and do not dry out as quickly when in the sun.
  • The best pot size for growing herbs is 12 inches across with the same proportionate depth. This size of the pot can contain enough soil to hold moisture for the herbs to grow and has the capacity for enough soil to ensure the roots of the herb are insulated from the cold.
  • Always grow herbs in pots with drainage holes in the base to allow excess water to escape after watering and prevent saturated soil, which promotes the conditions for root rot.
  • Use a layer of gravel to prevent drainage holes from becoming blocked and prevent water from escaping. This ensures good drainage to prevent herbs from drying from root rot and fungal disease.

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