Choosing the Best Pots for Herbs (With Examples)


Choosing the best pots for herbs

Herbs are adaptable and can grow in any pot as long as it is large enough and contains drainage holes in the base. However, some types of pots are better for growing herbs then others…

Ceramic and terracotta pots are the best pots for growing herbs. Ceramic and terracotta pots that are 12 inches across, do not dry out as quick 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

Herbs come in a variety of shapes and sizes with annuals such as dill and chives typically staying smaller and compact where as 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 the best pot size for growing herbs is a pot that measures 12-16 inches across with a similar proportional depth which is appropriate for all types of herbs.

This is because the pot size should be a large enough size to have the capacity for soil which hold 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.

If the pot is too small the herbs roots are more susceptible to cold or frost damage in Winter.

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 which 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.
Basil planting wilting because the pot is too small and made of thin black plastic causing it to dry out quickly.

Pots, also raise the root system of herbs out of the ground which can leaves 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.

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

Best Potting Material for Growing Herbs

Herbs can grow in pots made of any material but there are some types of pots that are far more favorable for growing herbs then others.

I have personally seen herbs grow well in metal, wood, plastic, terracotta and ceramic style pots.

However metal pots and to some extent plastic (particularly if the plastic is dark in color) tend to heat up more quickly in the sun and absorb all the heat.

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 herbs that originate in the Mediterranean region of Europe which are adapted to dryer soil can still suffer drought or heat stress if 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.

Wooden pots are good for the leafy herbs such as basil, cilantro, mint and dill as they all require moist soil and wood retains moisture better then other types of pot (drainage holes in the base are still important), however wooden pots do not suit the Mediterrneean herbs such as lavender, rosemary, thyme, sage and oreagno as these herbs prefer dryer soil conditions.

Wooden pots can 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 the ceramic or terracotta style pots. These pots are far more hard wearing to the elements then metal or wood and resist weather better.

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

The ceramic or terracotta pots tend to be a lot thicker then metal and plastic pots or planters. This means they will not dry out as quick in the summer and will resist frost a bit better in the Winter to protect the herbs 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 then ceramic and terracotta pots can be significantly heavier then metal or plastic pots.

There are some perennial herbs such as Lavender and Rosemary which are not cold hardy which 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).

Good Drainage in the Base of the Pot

The most important feature of a pot for any herb plant is that the pot has drainage holes in the base. Without drainage holes in the base of the pot water just collects at the bottom which saturates the soil and results in 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 from compacted soil or anything else that may block water from flowing freely from the base of the pot.

Add a 1 inch layer of gravel or stones to the bottom of the pot of form a structure that ensures excess water is allowed to flow freely out the base of the pot without being obstructed.

If you are in a climate of high rainfall then another sensible precaution is to place the pot on ornamental feet or little stands to elevate the pot off the ground so that water can escape easily and does not pool at the bottom of the pot, to ensure the soil can dry out between bouts of watering (which is important if you are growing the 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 a 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 then the soil is too damp which promotes the conditions for root rot which can kill your herbs.

(Read my article how to revive dying herbs).

Key Takeaways:

  • The best pot for growing herbs are ceramic and terracotta pots that are at least 12 inches across. Ceramic and terracotta pots resist weather better then 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 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 to prevent saturated soil which promotes the conditions for root rot.
  • Use a layer of gravel to prevent drainage holes becoming blocked and preventing water from escaping. This ensures good drainage to prevent herbs drying from root rot and fungal disease.

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