Joann Hayes Anderson

Joann Hayes Anderson

Many herbs are easy plants to love. Maybe this is because they are inexpensive and easy to grow. Some of them respond well to living in containers if their needs are met.

Through the ages, herbs have been valuable for food, medicine and a multitude of uses. Herbs cover a huge range of botanical families. However, a useful plant to one person may be a noxious weed to another. Think dandelions, chickweed, and wild onions.

Botanists speak the same language, and the botanical name of a plant is usually Latin. This is a universal tool to be used as a gardening aid. Unfortunately, most of us don’t speak Latin. So, it’s easy to make a plant purchase and be disappointed when common names are used instead of botanical ones. I have made this mistake a few times. The good news is, many herbs are widely known by their common names.

A large pot of mixed herbs can be beautiful, but I have better luck by growing some of them just one plant per pot. This way, I can try to meet the watering, sunlight, air-movement, and nutrient needs of each herb. Also, it’s difficult to move huge pots. The traditional, unglazed, clay pots are my favorites, but any containers can be used. Good drainage is essential, and clay pots easily allow for that.

Of course, basil is one of the easiest herbs to grow in containers. Almost any kind of container. Not only are the plants pretty, pots of basil at the door help keep the flies and mosquitoes away. Basil is an annual, easily grown from seed, and the number one ingredient in pesto.

If tomatoes are grown, basil is a good companion plant. There are many varieties of basil, and they often reseed - providing free plants at about the time we transplant tomatoes.

Lavender seems to have difficulty surviving in-ground for me even when I add crushed limestone to the planting area and place the plants on a mound, what I refer to as “high”. Clay pots have given my lavender plants a better chance of surviving winters. Having the edible flowering spikes is rewarding, and the foliage is also useful in cooking.

I find “Munstead” to be the hardiest variety. Mosquitoes don’t like the aroma of lavender, so it’s a good plant to keep near sunny, outdoor seating areas. Another reason to grow it in containers that can be easily moved.

Rosemary, “Arp” can be successfully grown for several years in a container, or in-ground, if it’s protected in winter. I have better success over-wintering Rosemary officinalis and varieties, other than “Arp,” when I grow them in protected pots.

Rosemary, like lavender, needs good drainage, especially in winter. Both are sub-shrubs and must be pruned sparingly to prevent killing the plants. “Sparingly” is a good word to use when fertilizing edible herbs. Their taste is better when the soil is on the “lean side.”

Mint is hated by ants. Either place it in-ground where ants are a problem, or place pots of mint nearby. Many varieties of mint are available, and they will mix well with other plants in containers. Peppermint can grow tall, but most varieties will be trailing plants. Mint can be very aggressive if the conditions allow.

Basil, lavender, rosemary, and mint are only four of the many useful herbs that can bring pleasure and beauty to spots where container gardening is appropriate.

Happy Gardening.

Gardening Partners is a non-profit founded in 2003 to serve Dickson County with gardening education and advice.  Readers may submit gardening questions by email:, on the website:, or by mail:  PO Box 471 Dickson TN 37056

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