Here’s what I love about Herb: He’s easy going, he makes my container garden extra useful, he spices things up in the kitchen, and he smells really good.

Contained herbs

Keeping a cluster of herb-filled pots by the back door makes it easy for cooking gardeners to step outside and quickly snip off whatever’s needed.

Photo Credit: Jenny Hooks

Parsley

Small pots filled with herbs make “scent-sational,” functional centerpieces for outdoor tables, too.

Photo Credit: Jessie Keith

Basil

With the right amount of water, sunlight and plant food, this contained basil plant (continually harvested) has flourished in a matter of weeks.

Photo Credit: Jenny Hooks

Lemon Thyme

You can show your fish, poultry and vegetables a good thyme with this wonderfully fragrant contained herb.

Photo Credit: Mark Kane

If you like the idea of growing your own food but worry that you don’t have the space, time or a green-enough thumb to do it, start with growing herbs in containers. These easy-to-grow plants can give you a boost of confidence in the garden, as well as in the kitchen. Even if you’re already an active garden enthusiast, plant a few herbs in a container by your back door and savor the flavor of a different kind of growing success!

The first food I ever grew in my garden was basil. It was easy, it was delicious, and it was my gateway plant into the world of vegetable gardening. Today basil remains one of the first to go into my family’s kitchen garden each spring, and it’s a harvesting favorite for my kids.

Growing herbs in containers is as easy as filling a planter with potting soil (then adding plants, water, sunlight and an occasional fertilizer feeding). It’s best to pot up these flavorful plants at the start of the growing season to get the most out of them, but the herbal planting window never really closes. You can still buy starter plants at the garden center in the middle of the season and enjoy a tasteful homegrown harvest for far less money than what it would cost to buy fresh herbs at the grocery store. You can even grow herbs indoors for year-round fresh flavor. And since most common herbs, like oregano and parsley, are grown for their tasty leaves, you can start harvesting from your contained herb garden almost immediately.

If you’re still a little nervous and aren’t sure where or how to start an herb garden, here’s the quick, basic lesson: Start with herbs that you like to eat, then pick a container to grow them in and plant them. Ta-da! You’re on your way! (I told you this was easy.)

You don’t need a special type of container to grow herbs. If it’s clean and has drainage holes at the bottom, you should be good to grow. (If you have an old pot in the garage or shed that used to be the home of a sick or diseased plant, thoroughly wash it before using it again.) To plant, simply dig a little hole in your container’s potting soil about the same size as the little vessel your plant came in and remove the plant from its plastic cell. If your herbs were sold in a soft, biodegradable (plantable) pot, snip off the plastic label from around the pot and rip off the bottom of the container with your fingers to free the roots. You can then plant the entire pot in the soil. Plop your plant into its new home and gently compact the soil around it, creating a slight mound around the base of the plant.

When you’ve finished planting, “water in” your plants well. That means to keep adding water slowly to your contained herb garden until you see water coming out of the bottom of the pot. Place your container in a sunny spot, and enjoy!

What you plant, of course, depends on your needs and culinary tastes. There are countless ways to use fresh herbs, from making pesto and pasta sauces to adding a flavorful kick to potatoes and chicken. Stir some refreshing zing into beverages with a little mint, or do the salsa with homegrown cilantro. You can even use some herbs as insect repellents. The more herbs you grow in the garden, the more likely you are to experiment with them in your cooking (and repellent) adventures, so don’t be shy!

Harvesting herbs is as simple as walking out the back door, too: Pick or snip off the leaves or flowers (depending on what herb you’re growing) on an as-you-need basis. If you discover that you don’t use your herbs regularly, keep on harvesting and share the bounty to keep your plants productive. Herbs grown for their leaves will give you a shorter tasty season if they’re allowed to flower. Continually pinching off flower buds will keep those herbs growing their best!

I fertilize my contained herbs every 7-10 days with a liquid plant food labeled for use on edibles. (Following label instructions, I mix the proper amount of liquid fertilizer with the recommended amount of water, then water my container garden as usual.) Our plants are so bountiful, I send an herbal harvest home with almost anyone who stops by for a visit – and I still have plenty of basil left over for a refreshing caprese salad and bruschetta. (Now if only my contained tomatoes would hurry it up and ripen on the vine already…)

Once you successfully grow a few container herbs, you’ll be hooked. Not only do these easy-to-grow plants make gardening – and cooking – fun, they spice up healthy eating habits while keeping your outdoor space attractive and your wallet filled with extra green. Give it a try and grow a garden in great taste!