Best Soil For Herbs In Containers: Essential Tips

Best Soil For Herbs In Containers: Essential Tips

There’s nothing better than growing your own fresh herbs. Whether you have an outdoor herb garden or you prefer to grow your culinary herbs in containers, giving them the right conditions is important for optimum growth. So, what is the best soil for herbs in containers?

Many gardeners prefer to grow herbs in containers because it’s both easy and convenient. This ensures that people in all climatic zones can successfully grow herbs and are not limited by the outdoor growing season. Both annual and perennial herbs can be grown outside on a sunny balcony or patio or even indoors on a sunny windowsill.

However, when growing your herbs in pots or containers, you need to ensure that you use premium high-quality well-drained soil. This ensures your plants can continue to thrive and grow to give you a bountiful harvest and provides their root system with the right growing environment.

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Basic Information About Potting Soils

terra cotta pot with potting soil spilling out and a variety of potted plants in the background

There is an immensely diverse range of potting soils or potting mixes that you can choose from when it comes to growing in containers.

Just remember that you never want to use ordinary garden soil when growing herbs in container gardens.

Potting Soil vs Potting Mix: Is There A Difference

Many gardeners, including myself, tend to use both these terms interchangeably to talk about the type of soil used for container gardening.

However, there is essentially a slight difference between the two.

What Is Potting Soil?

The term potting soil is used for growing mediums that are primarily made from organic materials including compost, and often includes added fertilizer. Years ago, it was also common to add peat moss to these mediums but, hopefully, this practice has been stopped.

Why, you might ask? Although peat moss is an excellent ingredient for potting soil, it is harvested naturally from peat bogs. However, all of this harvesting has significantly depleted these naturally occurring bogs causing them to dry up and destroying the ecosystems that they support.

You see, peat bogs take thousands of years to form and once they dry up, they’re lost forever.

photo of a natural peat bog

Important fact: Peat bogs are highly important ecosystems that help keep the environment and the planet clean. These bogs commonly store large amounts of carbon. When they are allowed to dry out, carbon dioxide is released into the atmosphere. And, as we all now know, this is a major contributing factor to climate change. That’s why it’s so important to protect these vital peatlands as much as possible.

Is there an alternative? I’m glad you asked because there is. Once savvy and informed manufacturers and horticultural experts realized the damage that was being caused to the naturally occurring peat bogs, they set out to find an alternative.

This has resulted in the now more common use of coco coir. This is a byproduct of the coconut industry and a resource that is bountiful and won’t ever run out. It also has most of the excellent features that made peat so popular.

What Is Potting Mix?

Potting mix, on the other hand, is a term most often used to describe a lighter medium that is made up primarily of coco coir, perlite and vermiculite. This results in a very light mix that is very free-draining and gives the best results for all types of herbs and plants grown in containers and hanging baskets.

So, while potting soil is slightly denser and contains additional nutrients, potting mix is light and fluffy and has perfect drainage.

Should You Choose Potting Soil Or Potting Mix For Your Indoor Herb Garden?

a selection of different herbs growing in different pots

Whether you select potting soil or potting mix for your container-grown herbs will depend on the type of herbs that you’re growing.

You see, just like other edible plants, different herbs like different conditions.

For example, Mediterranean herbs such as rosemary, thyme, and oregano like a slightly drier environment than moisture-loving herbs such as basil and mint. This means that it’s important that any excess water can drain away freely. This is also why you should always use pots that have adequate drainage holes.

While you could safely use potting mix for Mediterranean-type herbs, you would want to select a more moisture-retentive potting soil for basil and mint.

However, it won’t often be apparent from the names on the potting medium packs to determine which type of medium it is. For this reason, you have to look a little closer at the ingredients stated on the backs of the packs.

This is essentially how I tell a premium and high-quality mix or soil from just a budget one. 

Remember that you want to select the best quality growing medium that you can afford to ensure your herbs thrive and grow.

Using a quality mix in the beginning also means that you won’t have to repot your herbs too often.

To explain this a little better, let’s have a look at some popular products and dissect their ingredients.

Dr. Earth Gold Premium Potting Soil

Dr. Earth Gold Premium Potting Soil

This product is labeled as “potting soil”. The list of ingredients on the back of the pack includes:

  • Aged fir bark
  • Fir bark
  • Perlite
  • Sphagnum peat moss
  • Composted green waste
  • Sawdust
  • Alfalfa meal
  • Fishbone meal
  • Bone meal
  • Feather meal
  • Kelp meal
  • Ecto & endo mycorrhizae (mushroom fungi)
  • Beneficial soil microbes
  • Dolomite lime (to raise the pH level)
  • Wetting agent

As you can see, this medium does contain a fair amount of organic matter so it will be high in nutrients. It also contains fir bark and perlite which will help in drainage. 

However, my main concern with this product is that it contains sphagnum peat moss which is still a product that is harvested from peat bogs. Although, it is only the top layer of moss and not the decomposed and compressed layer of the actual peat moss.

Personally, as a sustainable and environmentally-conscious gardener, although this is a popular product, I would continue to shop around for something that’s a little better and that doesn’t contain any type of peat moss.

So, let’s look at another example.

Back To The Roots All-Purpose Potting Mix

Back To The Roots All-Purpose Potting Mix

I had to look through quite a few different mediums until I came across this one which is peat free – it even says so on the pack. Here’s a list of the ingredients as listed on the pack:

  • Aged processed forest products
  • Coconut coir
  • Dolomite limestone to regulate the pH level of the mix
  • Fertilizer
  • Worm castings (excellent for plant growth)
  • Mycorrhizae
  • Yucca extract which is a wetting agent

All of these ingredients sound perfect for optimum plant growth. The forest products would be full of nutrients and would help the mix to drain relatively well while the other ingredients would also help with excellent nutrition for your herbs.

However, if I was using this mix to grow Mediterranean-type herbs, I would probably be inclined to add a bit of perlite or some coarse sand to make the drainage even better.

Overall though, I think this is a great potting mix that you can use for growing your herbs.

Here’s another good choice I came across.

Compressed Organic Potting Soil by Organic Plant Magic

Compressed Organic Potting Soil by Organic Plant Magic

Once again, this product is completely peat free and is only made from a small number of ingredients. These include:

  • Coconut coir
  • Worm castings
  • Fertilizer (bone meal, feather meal, fish meal, soy protein, rock phosphate, kelp)

It’s a slightly different product as it comes compressed and you have to soak it in water to hydrate it and turn it into potting mix. 

I like the fact that this is an organic product and can easily be amended slightly by adding some perlite to provide good drainage.

It’s also quite handy because it’s lightweight and the 2 pounds of compressed product will make up to 3 gallons of potting mix. This is definitely a product I would recommend for growing outdoor and indoor herb plants.

Essential Tips For Choosing The Best Potting Soil For Herbs In Containers

  • Always read the label so that you understand what’s in the medium
  • Avoid products that contain peat if you possibly can
  • You can improve the drainage of the medium by adding some perlite
  • Buy good soil that also contains essential nutrients
  • Indoor plants, especially indoor herbs, need plenty of indirect light to grow well

Frequently Asked Questions

Are herbs annuals or perennials?

This depends on the type of herbs you’re growing and your climatic zone. Herbs such as rosemary, oregano, thyme and chives are regarded as perennials herbs and can be grown all year round in many climatic zones. However, herbs such as dill, parsley, and basil are regarded as annual herbs because they complete their entire life cycle, from seed to seed setting in one season. It’s a good idea to replant these on an annual basis even when they’re grown as container plants.

Do herbs need full sun?

Many perennial herbs such as rosemary, oregano, lemon balm and thyme prefer to grow in full sun. However, tender herbs such as basil, benefit from some partial shade in the afternoon.

Final Thoughts

Growing herbs in containers is a fantastic way to always have fresh herbs available for the culinary delights that you like to make in your kitchen.

However, to keep your herbs growing and thriving, you need to ensure that you use the best soil for these plants, whether you’re growing them indoors or out on your patio.

Choosing a premium potting mix will ensure that your herbs will continue to thrive and you’ll be able to harvest them continuously throughout the year.

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