It’s always worth having a supply of fresh herbs on your windowsill or in your garden. The flavours they give to food are heavenly and they add a touch of summer freshness to whatever dish you’re cooking.
Cut herbs, such as basil, chives, coriander or parsley, bought from the supermarket tend to quickly wilt and die.
We will show you how you can ensure a good supply that will last a reasonable time and will give you a regular harvest of herbs for any dish you decide to cook.
In this guide we will tell you the best herbs to grow indoors and how to grow the popular varieties in your garden.
To ensure you get the best advice we grew basil, chives, parsley and coriander at our trial gardens using three different methods. We grew each herb from seed, we kept ready-grown herb plants from supermarkets as they were, and we also split densely-sown supermarket plants into smaller clumps and repotted them at the start of the trial.
Best method: split plants from the supermarket
Supermarket herbs are essentially sold as lots of young plants in a single pot. Because there are so many crammed in together, they don’t have room to develop and compete with each other for water and nutrients. When we split the supermarket-grown basil and chive plants, we incorporated a with a Best Buy compost for containers. These repotted herbs bulked out substantially and gave a much more consistent yield over the course of the trial. In just ten days, the split plants were doing better than the untouched supermarket plants, which were already showing signs of nutrient stress.
How to grow them
Best method: grow from seed
If you don’t mind waiting a little while for your herbs, it’s well worth growing parsley and coriander from seed instead. We sowed our herbs in late July and by the end of August they really started producing well. By the end of our trial, the seed-grown plants were very lush and healthy and were growing strongly.
How to grow them
Coriander took ten days to germinate and parsley took almost three weeks – it’s notoriously erratic. Once the seeds come up, they may need thinning out to give them more space. If you do remove some seedlings, gently firm those that are left back into the soil. We grew about 30-50 seedlings per pot, which is about the same number of plants as in a supermarket-bought pot.
In August 2014, we asked 4,414 members of our Which? Connect online panel to tell us about the herbs they grow and how they use them. A massive 4,332 members (98% of those who grow herbs) do it to use them in cooking. They grow 10 different culinary herbs in the garden, on average.
Having fresh, home-grown herbs at hand is every keen cook’s dream, and herb planters appeal as a way to have lots of different ones in a relatively small space.
There are certainly many planters to choose from: pots; bags; wall hangers; tables and wheels. They need to be able to cope with a variety of herbs, such as mint that likes to spread, and herbs that like different soil conditions, as well as looking good throughout the season.
Although some planters are cheap, many are expensive, so Which? Gardening tested different herb planters find out which ones are worth buying.
Best Buy herb planter
Where to buy
This recycled-plastic planter consists of three joined pots, forming one planter, and comes with large moulded hooks to loop over a fence or balcony. We planted it up with a range of herbs, including sage, rosemary, basil and mint. Despite not holding a lot of compost, it remains damp for two or three days without watering, so will keep your plants healthy if you can’t water them every day. The herbs all kept a good shape and, surprisingly, the mint didn’t spread until the end of the season. The hanger comes in a range of colours, so you can match it to your planting scheme.
Certainly not the prettiest of herb planters, this is essentially a green plastic sack with eight slits to form pockets at the side for herbs, handles and drainage holes. However, it was very successful at keeping a range of herbs alive through a hot summer. The mint and sage grew particularly well as the bag kept the soil damp. Unfortunately, this meant that the thyme and rosemary struggled more as they prefer drier conditions. Overall, it was very robust, standing up through the winter with handles intact.
Some planters have only a small section for each herb and the compost in each will dry out swiftly in hot weather. We found the herb planter tables particularly poor for this as there was only around a litre of compost in each of the six sections that hold the herbs.
Different herbs prefer different degrees of dampness. Pocket planters are particularly prone to drying out at the top and remaining damp at the bottom. If you’re growing diverse herbs, having a planter with separate areas will allow you to provide each herb with optimum growing conditions.
Mint is a kitchen essential for many of us, but it is invasive while sage is also a bit of a thug. It’s better to keep these in separate pots as they don’t play nicely with the other herbs and will swamp them.
Where there is compost, there are weeds, so you’ll still need to pull the occasional weed out of your herb planter. Also, giving your herbs occasional liquid feed will help them keep going in a small amount of compost.