Herbs in general are some of the easiest plants to care for and the majority of them will thrive without any fussing from the gardener. I find that not only are rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, and mint easy keepers in the garden, but they’re also extremely container-friendly.
They’re happy to grow in just about anything that they’re tucked into including discarded colanders, hanging baskets, and even (literally) a kitchen sink. Just make sure they have plenty of soil, sun, and drainage (herbs don’t enjoy wet feet) and they’ll make themselves at home.
1. Rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is a handsome, evergreen perennial herb with fragrant, needle-type leaves. You’ll find rosemary comes in both trailing and upright varieties. Of course, the scents and flavors will vary, but all of them are well suited for culinary dishes. Rosemary plants have no problem hanging around outdoors all year in mild climates. But they’ll need winter protection from an overhang, cover, or perhaps even indoors in you’re below zone 8.
While it’s possible to start this woody perennial from seed, most people prefer to purchase it as a young start (baby plant) or from a cutting off of a mature specimen because the seeds can be difficult to germinate. Plant rosemary so that the plant’s center base (crown) sits just above the soil line in full sun and well-drained soil. Like all drought-tolerant plants, it needs to be established before you cut back on the water. While it doesn’t like a soggy home, it does prefer damp soil.
If it resides in a potted container, don’t let it become completely dry. This herb has a hard time bouncing back from bone dry soils especially in a container. Rosemary isn’t a hungry plant, so adding fertilizer isn’t necessary. I top dress the soil with a rich compost every once in a while instead.
2. Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Sage is another easy-going, perennial herb that adds texture and fragrance to the garden. It can grow from 1′ to 3′ tall, but it’s a simple task to keep it on the smaller side by harvesting leaves regularly. In order to prevent too much damage to the plant from harvesting, it’s leaves should be collected starting in the second year as opposed to the first. So, this is another herb that’s often purchased as a one year old start.
Like rosemary, the crown of the sage plant should be sitting just above the soil line to help prevent rotting. Sage is a serious sun-worshipper, but they have no problem living in light shade — especially if it’s in an area with particularly hot summers. It needs well-draining soil and regular watering until the plant becomes established.
After the plant has been situated for a few months, moderate watering is all that’s necessary. They also enjoy a few handfuls of compost during the year and you can also add several inches of it as a mulch to help them get through winter. Sage doesn’t grow new leaves on old wood, so feel free to trim those off in the late winter or early spring.
3. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme is one of the most unassuming and least demanding little fellows and actually thrives in poor oil and dry conditions. In fact, it’s the perfect herb for rocky areas of your yard or garden. Like all family members of the mint family, it’s richly scented and exceptional for bringing out the best in meats, stews, and soups.
Propagate thyme from seed in late winter; cuttings from mature plants; or as starts from the nursery. Full sun is the best place for them, however, in the hottest areas, they’re going to fare better with some light shade. Thyme acclimates to a wide variety soils, but won’t be truly happy without good drainage. Water them evenly for several weeks, and then go for space longer periods of time between waterings.
Depending on the variety, lavender, pink, or white flowers will show up in the summertime. Generally, you’ll keep those pinched back in order to encourage leaf production as a culinary seasoning. That said, I intentionally let a couple of my thyme plants flower away because these blossoms are completely irresistible to bees and other pollinators.
4. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano is another perennial herb that comes in several interesting varieties including ‘Aureum.’ Its golden spring leaves makes it one of my favorites. Keep your eyes open for the oregano with fuzzy and broader leaves; this is the spicy Italian or Greek variety Origanum vulgare hirtum.
Oregano can easily be started from seed, but if you have a specific flavor in mind, you’ll know what you’re getting if you purchase one or two as starts. Grown from seed, they should be planted indoors about 60 days before your last frost date. Sprinkle them over the top of the soil and lightly cover them with soil. If you or your neighbor has a mature oregano plant handy, take cuttings cuttings or divide the entire plant in the fall or spring with a shovel or spade.
Plant oregano in full sun or part shade in well-drained soil. Amend periodically by adding handfuls of organic matter or compost to the base of the plant. Although oregano will do just fine in poor soils, it will grow like crazy planted in a container loaded with loamy soil.
5. Mint (Mentha spp.)
I truly saved the easiest herb for last. But this is mostly because I wanted to offer fair warning at the same time. Growing mint is like falling off a log, but it’s also this quality that can be its downfall. And by “its” — I mean yours. It’s absolutely possible for mint to take over your entire garden, house, and neighborhood (this year).
Mint is also a perennial plant to say the least. I even hate to mention specific growing zones here because no one — living anywhere — can kill off mint. You don’t need to plant seeds, just take a few cuttings and toss them onto the ground (or the cement) and they will take root. Forever. It’s underground runners alone make mint a propagation ninja. It’s for this reason that I keep mine confined to containers exclusively.
Mint grows in full sun and shade; rich soil and poor soil; on Earth and on mars (I’m kidding…kind of). I like to divide my mature, container-planted mint in half in the spring. Then I replant one half into the original container and the other half in another pot to keep them from getting long and leggy.
What herbs do you find the easiest to grow?