The Best Herbs to Grow in a Patio Garden

Updated: May 15, 2024

You don't need a lot of space to grow herbs. In fact, herbs are easy to grow and great candidates for container gardening. If you can, try to place your herbs in a spot where they'll receive about eight hours of sun each day. Here are some of the best herbs to grow on your deck, balcony or patio.

Woman picking lemon balm leaves from organic herb gardenZbynek Pospisil/Getty Images

All these herbs for your patio garden are relatively easy to grow and care for. Just remember not to harvest more than ⅓ of a plant at any time. Allow time for the plant to grow back a bit. Occasional single-leaf harvesting can be done anytime, so grab a leaf or two of sage or a sprig of thyme to cook with!

-Kevin Espiritu and Lorin Nielsen

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herbs to grow cilantro
Olga Miltsova/Shutterstock

Cilantro

While most people consider it an addition to summer salads or straight-off-the-grill tacos, cilantro is not a heat-loving plant. So when adding it to your list of herbs for a patio garden, keep that in mind. It likes consistently damp soil, so be sure your growing medium retains some moisture without turning to mud.
-Kevin Espiritu and Lorin Nielsen
  • Cilantro is an annual herb that tolerates light shade but will do well in sunny locations.
  • In the Midwest and northern latitudes, plant transplants or sow seed directly into pots or garden beds ½ inch deep when soil temperature is 55°–68°F. Successive plantings can be made every three weeks until the soil warms above 70°F.
  • Keep soil evenly moist.
  • In southern tier states and mild climates, cilantro is best sown in fall after ambient temperatures fall below 85°F and soil temperatures are below 68°F.
  • Protect the herb from freezing in order to harvest it all winter long.

-Pam Perry

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Basil
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Basil

Basil is one of the most popular herbs for a patio garden because it goes well with so many other foods in dishes. This herb does best in full sun with moist soil. When growing basil in a container, try a compact variety of basil, which can be found at most garden centers. Harvest the leaves from the top down. You can cut the stalk back to about a third of the total height. You don’t need to refrigerate basil, instead, keep it in a little water to maintain flavor.

  • Basil is a warm season tropical annual plant.
  • Plant transplants when danger of frost is past in average garden soil or pots. After the last frost date when soil temperature is 65°–85°F, sow seeds outside, spacing seed widely.
  • Thin plants as they grow, allowing 15-18 inches between plants.
  • Basil prefers full sun; the red leaf varieties are more forgiving of shade.
  • Keep soil evenly moist.
  • Basil is frost sensitive.
  • A vigorous plant, basil will begin to flower as days get longer; remove flowers to maintain the flavor of the younger plant. If left, they are edible, and will attract pollinators and beneficial insects.
  • Spacing plants well apart in humid climates allows for air circulation and helps deter bacterial and fungal  challenges.

-Pam Perry

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fresh mint
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Mint

Mint likes similar conditions to chives and basil, but it’s notorious for taking over gardens and turning them into mint-filled jungles. Due to this aggressive growing habit, it’s best to grow mint in its own container. Be sure to harvest the mint regularly to keep it productive, and prune back any stems that droop over the edge of the container to prevent them from taking root in the soil below.

-Kevin Espiritu and Lorin Nielsen

  • Mints are vigorous perennial plants that thrive in USDA zones 4-10.
  • Mint will tolerate light shade or full sun and successfully managed  in a container.
  • Containers should have good drainage and be able to hold about 2 cubic feet of soil for success. Keep soil evenly moist.
  • Plant transplants in early spring, in regular container garden soil.
  • Mint  is perennial and will go winter dormant. Keep evenly moist but do  not overwater dormant plants! Terra cotta or other porous containers may need protection from freezing in cold climates.
  • Lift and divide mint  in containers every couple of years, renewing soil and managing the tendency to get root bound.
  • Harvest mint in 6-9-inch-tall sprigs. Use fresh, freeze, or dry  for future use. Do not let the mint crawl out of the planter and escape, keep harvesting!
  • When mint flowers, cut them off to promote new growth.

-Pam Perry

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chives
Visharo/Shutterstock

Chives

Chives are a great plant for container gardens, especially if they have well-drained soil and a lot of sun. When you’re ready to harvest, use scissors to cut the stalks near the soil. If you live in zones 3-10, you can leave chives outside year-round.

  • Chives are a perennial species of flowering plant that are closely related to onions and garlic.
  • They grow in full fun to light shade.
  • Chives thrive in USDA zones 3-9.
  • They tolerate poor soil and little water.
  • They are ideal container plants and can even be grown indoors.
  • Plant from transplants in early spring, or from seed when soils are  60°–70°F,  according to package directions.
  • They will be winter dormant in cooler areas; do not overwater dormant plants.

-Pam Perry

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Oregano
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Oregano

Oregano likes full sun, well-drained soil and is a good herbs for patio garden since it won’t spread too much. The flavor of oregano intensifies the more sun it gets. Harvest the leaves as you need them. Oregano will thrive late into summer in a pot, and you can freeze the leaves to use during the winter months.

  • Oregano will grow in zones 5 with protection and well drained soils to zone 10.
  • It needs full sun, moderate water and excellent drainage. If overwatered, it can rot.
  • It can be container grown with a fast-draining soil and is considered a low growing ground cover in the landscape.
  • Oregano thrives in full sun but will tolerate very light shade.
  • In temperate zones plant in spring or early summer. In the desert southwest oregano can be fall planted.

-Pam Perry

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rosemary
Ari N/Shutterstock

Rosemary

Thyme, rosemary, sage, tarragon, and oregano are all plants that like good drainage in their soil. These five are an excellent combination to group in a wine barrel or other large container when they’re young. While it grows slowly, the rosemary can eventually overtake the other plants in growth, so keep it well-pruned so the other plants don’t get crowded out. If you miss an occasional watering, these will be okay, and their leaves will be more potent and flavorful the next day. Some people deliberately skip watering the day before a harvest and water just after harvesting instead.

-Kevin Espiritu and Lorin Nielsen

  • Rosemary is perennial in USDA zones 6-10.
  • It makes a great container plant to keep inside for the winter in colder climates; just be sure to choose a rosemary variety that grows to smaller size.
  • Use a mineral based, fast draining soil in containers with good drainage.
  • Grow rosemary in a south/southwest location in a zone 6 or 7 landscape, in well-drained soil.
  • Protect it from unexpected cold snaps.
  • In warmer climates it is a useful landscape plant.
  • Rosemary tolerates hot, full sun; reflected heat; poor, but well drained soils and low water.
  • Varieties of rosemary can grow to 12 feet or slowly creep as a ground cover.

-Pam Perry

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terragon
MARGRIT HIRSCH/Shutterstock

Tarragon

Tarragon can be grown in both partial shade and full sun, so try including it on your list of herbs for a patio garden. This herb grows best with a well-draining potting mix soil and it tolerates drought well, so be sure not to give it too much water. Harvest tarragon regularly and you can cut the leaves off as you need them. It can be dried and frozen, but the herb tends to lose some of its flavor when dried.

  • Tarragon is hardy in zone 4 and grows in zone 9.
  • It is a spreading plant, so a container is a great way to keep it mannerly in a small space. Containers in cold climates should be protected from extreme cold. If they are porous, they should be kept dry, in a garden shed or garage to prevent breakage.
  • Plants appear in  the garden centers in spring when they have broken dormancy. Planting them as soon as they are available allows them to become well established before winter comes and they go dormant. 
  • It tolerates full sun or very light shade, does not require heavy irrigation,  or much fertilizer, but prefers well drained soil.

-Pam Perry

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thyme
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Thyme

Thyme is an herb that grows best in a planter with full sun in soil that drains well. It also comes in several varieties, including lemon thyme that pairs well with grilled chicken, fish and vegetables. Thyme is best when harvested just before the plant blooms. Cut at the stem, then strip the leaves from the stem and discard the stem.

  • Thyme is one of the better herbs for patio garden, as long as it’s in a fast-draining soil mix.
  • Thyme prefers full sun and cannot abide wet feet in a pot or in the garden. It is easy to over water thyme, especially when the humidity is high.
  • Shearing the plant after blooming initiates new growth of leaves to harvest as well as keeping the plant from getting too woody.
  • Thyme grows well in zones 6-10 and with protection in zone 5.
  • Transplants planted in spring will become established enough for harvesting the first season.

-Pam Perry

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sage
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Sage

Since sage doesn’t spread too much, it’s a good choice for a smaller container or on a tiered plant stand when you’re deciding on herbs for your patio garden. You can pinch the leaves off individually for harvest or cut at the stem.

  • Sage is a perennial Mediterranean herb that requires excellent drainage, tolerates poor soils and full sun, making it deceptively easy to grow.
  • In hotter regions and sunny southwestern locations, it can tolerate afternoon shade.
  • In zone 5, planting near a sun drenched wall and mulching well will help it through the winter.
  • Plant transplants in spring or early summer, then harvest lightly the first year.
  • Do not overwater; if it rains frequently, make sure it is in a well-drained location, where it will not get soggy roots.

-Pam Perry

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Parsley
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Parsley

Like cilantro, parsley does not do well in the heat. You’ll want to place it so that it can enjoy the morning sun but hide in the shade as the day wears on. People in particularly arid or hot environments may want to grow it in the spring and fall instead of in the heat of the summer. Those in frost-free locations can grow it all winter, too!
-Kevin Espiritu and Lorin Nielsen
  • Should parsley  survive winter, it will send up a flower stalk the second spring. In southwest regions zone 8-10, this process may happen more quickly and fall planted parsley can bloom in May.
  • A cool season grower, plant parsley transplants after threat of frost, and seeds when soils are 60-70°F.
  • Classically parsley seeds take 3 weeks to germinate. Sometimes soaking them for 12-24 hours will speed the process. Fresh seeds germinate more quickly. Follow spacing directions on the package.
  • Parsley likes well amended garden soil and benefits from regular watering. If rains are not frequent, hand watering will encourage good growth for a bountiful harvest.
  • One parsley will live happily in a 12-inch pot. If you use a lot of parsley, plant accordingly. Many of the nursery grown transplants available to consumer have several seedlings crammed into one pot. These can be carefully separated and transplanted. If not, harvest several soon after planting to thin them out and allow room for the remainder to grow without crowding and competition.

-Pam Perry

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About the Experts

Kevin Espiritu 

Kevin Espiritu is an Urban Gardening Expert for Epic Gardening.

Lorin Nielsen

Lorin Nielsen is the Head Horticulturist, Senior Botanical Editor and Content Strategist for Epic Gardening.

Pam Perry

Pam Perry is a Master Gardener for Maricopa County; she has over two decades of experience.