Can You Grow Herbs In Shallow Soil? (Yes, You Can!)

small pots of herbs at the garden nursery

Growing fresh herbs in pots is a great place to start if you’re looking for an easy way to get into herb gardening. Since most herbs are small plants, they won’t take up a lot of space on your patio or balcony.

Even better, many herbs can thrive in relatively shallow soil, so you don’t need to invest in large or deep containers or pots.

Six inches of soil is plenty for many herbs such as basil, cilantro, or mint. Some herbs can grow in as little as four inches of soil, the standard size of a nursery seedling pot. Although these seedlings are meant to be transplanted to a larger pot or into the ground, they can thrive in smaller pots for the season with proper care.  

If you have a small window box, a set of windowsill planters, or just a random collection of unused pots in your garage, now is the time to break them out and set up your container garden.

Can you grow herbs in shallow soil?

Some herbs can grow in as little as four inches of soil, which is the pot size for most nursery seedlings. Most herbs will appreciate a little more soil, and six inches provides the ideal depth for the largest variety of plants.

2 inches4 inches6 inches10+ inches
most herb
seedlings
BasilBasilParsley
OreganoOreganoRosemary
CilantroCilantroLavender
ChivesChivesGinger
MintTurmeric
Marjoram
Sage
This table shows the soil depths needed to support the healthy growth of your container herb garden.

Are all herbs shallow-rooted?

Not all herbs are shallow-rooted, though many herbaceous herbs such as basil and cilantro can be. Herbs such as parsley have a long taproot, and rosemary can grow into a shrub with a deep root system. These herbs will need a deep container to accommodate their extensive roots.

Ginger and turmeric won’t grow well in shallow soil as they develop rhizomes underground. Rhizomes are like small bulbs or tubers, and it’s the part of the herb you harvested to eat.

Quick tips for growing potted herbs

Growing herbs in shallow pots isn’t very different than growing them in garden beds. You’ll need to keep a closer eye on the soil moisture, and the herbs will not get as large as they might in the ground, but other than that, the same basic rules apply. 

oval herb planter on deck
Even though this pot isn’t very deep, it will sustain these herbs all summer as long as they’re watered regularly.

Pot size

Choose the right pot. A pot that is too small will restrict the roots of your herb, and a pot that is too big will make it challenging to keep the soil moist. Pick a pot that is just big enough for the roots of your herb, with a little room to spare.

Make sure the pot has drainage holes. Herbs need well-drained soil, so make sure your pot has adequate drainage holes to allow excess water to escape.

Well-draining soil

Use light, well-draining soil. Potting soil too heavy will hold too much water and could lead to root rot. A light, well-draining soil will help ensure that your herbs get the moisture they need without being over-watered.

Tons of sun

Give your herb plenty of light. Most herbs need at least six hours of sunlight per day, so choose a spot in your home or garden that gets plenty of sunlight. A sunny windowsill is a perfect spot if you’re growing herbs indoors.

Water regularly

Herbs grown in pots will need to be watered more often than those grown in the ground, so check the soil regularly and water when necessary. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between watering to prevent root rot.

Harvest your herbs

Harvest frequently to encourage more growth. The more you cut herb plants, the more they will grow. Even if you don’t want to use the herb cuttings right then, you can keep the plant neat and compact with frequent trimmings. 

Don’t harvest more than 1/3 of the plant at a time. Remove any flowers as soon as they appear unless you want your herb plant to develop seeds. If the flowers remain on the herb plant, it will stop focusing on leaf growth and instead redirect its energy into flower growth. 

What herbs do well in shallow pots?

For these herbs, a little bit of soil goes a long way.

Chives

Chives are perennials that grow well in pots, even shallow ones. They have a mild flavor that is a cross between onion and garlic. Chive roots will spread over the season and outgrow the pot, so divide your plant every year or two to keep the size manageable. 

Basil

Basil is not picky about where it grows, so it will thrive in a shallow pot. It does not like to dry out, so keep the soil moist at all times. 

Cilantro

Cilantro thrives in shallow pots and a little afternoon shade. Move the pot out of the direct afternoon sun on particularly hot days to avoid having the plant bolt, or go to seed, due to the heat. 

Mint

Mint will grow well in partial shade, but it’s also thrilled to be in full sun. The fragrant plant is ideal for growing on a kitchen windowsill, where you can touch the leaves and release the plant’s fragrance while you cook. 

Camomile

Chamomile will be happy in a shallow container if it has a bottom drainage hole. This is a great herb to grow for homemade tea.

Thyme

Thyme is a very aromatic herb that thrives in dry soil. Don’t water this herb too often. It’s one of the most forgiving herbs in shallow soil, so it’s a great choice if your pot selection is limited.

Stevia

Stevia is a natural sweetener that’s great to use in tea. It’s a small herbaceous plant with shallow roots, and a growth habit similar to basil.  

Oregano

Oregano comes in a couple of different varieties, and the creeping type makes an attractive potted plant. Give the herb plenty of sunlight, and it will be happy in a shallow pot. 

 FAQ

What type of soil is best for herbs growing in shallow pots?

A standard potting mix is fine for most herbs. If your potting mix is too heavy, it will hold too much water, leading to root rot. A light, well-draining soil will help ensure that your herbs get the moisture they need without being over-watered.

Can I grow herbs indoors in shallow pots?

You can grow herbs indoors in shallow pots as long as they get enough sunlight. A sunny windowsill is a perfect spot for most herbs. If you notice the plants stretching toward the sunlight or looking pale and stringy, consider adding a supplemental light source or moving the pot outside.

What herbs can grow in two inches of soil?

Two inches of soil is enough for small seedlings of any herb. Nursery trays for seed starting are 1-2 inches deep, and with regular water and light fertilization, most herbs will do just fine.

As the herbs mature, only herbs with the most shallow root systems will be able to stay in the pot. Most will need to be transplanted to a deeper container at least four inches deep, though small basil and cilantro plants could stay in two inches of soil if the leaves are harvested regularly and the plant is kept small.

How deep should a planter be for herbs?

Ideally, an herb planter should be at least six inches deep to support the broadest range of herbs. With six inches of soil, the herbs will get all they need regarding root space, moisture, and nutrients for strong growth.

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