Growing Herbs and Perennials in Pots

There is always something to look forward to in a well established, planned out garden.  Each season has it’s own charm, especially if you look ahead, and plant your garden with bloom time in mind. It is possible to have color, interest and bee food from early Spring into Fall.  And if you make the right plant choices, you can have an almost unending supply of healing foods and medicine from early spring until Fall and beyond.  Deadheading can extend the bloom of almost any flower or herb, except maybe violets, which bloom generously, but only once no matter how frequently you pick the flowers.

St John’s Wort just getting started

St. John’s Wort, for example, will re-bloom with abandon if the first and second crops of flowers are harvested promptly.  This is a great plant to have on hand, and fairly easy to start from seed.  Very pretty foliage and flower.  Incredibly healing when made into an infused oil for topical pain relief, or as an antiviral tincture.  Should not be taken internally with any prescription drug, however.  This plant is good to start in a pot, but grows much more generously (maybe too vigorously sometimes) in the garden.  Be prepared – it looks quite innocent the first season, but comes back much larger the second year.

Chocolate Mint loves growing in full sun in a clay pot.

I highly recommend that everyone invest in a peppermint or chocolate mint plant.  Yes, mints can grow wildly in the garden, so look for a location that is outside your organized garden and give it some room to spread out.  It’s also very easy to grow in a pot.  This particular chocolate mint started out as a 2″ pot in May or June, and this photo was taken in early August.  In some ways, it’s easier to harvest mint from a pot.  A great strategy is to harvest the top 3″ when it reaches 4″ tall.  Cutting mint back only encourages more new lush growth, so harvest early, and continue all summer long!  Eventually, mints will become root bound, sometimes the first season.  I have had them grow out the bottom of the pot and into the ground, or send a runner down the side of the pot and into adjacent pots or into the garden.  Be observant!  Chocolate mint elixir is my favorite digestive aid.  Mix 1 cup honey and 1 cup brandy in a jar.  Fill a second jar 2/3 full of fresh, chopped mint leaves and cover with the honey/brandy mixture.  Make sure to completely cover the herb with some room to spare.  Cap tightly and let steep for 14-28 days, strain, and keep on hand for any stomach ache or even as a digestive aid before a meal.  Take a dropperful for stomach upsets, or 10-20 drops before a meal.  It’s very healing and so comforting to an aching stomach.   Dry some chocolate mint and use it as a delicious tea during the Fall and Winter.   Or I often powder the dried leaves and mix with other greens and carob powder to make a super nourishing chocolate mint smoothie mix.

Another invaluable herb is Lemon Balm.  It also falls into the “somewhat aggressive plant” category, although it grows outward from the center, making a larger single plant each season instead of spreading out via underground runners in all directions the way mint often does.  This is another elixir that I always keep on hand.  It’s delicious to sip a tiny amount (1 Tbs) about an hour before bedtime.  And at the first sign of any viral infection, start taking 5-10 drops 3x a day until symptoms disappear and stay away for one week.  It’s a versatile herb.  Last fall, I infused it in olive oil, and then made it into a lip balm to banish or prevent cold sores.

The wildly medicinal Spilanthes loves growing in a pot

An easy way to use Lemon Balm and other herbs is by including the young leaves in all of your Spring salads. You can do this with almost any herb, including Prunella and Spilanthes, which are strong antibiotic herbs.  Eating the early leaves of these plants will give you a great energy boost, and later, combining these herbs with Echinacea flowers in a tincture makes an amazing, intense mouthwash that is very helpful for receding gums and sore throats.  Use daily as a mouthwash.  Take 5-10 drops 3x a day for bacterial or viral infections.  Spilanthes grows very well in a pot – actually seems to prefer it to my garden.  I have found this plant at Lowe’s being sold as an ornamental.  As long as it has the tag from Desert Canyon Farms, I know it has been organically grown.  Chewing on one of the flowers is a very interesting experience – tingly and numbing at the same time!

Valerian and a perennial marjoram growing happily in a deep pot

Many herbs are perfectly happy growing all summer in a large pot (16″ – 20″).  I’ve had great success with Chamomile, Mints, Spilanthes, Violets, Valerian, and Thyme.  Chamomile is so pretty in a pot, and grows nicely upright for easy harvest.  It does reseed, so be careful where you plant it, even in a pot.  I grew it in a pot on our raised patio, and now I have chamomile seedlings coming up all over the yard below the patio.  And that was after harvesting the flowers every day or every other day once it started blooming. It’s a very productive plant!  Honey infused with fresh chamomile flowers is so delightful to taste, and makes an excellent complexion cleanser.  Also makes an excellent canine remedy for the anxious dog.  Dried chamomile flowers that you harvest daily are infinitely more beautiful, more fragrant and much more flavorful than the chamomile tea you buy in the store.

I even have Honeyberry shrubs and a Schisandra vine growing in pots – looking perfectly happy and healthy!  All the herbs and berries I grow in pots are destined for our gardens, with the exception of Valerian – whose root I harvest in the Fall to make a fresh valerian tincture that is one of my favorite sleep aids.  It’s not obvious in the above photo, but that pot is at least 24″ deep.  It’s an urn-shaped resin pot that someone gave me.  Perfect for the deep roots of Valerian.  Fresh valerian tincture is infinitely more medicinal and effective than one made with the dried root.  And even though bad things have been said about the smell of valerian root, I find the fragrance of a freshly dug root to be quite wonderful and intoxicating.

Cherry Skullcap potted up with a Species Iris

Sometimes if I don’t have the garden space quite ready, but I know I want to grow a certain herb or  perennial, I buy the desired plant in a 2” pot and simply bump it up, often with other perennials that I am going to group together in the garden.  This is a great way to get to know the plant’s growth habits, enjoy it’s bloom cycle up close, and allow it to develop a nice healthy root system just in time for a fall planting.  I usually stick with larger pots, usually 14″ or larger, depending on the plant.  I used to plant a few annual pots, but knowing how toxic they can be to our pollinators, I am only planting perennials from organic mail order sources such as Horizon Herbs, or from my local organic nursery, Harlequin’s Gardens in Boulder, Colorado.  The below photo is from a couple years ago.

Ornamental Kale and Lobelia. Won’t be planting any annuals this year.

The type of soil I use is usually the organic potting mix from Lowe’s.  To that, I usually add some horse manure (from some friends who have horses), mushroom compost (from a local mushroom greenhouse), and a couple tablespoons of glacial rock dust per 16″ pot.  The plants are then watered in with some Age Old Grow organic fertilizer and some Mycorrhizal Fungi, all of which you can get at  For plants that love a well-drained soil, such as bee balm, lavender or onoethera, I will make the soil mix about 1/4 sand, and then mulch the surface with small rocks.

So there you have some of my best recommendations for successful growing and medicine making.  Many plants enjoy growing in pots, at least for a season, provided the soil provides all the necessary nutrients.  Feed with Age Old Grow throughout the growing season, don’t be afraid to harvest often, and make yourself some wonderful herbal medicine. Dry some mints, chamomile, lemon balm and marjoram for later use – you’ll be glad you did!

Blessings to you and your gardens,


Recommended reading:

Hartung, Tammi. Growing 101 Herbs That Heal: Gardening Techniques, Recipes, and Remedies. Pownal, VT: Storey, 2000. Print.

Hensel, Julius. Bread from Stones. A New and Rational System of Land Fertilization and Physical Regeneration. Philadelphia, PA: A.J. Tafel, 1894. Print.

“How Chemical Fertilizers Are Destroying Your Body, The Soil, and Your Food.” How Chemical Fertilizers Are Destroying Your Body, The Soil, and Your Food. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

Lisle, Harvey. The Enlivened Rock Powders. Metairie, LA: Acres U.S.A., 1994. Print.

Western Garden Book. Menlo Park, CA: Lane Pub., 1976. Print.

“Why We Don’t Sell Miracle-Gro – Organica: Garden Supply & Hydroponics.” Organica Garden Supply Hydroponics. N.p., n.d. Web. 11 Mar. 2015.

About Sarah Wadleigh

I am a Clinical Herbalist, Organic Gardener and Nutritional Consultant for people and companion animals. I live in Madrid, New Mexico with my wonderful husband, two little dogs and a big cat. My practice revolves around helping people create health through whole-food nutrition, nutritive herbs, lifestyle and self-awareness. With more than 20 years of experience as an animal nutritional counselor, I offer consultations to improve the health and well-being of our four-legged friends, as well as their humans. We can work together via Skype, in person,or over the phone. Let's create health for ourselves and our animal companions! Contact:
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.