You don’t need a ton of acreage or a large family to make growing your own herbs worth your while. All you really need is a small container and some potting soil to get started on your own herb garden!
Along with not needing much space, most herbs are remarkably tolerant plants. Even those of us with zero gardening experience can successfully grow mint, parsley, and more either indoors or outside.
Any container that is an appropriate size and has drainage holes will work for growing herbs. However, selecting potting soil for herbs is a bit harder.
The right herb potting soil will provide the perfect support system for healthy growth now and in the future.
Whether you’re starting with a single herb plant or have an entire container garden under your care, check out the best potting soil for herbs below!
What Is Potting Soil? (It’s Not Just ‘Dirt’)
Soil is a super broad term encompassing everything from 100% sand or clay to lush topsoil filled with organic matter. When it comes to gardening, however, we want to focus on the specific types of soil that can support healthy, vigorous plant life!
While Mother Nature generously provides the soil for in-ground garden beds, we have to provide our own soil if we want to grow plants in containers. This is true whether those containers are located indoors or outside.
Potting soil (a.k.a. potting mix) is a specialized mixture of inorganic and organic ingredients. The ingredients within potting soil are curated to meet the needs of plants growing in containers. Some of these ingredients are found in natural soil while others are not.
Rest assured, this is not a marketing ploy to get you to spend hard-earned money on “dirt!” All container-grown plants — herbs or not — need to be planted in potting mix to stay healthy and grow to their full potential.
Why You Shouldn’t Use Regular Garden Soil In Place Of Potting Soil
One of the biggest mistakes beginner gardeners make is filling their containers with soil taken from their backyard or garden bed!
But why is that a problem?
Plants can grow amazingly well in pots and larger containers. However, the environment is not exactly the same as an in-ground bed, and attempting to cut corners by sourcing soil from your garden will likely end in disaster.
Garden Soil Retains Too Much Water
Perhaps the most significant difference between a pot and a garden bed is how water passes through the soil.
In a garden bed, there’s plenty of space for excess water to run off so it doesn’t drown the plant’s roots. That’s just not the case for plants grown in containers!
Potting soil is often formulated with perlite, vermiculite, and other additives that allow water to safely drain through and keep the soil from becoming compacted.
These ingredients can also be purchased separately to boost the drainage of an existing potting mix.
Garden Soil Contains Harmful Microbes
Soil found in nature is far more than a mixture of sand, clay, and decaying organic matter. It also includes a diverse ecosystem of fungi, bacteria, and invertebrates (like worms and ants).
In the case of regular garden soil, most of these creepy-crawlies are beneficial. They help break down organic matter, release essential nutrients into the soil, and keep not-so-beneficial organisms in check.
Unfortunately, this delicate ecosystem cannot be transferred into a small container. If you fill a pot with regular soil from the garden, it’s very likely that a few bad organisms will quickly take over.
A high-quality potting mix is treated to eliminate potentially harmful fungi, insects, and bacteria. So your herbs are less likely to fall victim to gnats or infectious diseases!
Do You Need Special Potting Soil To Grow Herbs?
Generally speaking, you don’t need a specialized potting mix to successfully grow popular herbs! Any all-purpose potting mix will do the job as long as it meets the needs of your chosen herbs.
Specialty potting soil is available for things like orchids, succulents and cacti, and seed germination. These formulas contain different ingredients than all-purpose potting soil and won’t produce great results when growing popular herbs.
How To Choose A Potting Soil For Herbs
Common garden herbs aren’t super picky about what type of soil they’re grown in. With that said, not all potting soils are created equal.
Choosing the best potting soil for herbs means taking into account your plants’ watering and nutritional needs. The ideal potting mix will meet these needs straight out of the bag!
It also comes down to personal preference. For example, do you want to use exclusively organic products for your indoor container plants? And do you can about the sustainability of your chosen potting soil?
Organic Vs. Non-Organic
Many home gardeners feel more comfortable using organic products to grow herbs and other edibles. But the difference between organic and non-organic potting soil might not be what you think!
Organic potting soil often contains ingredients like compost, manure, and worm castings. (In this context, “organic” refers to materials that are biodegradable.)
Many organic ingredients are rich in nutrients. Another benefit of an organic potting mix is the inclusion of beneficial microbes that can improve soil quality over time.
Not all organic soils are created equal. If you do use organic potting soil to plant your container herbs, be sure to opt for a formula certified by the USDA or a similar authority.
Meanwhile, non-organic potting mixes tend to feature ingredients like perlite, sand, and vermiculite.
Non-organic potting soil can be easily sterilized, has a neutral pH, and doesn’t contain any nutrients naturally. For this reason, large-scale greenhouses and hydroponics farms prefer nonorganic mixes.
Drainage and Water Retention
Well-draining soil is one of the most important factors in successful container gardening. The other is the presence of drainage holes in the container itself!
Drainage is especially crucial when growing herbs. Most herb varieties struggle when planted in waterlogged soil.
A well-draining potting mix is one that allows excess water to easily pass through rather than the pool at the soil’s surface or turn the soil into a sludgy mess.
Although adequate drainage is a must for any high-quality potting mix, there is such a thing as soil that dries out too quickly. This happens when the soil has little capacity to retain moisture.
If you grow potted herbs in full sun — the vast majority of garden herbs require at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day — you’ll probably notice that the soil dries out incredibly fast.
Common ingredients that improve drainage include perlite, compost, sand, and vermiculite. Soil that is high in organic matter tends to be best at retaining moisture.
It’s very common for potting soils to include fertilizer as an ingredient. Also, potting soil that contains a high amount of organic matter will naturally release nutrients over time.
Fertilizer mixed into potting soil will feed plants for several months immediately after planting — the exact duration depends on the formula.
For many annual herbs, this will be enough nutrition to get through the growing season! For long-season or perennial herbs, however, you will need to continue adding your own fertilizer after the original nutrients in the soil are consumed.
Note that adding liquid or granular fertilizer to a fresh potting mix that already contains fertilizer can cause root damage or kill off your plants.
Soil pH plays a big role in how easily plant roots can absorb certain nutrients.
According to the University of Minnesota, most garden herbs prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.5. However, it’s a good idea to look up the specific pH tolerances of the herbs you plan to grow.
Unless otherwise advertised, the majority of potting soils have a pH near neutral (7.0). Some formulas are designed to be slightly more acidic (with a lower pH) or more alkaline (with a higher pH) to meet the needs of specific plants.
If you care about sustainability in your gardening practices, it’s important to remember that an “organic” potting mix is not always the most eco-friendly option!
Peat moss is an incredibly popular ingredient in potting soil that has been used since the 1950s. But peat moss-based soil is not sustainable, and there’s a major push for soil manufacturers to quit using this ingredient altogether.
Many people (understandably) think that peat moss is just a type of moss. But it is actually decomposed plant and animal matter that is harvested from the bottom of peat bogs.
Because of the bogs’ unique conditions, it takes thousands of years for peat moss to form. Since peat moss is harvested significantly faster than it can form, it is considered a non-renewable resource.
There’s also concern about how harvesting peat moss damages the environment in which it forms. For example, research shows that peat moss harvesting (for use in soil and other applications) releases large amounts of carbon into the atmosphere.
Despite its benefits, peat moss certainly isn’t necessary to grow herbs in containers. So consider purchasing a potting mix created with more sustainable ingredients!
Best Potting Soil For Herbs
1. Burpee Natural & Organic Premium Potting Mix
- OMRI-listed for organic gardening
- Natural fertilizer feeds for 3 months
- Contains coconut coir for water retention
- Formulated without peat moss
- Organic ingredients may attract pests
Moisture retention is a super important factor in selecting the right soil, especially for container plants! This potting mix from Burpee is a great option for mint, parsley, and other popular herbs that thrive in consistently moist soil.
The coconut coir in this formula is what helps it retain water without getting bogged down. Your potted herbs will be able to go longer between waterings. But the soil will stay well-aerated.
With an N-P-K ratio of .12-.12-.12, the built-in fertilizer in this potting mix feeds for up to 3 months after planting.
This potting soil is approved for organic gardening by the Organic Materials Review Institute (OMRI). It’s appropriate for use in indoor and outdoor pots as well as raised garden beds.
Although Miracle-Gro is one of the most recognizable names in the gardening world, some of its formulas have a reputation for attracting gnats. However, this soil contains ingredients that are less likely to attract insects to your herb containers!
The key difference between Miracle-Gro’s Indoor Potting Mix and its standard Potting Mix is a lack of compost and bark. These are the ingredients most likely to harbor fungi and gnats.
Instead, this soil is made with a mixture of coconut coir, peat moss, perlite, and a supplemental fertilizer. The fertilizer can feed herbs for up to 6 months after planting.
If you’re looking for rich, organic-based potting soil for growing herbs indoors or outside, then FoxFarm’s Happy Frog formula is a lesser-known option definitely worth checking out.
This soil is rich in natural ingredients like worm castings, decayed plant matter, and guano. These materials all help retain moisture, aerate the soil around your plant’s roots, and release nutrients over time.
As part of its soil-boosting formula, this potting mix also includes humic acid and fungal mycorrhiza. These ingredients support root health and overall soil quality.
Although this potting mix meets the state of California’s standards for organic ingredients, it is not certified as organic at the U.S. federal level.
Some organic potting mixes are too heavy for more delicate herbs. However, this Black & Gold formula counteracts that problem by blending organic materials like compost and peat moss with inorganic ones like perlite and pumice.
The organic ingredients in this soil naturally provide some nutrition. It also includes a proprietary fertilizer called RESILIENCE. In total, this potting mix has a balanced N-P-K ratio of.6-.6-.6.
This potting mix for herbs is organic in every sense of the word. It’s been certified by the OMRI for organic gardening at home.
While this potting mix is a high-quality choice for indoor and outdoor containers, the cost to fill large containers with this soil might be prohibitive.
5. Espoma Organic Potting Mix
- Can be used indoors and outdoors
- Safe for use around people and pets
- Packaged in 25% bio-based plastic
- Fortified with beneficial fungi for root health
- Formulated with peat moss
Another great option for organic gardeners comes from Espoma. This potting mix combines rich organic matter with perlite for a formula that is both nutritious and lightweight.
Along with potting soil staples like peat moss, this mixture includes ingredients like alfalfa meal, kelp meal, feather meal, and worm castings. It’s also supplemented with a blend of mycorrhizae to support plant root health and nutrient uptake.
Although there is no additional fertilizer in this potting soil, the long list of natural ingredients provides a basic level of nutrition. With the exception of short-lived annual herbs, routine fertilizing will be necessary for indoor and outdoor containers.
Espoma products are registered as organic with the state of California. However, they don’t appear to be certified by OMRI or any other large review institutes.
At the end of the day, most garden herbs will fare just fine with all-purpose potting soil. But for the best results possible, we recommend Burpee Natural & Organic Premium Potting Mix.
With excellent water retention and natural fertilizer built-in, this potting soil is a versatile and sustainable option for all of your favorite herb plants. Even if sustainability isn’t your top priority, you won’t be missing anything by opting for this peat moss-free formula.
Although this potting mix is appropriate for all indoor and outdoor containers, some gardeners prefer to use it for outdoor herbs only. This is because the high concentration of organic material makes this potting soil super attractive to insects and other pests.