Tips for Growing Rosemary in Containers

Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus) is one of those herbs that grows all year long in the right conditions, which is good news for those of us who love using it as a seasoning in our favorite dishes.

The name “rosemary” is pretty in itself, but wait until you learn about its roots: “ros,” Latin for “dew,” and “marinus” for “sea” results in combination in the poetic moniker “dew of the sea.”

This name references the herb’s native growth habitat on rocky coastlines along the Mediterranean Sea.

A close up vertical image of large terra cotta pots growing large rosemary plants set on a patio with a lawn in the background. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white printed text.

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Luckily for us, this evergreen perennial in the mint family, Lamiaceae, grows splendidly in containers.

With its piney scented needle-like leaves and delicate flush of blue, purple, or pink flowers in the spring, it makes a fantastic addition to any container garden.

You can learn more about the history of this lovely herb and how to cultivate in your garden in our guide to growing rosemary.

In this guide, we’ll cover how to grow rosemary in containers.

Here’s the lineup:

Why Grow Rosemary in a Container?

Rosemary is best suited to cultivation in USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10, and if you live in Zones 5 and 6 you can even find a winter-hardy variety to grow outdoors year-round.

Otherwise, you have to grow the plant as an annual, watching your perfectly healthy and robust plant succumb to nature when the weather turns cold.

A horizontal image of a snowy landscape with evergreen rosemary growing in front of trees and shrubs.

Unless, that is, you’re growing it in a container and can simply move it indoors!

Since I live in Zone 4, that’s what I do with my dew of the sea. I like to set it on my front porch in the summer alongside my lavender. The two fragrant herbs provide a lovely backdrop whether I’m coming or going.

If you don’t have space in your garden, don’t have a large outdoor garden in the first place, or simply don’t have a yard at all, growing rosemary in containers is an excellent choice.

The herb is an ideal indoor plant for urban dwellers.

Choosing the Right Container

While S. rosmarinus is a sturdy, robust plant, you’ll want to choose a container that provides optimal growing conditions. For a young plant, select one that’s at least six to eight inches wide and deep.

As a rule of thumb, there should be at least an inch of space in between the sides of the container and the root ball.

Your container can be made of plastic, terra cotta, stone, vinyl, or whatever material you desire.

A close up horizontal image of a rectangular planter growing rosemary and thyme set on a gravel surface.

The most important thing is to make sure it has adequate drainage holes. Consider using a drainage dish if you’re keeping it on a porch or patio so that the water doesn’t drain out directly onto the surface and cause damage.

Rosemary starts losing vitality quickly when its roots sit in water, and when it becomes rootbound, it can’t absorb water and nutrients properly. A pot that drains well is a must.

Fill your chosen container with porous, well-draining potting soil. An organic cactus and succulent soil works well, or regular potting soil amended with one third perlite or builder’s sand.

How to Grow

This low maintenance herb is happiest in a full sun location, but part shade works too, particularly in hot climates.

If you live in a warm, humid area, you can put the container in a location that receives shade during the hottest parts of the day.

A close up horizontal image of a pot of rosemary set on a metal outdoor table with bushes and shrubs in soft focus in the background.

Depending on the size of your pot or planter, allow the top inch of soil to dry out between waterings. In the case of small pots, provide water when the top half-inch of soil is dry.

Once established, rosemary is fairly drought tolerant, what it can’t abide is oversaturation.

Rosemary doesn’t need fertilizer in order to thrive, but you can apply a top dressing of well-aged compost in spring. If the leaf tips look dried out and yellowed after the winter, fertilize once in the spring with a balanced 10-10-10 NPK fertilizer.

Growing Tips

  • Grow in a full sun location.
  • Allow the top inch of the soil to dry out between waterings.
  • Fertilize once in the springtime if needed.
  • If you want multiple plants, consider starting your own from seeds or cuttings.

Pruning and Maintenance

Every year or two, you’ll need to either prune the roots of your plant or repot it into a larger container.

Are the roots sticking out of the drainage holes? Is water taking a long time to drain through the soil? These are signs that it’s time for a root trim or new pot.

A close up horizontal image of a plant removed from a pot to show it has become rootbound.

To prune the plant’s roots, carefully remove the plant from the pot. Take a pair of pruning shears or a knife and cut off the bottom third of the root ball. Make two or three vertical cuts from the bottom of the root ball and cut about a third of the way up the plant.

Repot in a larger container that allows for that one-inch-on-all-sides rule, or in the same one if you’ve trimmed enough roots.

Repot the plant with fresh potting mix and water thoroughly.

To maintain their shape, prune plants in late spring or early summer, removing up to one third of the foliage. In addition, prune away any diseased or broken branches as needed. And pinch off stems here and there to use in your cooking!

Cultivars to Select

You can either grow creeping or upright rosemary, both of which are fragrant. The former looks lovely in a decorative pot, while the latter is preferred for culinary use.

‘Prostratus’ is an excellent creeping variety, while ‘Arp’ is a classic upright.

Here are a couple additional favorite cultivars:

Barbeque

For skewer-stiff stems and robust flavor, plant ‘Barbeque’ in a container to grow outdoors.

Hardy in Zones 8-11, ‘Barbeque’ offers an ever-present garnish for your meals, or simply a beautiful tangle of greenery to look at (and smell).

A close up square image of Salvia rosmarinus 'Barbecue' growing in a small container

‘Barbeque’

Untrimmed, it’ll grow and spread anywhere between 48-60 inches and produce pretty blue flowers.

You can find a set of three plants available at Burpee.

Blue Boy

This dwarf cultivar grows just 24 inches tall and wide, making it easier to grow in a container.

‘Blue Boy’ is hardy to Zones 8-11 and boasts delicate purple-blue blooms.

Managing Pests and Disease

This hardy herb doesn’t suffer from much in terms of pests and disease. I’ve grown it right next to delphiniums that were being attacked by aphids, but none ever touched my pungent rosemary. The herb can even repel certain types of aphids.

Your main concern is powdery mildew, a fungal infection that grows as a thin, whitish layer of mycelium on the needle-like leaves. To prevent an infection, make sure you avoid overwatering and place the plant in full sun with adequate air circulation.

Root rot may be a problem if the potting mix isn’t well-draining or has become oversaturated from excessive rain or overwatering.

Best Uses

Rosemary is an excellent addition to a patio or porch herb garden, and it shines in a variety of dishes.

A close up horizontal image of the foliage and small pink blossoms of Salvia rosmarinus pictured on a soft focus background.

I love to enjoy a few mouthwatering rosemary and parmesan crackers as an afternoon snack. You can find the recipe on our sister site, Foodal.

Or, make these delicious, grilled rosemary and garlic burgers, also from Foodal, for a savory lunch or dinner.

A close up horizontal image of a homemade hamburger with lettuce and tomato set on a blue plate on a wooden surface.
Photo by Felicia Lim.

Do you have more of a sweet tooth? Then try some rosemary butter cookies from Foodal – they are fragrant, decadent dreams come true.

Of course, you can always use the herb as decoration, too, or have plants as ornamentals on a sunny patio or balcony to provide both fragrance and eye-pleasing charm.

Rose(mary)-colored Glasses

No matter how you grow and enjoy it, this herb is sure to improve your life with its flavor, scent, and looks.

A close up horizontal image of a rectangular planter growing a variety of herbs on a balcony.

Since it’s fuss-free and resilient, it’s a perfect plant for beginner gardeners (and blossoming chefs).

Are you growing rosemary in a pot or planter? Let us know in the comments section below!

And in the meantime, check out these other articles on growing herbs in containers to add to your collection:

About Laura Ojeda Melchor

Laura Ojeda Melchor grew up helping her mom in the garden in Montana, and as an adult she’s brought her cold-weather gardening skills with her to her home in Alaska. She’s especially proud of the flowerbeds she and her three-year-old son built with rocks dug up from their little Alaska homestead. As a freelance writer, she contributes to several websites and blogs across the web. Laura also writes novels and holds an MFA in writing from Vermont College of Fine Arts.

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