Who doesn’t love the taste of herbs cut fresh from the garden? Cold weather doesn’t have to spell the end of that enjoyment. In fact, you can grow bundles of savory herbs throughout all the seasons. All you need are some plants, a sunny window and a little TLC in the form of good soil, attentive watering and a regular supply of food.
By growing herbs indoors, you can ensure your meals are packed with flavor not just in the summer months, but in the winter ones, too. Moreover, herbs come with a host of supplemental benefits. In addition to increasing oxygen levels, they also help purify the air. And nothing beats the healing scent of their fresh cut leaves.
GROWING HERBS INDOORS: THE KEY ELEMENTS
All plants need light to carry out photosynthesis. And herbs are sun worshippers. When grown indoors, they require lots of natural light. Six to eight hours a day of direct sunlight is ideal, although some herbs will make do with as little as four.
The best windows for growing herbs indoors are those that face south or southwest. These are the windows that receive the bulk of the sun year-round (although an east facing window can provide good light levels in the morning). Never place herbs on the sill of a north-facing window, however. They won’t receive direct light.
That being said, even with lots of natural sunlight, some herbs will require supplemental lighting. Full-spectrum fluorescent lights, which most closely replicate the natural solar spectrum, can do the trick. Install these inexpensive bulbs in a light fixture, grow cart or under kitchen cabinets to give your indoor herbs an extra boost. Locate the lights closest to the plants, about 4- to 6-inches away.
Like humans, all plants need water to survive. But unlike most plants, herbs don’t need all that much. In fact, overwatering is one of the biggest problems when growing herbs indoors. A good rule of thumb is to let the plants mostly dry out and then saturate them. And once you determine how long it takes for them to dry out, stick to a consistent watering plan. Herbs love consistency.
Water your indoor herbs at the base of the stem where the plant meets the soil. Then wait until the container has drained completely before placing it back on its saucer. Make sure there are good drainage holes in your containers and never leave plants standing in water. This leaves roots vulnerable to root rot (a common cause of plant demise).
A word about clay pots- they’re beautiful, but they dry out quickly. Plastic and ceramic make better containers for indoor herbs because they are better suited to drier indoor conditions. Choose pots that are not bigger than 6 inches and make sure to check on them regularly (especially if they are located near a heat source). Dry, heated air can be hard on plants.
A good organic potting soil is essential to producing healthy herbs. You can further amend the soil by adding in some sand or perlite to increase drainage. Once you’ve planted the herbs turn the pots regularly to make sure the plants don’t grow in only one direction.
Good soil is key to plant health.
Feed your indoor herbs once a week with a good organic fertilizer like fish emulsion or liquid seaweed. This is an absolute necessity for plants confined to small containers where they quickly devour nutrients. Fertilizer also stimulates oil production, which is where herbs get their flavor.
Indoor herbs like the same temperatures humans do. Average temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit in the daytime and slightly cooler ones at night will keep them healthy and happy. However, be careful not to let the leaves touch a cold window.
No plant likes to touch a cold window.
Unfortunately, the same pests that afflict houseplants, such as white flies, aphid and scale, sometime afflict herbs. If necessary, control pests by dipping the entire plant into a pail of insecticidal soap, making sure to wet all leaf surfaces thoroughly.
WHAT TO GROW
One of the easiest herbs to grow indoors, chives form little clumps of grass-like leaves that are as attractive as they are delicious. Harvest leaves by clipping the outermost ones first and working your way inwards.
You can start this miniature grass in a vase or glass with just a few inches of room-temperature water. Transplant it to a pot once it has sent out roots and stalks. The most edible part of the plant is at the bottom of the stalk, so harvest older stalks first by snapping them off at soil level.
A friend of mine once remarked when I was thinking of planting mint in my garden, “Once you have mint, you always have mint.” No truer words were ever spoken. It quickly invaded all neighboring space and I’m still digging it out years later. Indoors, the same holds true. Plant mint in its own pot to keep it in bounds.
With minimal care, you can easily grow both flat- and curly-leaved varieties of this popular herb in a sunny window. Parsley likes humidity, though, so mist it regularly or set it on top of pebbles, adding just a touch of water to increase moisture levels around the foliage.
This aromatic herb likes evenly moist soil. Pinch the blooms back to keep the plant looking neat and to concentrate flavor in the leaves. Basil comes in a wide range of flavors, colors and foliage size. A relatively new Genovese-type variety called Nufar basil has a sweet, potent flavor. The large leaves of this high-yielding plant are a dark vibrant green and exhibit strong disease resistance.
Used since ancient times as an herbal remedy, lemon balm is a close cousin to mint and just as invasive. Plant this easy-to-grow herb in its own container and snip stems regularly to keep your plant looking its best.
This heat-loving herb thrives in all-day sunlight where it will gradually form a mound of bushy green foliage. Pinch the flowers off as soon as they appear to keep the herb’s flavor concentrated in the leaves. Of the Mediterranean oreganos, Greek oregano tends to be the most savory, while Italian oregano is milder. Turkish oregano is more sweet and mellow with a slight citrusy aroma.
Like thyme, this herb likes to be kept on the dry side. Unlike thyme, it is one of the trickiest herbs to grow. Too much water will damage the roots and cause the plant to turn brown and eventually die. Too little water produces the same effect. The plant is also very susceptible to powdery mildew, so make sure it has good air circulation.
There are many varieties of this fuzzy-leaved species. But for cooking, the common garden variety Salvia officinalis and its cultivars are hands down the best. This herb can get pretty tall – up to 24-inches – so look for dwarf varieties for growing indoors, or keep it compact by regularly harvesting stems.
As soon as the plant produces foliage, you can begin enjoying this popular Mediterranean herb. Simply snip off the stems, remove the leaves, and crumble them gently between your fingers. Thyme is drought-tolerant, so it should be watered only after the soil has mostly dried out. Like all herbs, it requires good drainage.
Of course these are just a few of the many delicious herbs that are easy to grow indoors! Check out your local garden store or supermarket for more inspiration.