One of the most common items aspiring gardeners look to grow is herbs. These multi-purpose plants both look and smell good, but are also excellent to cook with and help elevate any dish. Nothing beats the convenience of having fresh herbs on hand to spice up your cooking. Today, we’ll look at how to start an indoor herb garden, and the steps you can take to start growing herbs indoors today.
While herbs are often grown outdoors, they are also perfectly happy inside. This not only allows you to grow them year round, but also gives those without ample outdoor space the chance to enjoy them. With a little know how, you’ll be growing delicious herbs in no time. While we’ll be focused mainly on growing herbs indoors many of these tips will translate well to outdoor growing as well. We’ll also touch briefly on some outdoor-specific tips at the end of the article.
The Ease Of Herbs
One of the great things about herbs is just how easy they are to grow. In fact, many herbs are some of the easiest plants to get started with. Some herbs are technically classified as weeds, which means even the worst gardener will have a hard time killing them. Herbs are often extremely resilient to improper care, and many will survive periods of drought and can be a great choice for first time gardeners.
That also does bring up an important point, weeds like to spread. If you’re growing certain types of herbs, like mint, it’s important to keep an eye on them or they will overtake other plants. Keeping them separate is a good move or you risk them overwhelming their neighboring plants and ultimately killing them. It’s best to start your herbs in their own containers, that way you eliminate any risks of competition.
Seeds Vs. Plants?
Your first step is going to be to actually acquire some plants; and figure out whether you should start with seeds or a pre-grown plant. For beginners, going with a plant, often called a seedling, over the seed is generally a good choice. When starting with seeds you’re going to need to spend a lot more time caring for them until they sprout, and this adds a bit of difficulty to the process. A seedling or larger plant has already gone through the early stages which means it’s much easier to care for.
That said, there are some advantages to starting with seeds, two of which are variety and cost. Seeds are generally cheaper than pre-grown plants. If budget is an issue you can potentially get more bang for your buck by going with seeds. You also aren’t limited to what is available at the store or nursery. While most garden shops will have a lot of the common varieties of herbs, some of the less common varieties might be only available in seed form.
In terms of plants though, they are generally a bit easier to grow and will have yields quicker. Starting with a plant or even a seedling is a great way to get up and running quickly. For common herbs, most hardware stores will carry them in the spring/summer months.
Either way, both types can be grown indoors with a bit of effort and know-how. Pick which one you feel comfortable with.
Location, Location, Location!
An important step for any successful garden is choosing a good spot for it to live. Just like most other plants, herbs love a spot that is sunny. Generally, you’re going to be looking for at least 6 hours of sunlight per day. A large, south, or southwest-facing window is going to be your best bet for adequate sun. Many herbs do thrive with more sun though, so if possible lean towards more over less. Outside of that, there are a couple that can survive in moderate to low light conditions. They are the exception rather than the rule though.
One common problem related to lighting is if the stem is very long, but few leaves are sprouting. This means that the plants are not getting enough light, and are stretching out to try and find more. The obvious solution is to move them to a location that gets more light. You can also supplement with various types of light fixtures to get them the necessary light. Grow lights are a great option to get extra light and can turn even a shady spot into the perfect growing location.
Also, keep in mind the differences in plants. Some require more light or more intense light, while others want indirect light. Spending a little time going over the herbs you plan to grow can prevent a lot of issues down the road. A good tip here is to move your plants closer to further away from the window. Even a foot or two can make a dramatic difference in the intensity of light your plant receives.
Overall though, location and light is the most important part of starting your garden.
Temperature and Humidity
Related to location, temperature and humidity are two factors that will also influence your plant’s growth. Luckily, most homes will be in the ideal range for these, and they are both easy to correct if needed.
For temperature, the key thing to watch out for is areas that experience large swings throughout the day. This includes things like drafty windows, heating vents, or air conditioners. The temperature changes in these areas can damage your plants.
Outside of that, always make sure your herbs are kept moderately warm. While most will survive a few cool nights a hard frost will kill most of them.
Humidity is another consideration, but should, for the most part, be ideal indoors. The one time it might not be is during the winter when the air naturally drier. In these cases, lightly misting every few days is enough to put things back in balance. Here are a few more tips for increasing humidity.
Pick Your Pot
An important aspect for any plant, but herbs especially, is picking a pot with proper drainage. One of the biggest killers of herbs is “root rot”. Root rot happens when you overwater your plants, and basically, as the name implies, your roots begin to rot. This is pretty common for indoor plants that don’t have proper drainage. It’s also the result of over-watering, which will be touched on later.
Clay pots are generally a good choice for ensuring proper drainage, and they’re cheap. The clay actually has absorbent properties and whisks away excess water. If you’re in a dry climate, or in the winter when a furnace can dry out the air, be careful with clay as the extra absorbance can be overkill and actually dry out the soil too quick. If the above applies to you take some time to more frequently check the moisture of your plant’s soil.
Also, make sure your chosen pot has drainage holes. This prevents all the excess water from sitting in the soil which will quickly lead to root rot. Do take care to also grab some sort of drainage stopper as well, most pots have a matching tray or saucer for this purpose. This prevents the water, dirt, and other materials from leaking out of the pot onto your counter or windowsill. It’s amazing how fast plant drainage can ruin your counter space, so don’t skip this!
Clay is just one option though, if you do a little research you’ll see a large number of different potting ideas from shoes to metal boxes. You can really use anything, just make sure that water doesn’t sit in the soil. For something that can’t be given holes, a few inches of small stones below the soil is a good option. This will give the water a place to drain too so the roots aren’t sitting in it. This is how closed containers like mason jars can be an effective plant home.
In terms of sizing, really anything can work. Most herbs will grow happily in everything from a small windowsill pot all the way up to large planter boxes. The only difference is how much the plant will grow, the size of the pot will limit the plant’s root growth and therefore plant size. This makes herbs one of the best options for small-space gardening. Choose a small container for a managable kitchen garden or go with a larger one for more bountiful harvests. The choice is up to you.
Soil and Watering
As noted above, you’re going to want some soil that is well-draining and full of nutrients. Go with a high quality, organic potting soil from a gardening store. Look for one that isn’t too compact as this can inhibit drainage.
In most cases, hardware stores will sell soil specifically made for pots. NEVER just grab a handful of dirt from outside! One, you never know the nutrient content, and two you risk bringing in all sorts of potentially harmful organisms and giving them direct access to your plant. You also want to avoid anything labeled garden soil as this is typically made for outdoor use and will not drain properly in a pot.
When watering always err on the side of caution. The single biggest killer of herbs is overwatering. Before watering, give the soil a touch and go down about an inch or so. If the soil is still a bit moist then check again the next day. Wait until it’s completely dry before watering it. In most cases, you’re better off underwatering than overwatering, especially for herbs.
Also, take note of how long it generally takes for the soil to dry out. This helps keep you on a consistent watering schedule which will lead to healthier plants.
One thing to watch out for is yellowing leaves. This usually means the plant is being overwatered, while most people think the opposite. Before you drench the plant in an attempt to save it check the soil. If it’s moist the problem is likely overwatering, and adding more water will naturally amplify the problem. This isn’t the only cause of yellowing leaves but is the most common.
Fertilizing is another important part of plant care, and herbs are no exception. Otherwise, their soil will eventually run out of nutrients, and this will hamper your plant’s growth.
Generally, you’ll want to fertilize about 1-2 times per month when the plant is actively growing in the spring/summer. Use a water soluble fertilizer, and always follow the instructions for diluting it.
Pruning and Harvesting
Herbs are meant to people eaten, so most people won’t have a problem naturally cutting back, pruning and harvesting their plant. Keep in mind not to cut back more than a third or so of the plant at once, otherwise, it may impact the growth. Outside of that, most herbs are resilient and will bounce back from frequent harvesting.
Even if you’re not planning on using the herbs, it’s a good idea to occasionally cut back the plant. Once again about a third or so to be safe. Regular pruning encourages healthy growth, and also helps prevent pests from taking hold. If you don’t plan on using the herbs right away most can be frozen for some time to be used at a later date without much flavor loss.
What to Grow?
What to grow is really up to the gardener and their tastes. If you have a favorite meal that requires a certain herb that’s generally a good place to start. That said, two easy to grow herbs are chives and basil.
These are both fantastic herbs for any level of gardener and have a wide variety of culinary uses. If you’re just looking to jump in without any special ideas these are a great choice. They’re also super easy to grow making them great for beginners. You can’t go wrong starting out with either one of these!
Best Herbs For an Indoor Garden
For those looking for a few more options, here are a couple easy herbs to grow that are perfect for any level of gardener.
Oregano is a sun-loving herb that goes great in a wide variety of dishes. Outside of that it doesn’t require much maintenance and is quite drought-resistant.
Dill is a pungent and delicious herb that is easy to grow. It goes well in a variety of salads and cold dishes, as well as being a popular topping for seafood like salmon. It needs moderate amounts of light and water, and is overall a simple herb to cultivate.
For our last pick we have sage. Sage is very easy to grow and requires minimal care. It’s drought tolerant, so only water when the soil is dry. It also has some natural bug-repelling properties that make it great both indoors and out.
This is just a small sample of herbs though, so feel free to branch out. The vast majority of herbs are easy to grow, so you shouldn’t have any problems.
Encouraging Winter Growth
One thing to keep in mind for year-round growers is periods of winter dormancy. Most plants, even when grown indoors, go through periods of dormancy in the winter. During this time their growth will slow, and the amount of care they need will go down. This can reduce the amount of harvestable herbs your plants will produce.
The best way to counteract this is to make sure your plants are getting enough light. During the winter natural light is often less intense. This means it’s up to use the gardener to give our plants the light it needs to continue growing. This often means using grow lights, but could also be relocating the plants to a brighter location.
You’ll also want to avoid any overly cold and drafty areas. These can cause damage to your plant and stunt its growth. Lastly, as mentioned above, watch out for humidity issues which are more likely to occur in the winter.
While the majority of this article is related to indoor herb gardening, many of the above tips apply when planting outdoors as well. You’ll want to follow similar rules in terms of watering and sunlight, but do take care to watch the plants a bit more as you have less control over the environment.
If you do plant outdoors, you’ll want to make sure you do so after the last frost date for your region. Frost will likely kill your budding herbs, especially if they’re fairly young.
Herbs can be planted both directly into fertile ground, or kept in a pot outdoors. This is a personal choice, but I prefer pots as they can be moved indoors during the winter to keep my herbs growing year-round.
Herbs can also be repotted from outdoors to indoors during the colder months. This is a fairly straightforward process, and can help prolong the life of your plants. Herbs are fairly resilient, so they should be able to survive the process without issue.
How To Start an Indoor Herb Garden
And there you have it, all you need to know to start growing an indoor herb garden today and how to grow herbs indoors. While this only briefly touches the huge field of gardening, it should be enough to get you started. There is a ton of great information out there (both on this site and others), so if you run into any issues never be afraid to ask questions. So get out there… and grow!
How To Plant a Herb Garden FAQ
Can You Grow a Herb Garden Indoors?
Yes, herbs make excellent indoor plants as they generally require little work and are quite hardy.
How Much Space Does a Herb Garden Need?
Herbs can grow in a wide variety of locations and can take up as little or as much room as you want. It’s easy to grow them both in small, windowsill pots, or larger planters.
What are The Best Herbs To Grow Indoors?
Most herbs are great candidates, but our personal picks are chives and basil for both their ease of growth and versatility in recipes.
How Often Do You Water Indoor Herbs?
It depends, but generally about 1-2 times per week. Always check the soil first and water it when it’s dry. Otherwise, you risk overwatering.