Growing herbs indoors is both fun and rewarding. Whether it’s out of necessity during the winter months, or you just want the convenience of having your herbs on hand, there are a few simple steps to get your own kitchen herb garden going. Follow this guide and you’ll be whipping up pesto, savoring fresh cilantro, and adding mint sprigs to your lemonade in no time.
To start, you’ll need lots of light, potting soil, and containers with good drainage. After you have these resources established, simply choose which herbs you want to starting growing.
Herbs typically want a good solid five or more hours of direct natural light a day. There are kits online which come with grow lights, and these range from $50 to even $130 or more. However, you don’t need anything fancy as long as you’ve got good sunlight.
The brightest kitchen window is usually a southward-facing one, or an area under a skylight would work great too. Spend an afternoon checking out the areas with the most natural light and go from there. You should also be aware of the temperature of your home. Herbs will be comfortable with moderate temperatures — if you’re comfortable, they should do fine, too. But, do be aware of temperatures near windows, as it can be a lot colder at night. Make sure that no leaves are touching the glass, especially.
Once you’ve scouted the location for your kitchen herb garden, you’ll need the supplies.
There are two major ways to start your indoor herb garden: growing from seeds, or buying plants from the nursery. Growing from seeds is cheaper, but will take a lot longer. It’s just a question of patience and how much of a green thumb you have.
Seeds typically like to be planted about four times deeper in soil than their circumference, and they like a warm and moist environment. After planting them, try to keep the moisture of the soil comparable to a wrung out sponge. Be prepared for a wait of several months before harvesting your herbs.
Alternately, you could use “cuttings” to start your herb garden by snipping off sections of existing plants, and rooting them in soil. This method involves cutting small pieces of plants and getting them to grow into entirely new plants.
You are going want to use potting mix, which is a special kind of soil that’s perfectly suited for container gardening. As easy as it would be to scoop up some garden soil from outside, this will compact within the pot and prevent your roots from growing. Potting soil is specifically designed to maintain its pore space, and a bag shouldn’t cost you more than $5. You can get potting soil at most nurseries, garden centers and home improvement stores.
When picking your container, remember that you’ll be eating these plants. You don’t want any material that will leach chemicals into the soil, such as certain plastics, rubber, or treated wood.
Ceramic is always a safe bet; as long as there are holes in the bottom. Drainage is important because no herb’s roots enjoy sitting in water. Make sure your containers have holes at the base, and that any excess water is able to exit. (Also make sure you’re not getting water marks on important surfaces though! Plates and trays will help with this.)
Once you have your potting mix and plants in place, water just enough to keep the soil moist — typically three to 10 times a month, depending on your climate. It will also depend on the humidity and temperature, and even the container you’ve chosen. For example, terra-cotta pots are pretty, but they absorb moisture, so you’ll need to water more often than if you used a glazed ceramic pot.
Just keep an eye on things, and water a little more every time you notice that your soil has dried out. Potted plants need to be fertilized three to four times a year.
Once you have all these in place, you’re ready to choose your herbs! Good varieties to start with include Rosemary, Dill, Chives, Basil,* Oregano, Thyme, Mint, Cilantro, and Marjoram.
*Basil is more susceptible to cold damage than other herbs, so move it away from the window at night if the outside temperature drops to freezing.
Let the Growing Begin!
If your herbs are growing well, you can prune them back as needed for your cooking and to keep them at a manageable size. If they start to flower, it signals that the plant is going to produce seeds and is nearing the end of its life cycle. You can stop this from happening by nipping off any flowers as soon as possible, or you can let it bloom and collect the seeds. Unfortunately the “bolting” means that the plant will most likely become very bitter tasting, and die.
If you live in a moderate climate, or it’s the spring, you could transplant the herbs outside so that they can thrive and become enormous. Other fun things to do with your herb garden: make rooted cuttings from your herbs and give them to friends or dry your herbs for tea and cooking seasonings. The possibilities are endless!
Happy growing, Green Monsters!
Image source: Laura Burnham