Why Should you Start an Indoor Herb Garden?
There is something extremely pleasurable about growing your own fresh herbs and your own veggies and fruit. Though it may be daunting to some people because of the amount of tools, time, and effort it takes, all of that becomes worth it the very first time that you harvest some basil leaves or pluck a ripe cherry tomato.
Not everybody has the wonderful privilege of having a backyard, and others don’t even have a balcony or fire escape to be able to grow herbs outdoors! But chances are that everybody at least has a window, and that is the first thing you will need when starting your own indoor herb gardens.
Pretty often people will grab an herb plant from the grocery store or garden centre, leave it on the windowsill, and forget about it. Herbs will quickly perish if they are left to fend for themselves, and there are a ton of things you can do to help it thrive all year long.
The purpose of this article is to encourage gardeners – novice or otherwise – to learn all that they possibly can about growing herbs indoors. You will eventually find that this not only helps you save money in the long run, but learning about sustainable food growth will inspire you to apply these philosophies to other areas of your life! Go green baby!
What do you Need to Start Growing Herbs Indoors?
You may be under the impression that you need a ton of equipment to be able to start growing herbs indoors, but this is not at all the case. Plants only require a few specific things from you, the biggest cost will come from lighting.
If you happen to have a south facing window you are already about half way there. Herbs love to receive a ton of natural light and the sun will do most of the work for you to keep them happy. If you do not have a south facing window, you’ll probably need to opt for a grow light. We’ll explain this in the next section. But for now, here are some other things that you will need:
- herb plant seed
- terracotta pot
- potting mix
- watering can
- grow light
The last thing that you will need, and the most important thing, is time. If you want a healthy, bushy, enthusiastically growing herb, you have to give it attention! That little extra effort from you will be rewarded with tasty and fragrant leaves.
What are the Most Important Parts of Indoor Gardening?
A nice little shortcut to caring for your indoor garden or herbs is that a lot of them actually have super similar growing conditions. This way you can tend to them all at once and develop a regular watering, fertilizing, and pruning schedule. There are 6 main things that indoor herbs will need from you:
Something cool that you’ll eventually learn is that most of the herbs that we frequently use in the kitchen come from the Mediterranean. Though tons of herbs have been able to adapt and naturalize in other places of the world, knowing that they are originally from the Mediterranean helps you understand what types of growing conditions they may prefer.
This means that herbs like sunlight. The more sunlight that a plant receives, the bigger that it can grow and the faster that it can grow. Additionally, sunlight has a direct correlation with how much flavor the foliage of an herb will have.
Herbs are sun lovers and can sun bathe for 6-8 hours every single day. If you have a south facing window, this will be the perfect place for your potted herb garden. If you do not, you will need to provide some supplemental light in order to keep them happy.
This supplemental lighting will come in the form of a grow light. You can even purchase a gardening kit which will already have a shelving system with a grow light set up sitting above it, or you can MacGyver something of your own.
You can easily set up a lighting system by getting some pendant lights with LED or UV light bulbs, and some clips to attach them to the top of a shelving unit. There are some grow lights that have timers, but if they don’t, get a timer too! (P.S. ever heard of a Smart Garden?)
Potted herbs are pretty sensitive to big sways in temperature (especially basil). A lot of them will prefer to hover around temperatures ranging from 60 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, and they will often respond well to humidity too.
It is best to avoid areas in your home where the temperature changes a lot. If you have a nice windowsill but it is right above a radiator, your herbs will suffer for it. If you have a drafty window, the herbs touching the glass can either scorch or freeze.
If you’re first starting out with indoor gardening, finding the perfect location for your herbs will be a little bit touch-and-go for a while. But don’t worry, these plants can be surprisingly resilient and can bounce back after all sorts of issues!
The area where most gardeners have trouble is with knowing the proper watering schedule for your indoor herbs. Frequent watering doesn’t mean good watering. This probably actually means there’s something wrong with your soil or the area you chose for your herbs.
The idea is to have less frequent but more thorough watering. You basically want to ensure that the soil is completely saturated each time that you water your plant. I find that the best way is to bring each pot over to the sink, and hold it under the tap until water leaks out of the drainage holes.
This is why having the appropriate, well draining potting mix is so important, but we’ll go over that in the following section. Before you water your herbs, dip you finger in the soil. You want the soil to be dried out 2 inches below the surface before you water your plants again.
This type of watering habit is in an effort to encourage the roots of the potted herb to grow downwards. The more it has to search for water, the lower the root system has to grow, which means a strong and well established root system.
Additionally, if your soil seems to be drying out really quickly it could be that it’s not humid enough in your home. Don’t worry, you don’t need to get a humidifier. All you need to do is fill the tray with some pebbles and fill the tray with a small pool of water. This way it will evaporate upwards into the soil.
Appropriate Potting Mix
The right potting mix is another area where indoor gardening can go wrong. Indoor herbs have different requirements than outdoor herbs. They won’t be happy in your garden soil, and they won’t be too keen on potting soil (yes, those are two different things).
Potting soil is different from potting mix in the way that potting mix is mixed with elements other than just soil. They will usually have some perlite or vermiculite and some sand to encourage a ton of drainage.
When you water your plant and the water doesn’t seep through to the drainage holes right away, this usually means that drainage isn’t optimal. You can always add pebbles to the very bottom of your pot to ensure the plant isn’t sitting in water. This is one of their biggest pet peeves!
Additionally, potting mix will usually be incorporated with organic matter. Organic matter is very important because herbs are heavy feeders and need a ton of nutrients in order to stay healthy.
One of the biggest mistakes you can make when it comes to indoor gardening is improper potting. So often I see at friend’s houses that they just leave their herbs in those silly little plastic containers. This simply will not do!
Herbs need room to grow and they need aeration. Those plastic pots aren’t big enough for a growing plant, and the plastic material (though it does have drainage holes) doesn’t allow the water to evaporate from the soil, which will often lead to root rot.
Terracotta pots are the best favor that you can do for your herbs. Terracotta is wonderfully porous and will allow all of the water to evaporate from the soil. Additionally, terracotta pots are usually nice and spacious and always come with a tray to place underneath to prevent spills.
Pro Tip: for each individual herb, give it its own herb pot! Crowding your herbs is never a good idea because it can result in powdery mildew, in certain areas of the plant not receiving enough sunlight, and it makes it easier for pests to transfer from plant to plant.
Another Pro Tip: rotate your plants! If your plant is in the window, only one side of it is ever receiving direct sunlight. Try rotating each herb pot a quarter turn every time you go to water them. This will encourage a bushier, more rounded growth habit with huge healthy leaves on each side!
For the final aspect of healthy indoor herb gardens, it’s about knowing the right fertilizer and when to apply it. Expert gardeners will tell you that either a fish emulsion fertilizer or seaweed extract will encourage the healthiest herbs.
This is because these types of fertilizers tend to be super high in nitrogen. Nitrogen is what encourages that super heathy leaf growth, which should be applied to all leafy herbs and greens!
Basically apply fertilizer once a week or every two weeks during the active growing season of your plants. Once you are outside of the growing season, fertilizer can be applied about once a month.
Which are the Best Herbs to Grow Indoors?
You’ll be glad to know that the vast majority of all of the essential herbs that you’ll usually want in your kitchen are very easy to grow indoors. Pretty soon you’ll be plucking away fresh leaves and flowers from your indoor herb garden, and garnishing and seasoning to your hearts delight! Here are some of our favorite herb plants to grow indoors:
Parsley – parsley is everywhere. We’re so used to it by now that we sometimes even pluck it off of the plate, but try not to! Parsley is surprisingly jam packed full of nutrients and provides a wonderfully fresh and unique kick to savory dishes, and is known as being one of the most classic culinary herbs.
You know what else? Parsley is super adept to indoor growing. As long as you keep it in a sunny window and give it a ton of plant food, you’ll have bundles of it ready to give to friends. Not to mention a seed packet of parsley is very easy to find!
Cilantro – cilantro! Chances are that you either love or hate cilantro. For some it tastes like a delicious citrusy herb, and for others it tastes like soap. There’s also a lot of division when it comes to whether it’s called coriander or cilantro.
Cilantro actually refers to to the leaves of the plant, whereas as coriander refers to the seed. But all of this doesn’t really matter because each part of the cilantro plant is edible. Cilantro is an annual herb that is super easy to grow, and an essential garnish for tacos. You want one of these on your windowsill herb garden!
Basil – though basil can be a little bit finicky in the beginning, once it is established it will be flourishing so much that you’ll struggle to find uses for it all! (Hint: just make a ton of pesto).
Basil is a short lived perennial herb that can be used for savory dishes, for desserts, for drinks and salads, and it can be used fresh or dried. Basil is the best. I don’t need to convince you to grow basil.
Sage – sage is an herb that maybe not everyone has in their pantry, but once you start using it you’ll find that it’s hard to stop. Chicken just isn’t the same when it isn’t marinated with some dried sage.
Sage is remarkably easy to grow indoors, and it also grows extremely prevalently in the wild in the southwestern United States. Sage has a unique flavor to it and it can be used in all sorts of different applications.
Rosemary – I once made an omelette with blue cheese, rolled up sausage balls, and fresh rosemary, and it was the best omelette that I’ve ever had in my life.
Rosemary is one of those herbs that can do nearly anything. Those fine needles are so robust and powerful and will bringing a punch of flavor to cocktails, fish, poultry, and pretty much anything else you could imagine.
Chives – you can always find a use for fresh chives. This wonderful bulbous herb is an easy to grow variety with a super punchy onion flavor to it.
Chives pretty much grow like weeds. You could measure each day and find that they grow a few centimetres over night. Needless to say, chives are a great herb to start out with since they’re so easy-growing.
Mint – mint! I dare you to try to find a person who doesn’t like mint. Go out right now and find some mint herb seeds or one of those starter plants from the grocery store.
Mint is fresh, mint is refreshing, mint is tasty, mint it everything that you need in the morning afternoon and night. Mint is easy to grow and it’s a short lived perennial plant. If you keep it happy, it will give you a constant supply of tasty leaves.
Thyme – thyme is another one of those classic herbs that you’ll find in nearly every persons pantry. But I much prefer having fresh thyme on the go.
You can recognize a thyme plant by those tiny little rounded leaves that have a crazily intense flavor to them when they’re brushed. Thyme is a Mediterranean herb that grows super easily.
Oregano – oregano is a seriously super-hero of an herb. Oregano has such a punchy flavor that it can be the only spice that you add to a soup or stew and it will still be delicious. You can use oregano as a dried herb or a fresh herb.
Oregano is also remarkably healthy! Oregano oil has been used in folk medicine for centuries for its antifungal and antibacterial properties. Having one of these in your home will be more effective than eating an apple-a-day.
Lemon Balm – lemon balm is another incredible one. This is a very variety that is a favorite herb throughout the Mediterranean basin and Asia.
Lemon balm is a member of the mint family but is known for having a superbly citrusy and fresh scent to it. Lemon balm is one of the top culinary herbs in a lot of Asian cuisines.
Final Pro Tip: one of the coolest parts about indoor growing is that you don’t need to start any of these herbs straight from the seed packet.
You can literally take some stems from a plant that you got from the grocery store and place them in a clear mason jar of distilled water. Wait a few days (realistically a couple of weeks) for little roots to start to grow and regularly change out the water.
All you have to do is keep the mason jar in an area with plenty of natural light until those roots emerge. Once they do, you can transplant the small plant into its own individual pot and add it to your windowsill herb garden.
Just remember, water doesn’t have enough plant food to keep herbs happy, to transfer that small plant as soon as the roots emerge! Do you see now how herbs just want to grow? Whether they are indoor plants or growing in your garden, herbs are beneficial to everyone!