If you are short on outdoor garden space, love the smell of fragrant plants, or want the ease of having cooking herbs at your fingertips, you may want to consider growing herbs indoors as houseplants year-round. There are lots of good reasons to grow culinary herbs as indoor plants: they smell good, taste great and can be a beautiful addition to your houseplant collection. There are few things more delightful than brushing past fragrant basil or scented geraniums growing on your window sill only to be reminded of the tastes and smells of summer. How convenient it is to snip off some chives or parsley to add to your Sunday morning eggs, rather having to forage through the garden for them in your PJs and slippers? Whatever your reasons, know that growing herbs as houseplants is easy as well as endlessly rewarding.
Some herbs are easier and more productive to grow than others. The woody Mediterranean herbs are less problematic for indoor culture than the more fragile herbs we treat as annuals. Some good herb varieties to try growing indoors would be rosemary, thyme, marjoram, oregano, bay, lemon grass, mint, parsley, chives, scented geraniums, lemon balm, tarragon, lemon verbena, lavender and sage. I have grown basil successfully indoors for short term use, but it tends to burn out and take on a strong anise taste with age so I replace it often.
A windowsill full of lush potted herbs is a lovely sight. I like to rotate my potted herbs out of the window sill and onto the dining room table to use as a centerpiece. A trio of herb plants potted in terra cotta cono mocha pots in the middle of the table or placed artfully about the house can create a beautiful French Provincial farmhouse look. Pots of herbs suspended with macrame plant hangers around a window can soften the look of any bright window.
Having fresh herbs on hand indoors is so convenient, adding a depth of flavor to all your culinary adventures. Add rosemary and oregano to a fresh pasta sauce. Sprigs of fresh marjoram, one of my favorites, adds a sweet floral flavor to sauteed garden beans. A sprig of mint in a cocktail, sublime. Lemon balm in your tea, the perfect start to a day. Add a leaf of rose scented geranium to your sugar bowl or rub it on your skin to ward off mosquitoes. Make the perfect salad dressing by adding a few sprigs of thyme and tarragon. Dry a few bay leaves to use in stews. Finish a flawless garden tomato with a julienne of fresh basil. Candy lemon verbena leaves with sugar and eggwhite for a lovely and tasty dessert garnish. Sleep with a sprig of lavender in your pillow at the end of a busy day to encourage sweet dreams. When you have easy access to herbs in your home, the world of gastronomic possibilities is endless and delectable.
Rosemary won’t start easily from seed. You will probably want to buy these as herb starts or try to propagate them from stem or root cuttings. You can start basil, chives, thyme, sage, lavender and many other herbs from seed, using seed trays and a neutral potting mix such as Coast of Maine or Light Warrior seed starting mixes. When the seedlings are about 2.5 inches tall and have their second set of leaves you can uppot them into 6-inch pots.
You can create an herbal indoor garden by planting 4-5 different varieties in a window box. Pot up mints in separate pots as they will tend to take over the pot, crowding out the other plants you have placed them with. Use a well draining potting soil such as Happy Frog for your uppotting. Make sure the pots you use have good drainage with a depth of at least 6 inches. Don’t use unsterilized outdoor garden soil as you may find it brings unwanted pests and pathogens inside with it, and it tends to compact easily.
Most herbs need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. An unobstructed south facing window would be ideal. If this is not possible you will need to supplement your available light source with 12- 16 hours under indoor grow lights. Without adequate light your plants will become leggy, weak and less flavorful. It will also leave them more prone to bugs.
Air circulation is very important for indoor herb growing. It can stave off mildew and bugs. Use a low speed fan to help get your plants the air flow they need. Place your plants close together to increase humidity so the fan will be less likely to dry them out. Temperatures between 65-70 are ideal for herbs during the day, a bit cooler at night. Basil will not tolerate temperatures below 50 degrees.
Moderate fertilizing at half the suggested rate will benefit the taste of your herbs. Too much fertilizer will give your plants lots of leaf growth but not as much taste. Use the slow release BioThrive grow fertilizer once a month to keep your plants healthy and tasty.
Indoor herbs may have a tendency to get aphids, spider mites, scale or mealy bugs. You can spray most herb plants for aphids or spider mites with Safer insecticidal soap. Use horticultural oil on woody herbs to treat for scale or mealy bugs if necessary. Always wash treated herbs before use. Rosemary, lavender and sage have a tendency to get powdery mildew. Make sure they have plenty of air circulation, sunlight and let them become slightly dry before watering. You can spray them with a Safer product containing sulfur if needed.
Come by and visit Fifth Season Gardening where we have a huge selection of herbs, pots, planters, plant hangers, nutrients, soils and expertise to help you create a fabulous indoor herb garden.