Secrets to a Thriving Indoor Herb Garden

Liven up your summer meals with fresh herbs from your own indoor garden.

Rosemary and Thyme

Rosemary and Thyme

Published by Steve Asbell on Zillow Blog.

Why spend money every week on fresh herbs from the grocery store when you can buy herb plants and grow your own? Not only are living plants more affordable right off the bat, but they continue to provide fresh flavor throughout the year, and can be grown right in your kitchen.

While it is easier to grow herbs outdoors in the garden or in containers, where they receive more sunlight and are less likely to be bothered by pests, you can’t beat the convenience of an indoor herb garden. And what dinner guest wouldn’t be impressed by a kitchen stocked with fresh herbs?

Selecting herbs

Mediterranean herbs like thyme, basil, rosemary and oregano are the ones most commonly used in the kitchen, but they’re a little trickier to grow indoors since they need lots of sunlight, and suffer if the soil is too moist. If you’re growing these herbs, either provide supplemental light with a grow light, or grow extra specimens of each plant outdoors and rotate them out every month or so.

The easiest herbs for an indoor garden are mint, chives and Vietnamese cilantro/coriander, since they don’t require as much sun as other herbs. Mint is a good one to start with, since it’s too invasive to grow outdoors in the ground.

Exotic tropical herbs like turmeric, ginger, lemongrass, arrowroot and kafir lime are also worth trying indoors if you enjoy cooking Thai and other South Asian cuisines.

Light and placement

The kitchen is the ideal place to grow herbs, since they’ll be readily available for a quick snip. Place them in a sunny windowsill that gets at least four hours of sun a day, and avoid places that get hot, such as near a stove or above where a steamer is used.

Positioned near a window, herbs soak up the sun.

Positioned near a window, herbs soak up the sun.

If you don’t have a window or enough room to set aside, don’t worry. Use full spectrum grow lights set on a timer to help your herbs thrive in an otherwise dark location.

Artificial lighting also makes it possible to grow herbs vertically in areas that sunlight wouldn’t otherwise reach, such as a dim corner or a room with a north-facing window. Grow herbs in hanging baskets, in wall-mounted vertical gardening pouches or with a variety of kits that have recently become available thanks to vertical gardening’s recent popularity. With the right setup, you can enjoy a wall of herbs at your fingertips.

Planting

You only need four things to grow herbs indoors: A healthy plant, a container with a drainage hole, fresh potting mix and a sunny location.

The plant itself should be healthy and without diseases or pests of any kind. When purchasing a plant from the garden center, knock the plant out of its pot to ensure the roots are firm and white.

A healthy rosemary plant will thrive given the correct conditions in your home.

A healthy rosemary plant will thrive given the correct conditions in your home.

You can use many types of containers, from repurposed colanders to tried-and-true terra cotta pots. All that matters is that they have a drainage hole so water can drain out without rotting the roots. If your pot doesn’t already have a drainage hole, consider drilling one, or just using it as an attractive ‘cache pot’ to hide a draining one inside.

A basic potting mix will work for most herbs, though you can boost drainage by adding perlite or cactus mix for Mediterranean plants like thyme and rosemary.

Water

If you’re gardening in the kitchen, water plants in the sink with the faucet running at a trickle so that the potting mix won’t wash away. Otherwise, just use a watering can.

Be sure to give plants adequate drainage.

Be sure to give plants adequate drainage.

Since the main cause of killing herb plants (or any houseplant, for that matter) is overwatering, keep the potting mix just barely moist, and make sure that the pots have drainage holes so the water won’t sit and rot the roots.

Pests

Fungus gnats are the most visible pest, but since they feed on dead and rotting roots, they’re mostly just a symptom of a plant’s decline. Either cut back on watering, or bring the plant outdoors for a while to bring it back to health.

Maintenance

If you’re clipping and using herbs on a regular basis, then there’s no need to worry about trimming lanky stems. However, if you’ve been relying on takeout instead of cooking lately, cut back overgrown herbs and put the stems in a small vase.

Any stems that root can be transplanted to a pot of fresh soil and grown into a new plant to replace struggling ones or give to friends. If your herbs seem less vigorous after a while, add a slow-release fertilizer to the potting mix.

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