How to Start an Indoor Herb Garden
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Growing fresh herbs from your indoor herb garden is a great way to exercise a budding green thumb while cutting down on trips to the grocery store. Homegrown herbs are easy for new gardeners and allow you the added benefit of tasting the work you’ve put into helping them grow. The flavor of herbs cut directly from their spot on your sunny windowsill can complete any dish, freshen the air in your kitchen, and fill your home with fresh scents. Below, we’ll explore all you need to know to start your first indoor herb garden and which herbs will be the best additions to your growing goals. Growing herbs indoors is the best way to ensure you have the freshest organic herbs in all of your meals.
Growing Herbs Indoors vs. Outdoors
You can grow herbs indoors or outdoors, depending on your environment. Neither is objectively better than the other, but your gardening limitations will determine which is best for you. Herbs grown outdoors have the benefit of regular, direct sunlight and the natural watering from rainfall. However, if you live in an area that experiences all four seasons, outdoor herbs are unlikely to survive the winter frosts or intense summer heat. You could also grow more herbs outside–– depending on your home–– as there’s more ground space in a yard than on a tabletop.
While indoor herb gardens are shielded from the extremes of outdoor weather, they need more regular watering and a thoughtfully chosen space on a sunny windowsill or under bright light. They also will need to be repotted as they outgrow their pots. But it will be easier to keep an eye on indoor herbs, and they will be more readily protected from pests and predators. Indoor herb gardens also reduce the steps between harvesting your plants and garnishing your food.
Which Herbs Grow Best Indoors?
Not all herbs are best suited for an indoor herb garden, so we’ve compiled our favorite culinary herbs that can be used as starter plants for any new gardener. No matter which of these herb plants you choose, you are sure to have plenty of fresh herbs for all of your cooking and gardening hopes. As long as you have access to sunlight, water, and soil, you can have edible greenery all year long. As a bonus, try growing Aloe Vera alongside your herb garden, as it helps to treat any cooking-related burns!
- Chervil: This herb is best grown indoors as it prefers light shade and cool temperatures and can grow up to two feet tall. Chervil is not so common in American cuisine but is comparable to parsley.
- Chives: Chives prefer as much sun as they can get, so opt for a south-facing window for this herb. They also like moist soil, so water regularly as long as the dirt has sufficient drainage.
- Cilantro: This is a great indoor herb plant as it flourishes in the fall and winter months. Though Cilantro prefers the cooler temperatures, it still needs plenty of sunlight. The only downside to this herb is that you’ll get just one harvest each year before needing to replant.
- Lemon Balm: Lemon Balm won’t survive outdoors through the winter months, making it a great addition to your indoor garden. This lemon-scented herb can brighten up a fresh salad and even works well in tea.
- Mint: Whether you choose to grow Peppermint or Spearmint (or any other variety of mint), this fresh herb likes bright light and a humid environment. Make sure to use a wider pot than deep to prevent the roots from bunching up and choking themselves.
- Oregano: Oregano will thrive anywhere hot, dry, and sunny, making it a low-maintenance mainstay in your kitchen garden. If you like its ubiquitous dried counterpart in Italian cooking, you’ll love having the fresh stuff any time of year.
- Tarragon: This herb can’t handle too much direct light, so anything other than a south-facing window is best. Its strong anise/ licorice-like flavor is a focal point of French cooking and will take your classic meals to the next level.
When Should I Start My Herbs Indoors?
Like most houseplants, it’s best to start growing your fresh herbs indoors during the beginning of the growing season or early spring. Indoor gardening relies heavily on peak growing times, and herb gardens are no different. Whether you’re starting from seeds, propagating from leaf cuttings, or transplanting an existing plant, early spring will give your herbs the best chance to survive and flourish. Though some herbs may need different start-dates when grown outside, growing indoors or with a hydroponic system mostly eliminates any variance.
Types of Indoor Herb Gardens
Indoor herb gardens don’t need anything more than a pot filled with soil fed by sunlight and water. As long as you can add some drainage holes, virtually any container can work as a vessel for your herbs. And if you lack a large enough footprint, verticle gardens are a great way to stack your herbs along a wall.
There are some more advanced options for those looking to grow more than enough for simple garnishing, like Smart Gardens or Hydroponic Systems such as the Aerogarden. A hydroponic set-up will minimize much margin for error as lighting, watering, and nutrients are built into the device. Hydroponics will also maximize your yield each season, providing you with plenty of various herbs throughout the year. Check out our Reviews Page for several hydroponic systems by Aerogarden and others.
Indoor Herb Care
Growing herbs indoors is a low-maintenance hobby and requires only a few points of careful attention. Once potted, a flourishing herb garden will depend solely on the correct lighting, watering, humidity, and temperature. Most herbs can’t handle temperature extremes and grow best inside if your home is around 65º-75ºF (18º-24ºC). Make sure your herb garden isn’t susceptible to drafty windows or doors, and even herbs kept too close to hot glass windows can suffer. As long as you keep these tips in mind, nothing will stop you from harvesting these fresh and organic herbs.
Potting For Indoor Herbs
A classic clay pot is an excellent choice for planting indoor herbs, though there are plenty of DIY ideas for plant containers that add a personal touch to your kitchen garden. As long as the vessel has drainage holes to expel any excess water, it should support your greenery. However, mint needs a broader pot than deep to prevent the roots from bunching up and choking itself. Each herb may need to be planted in its own pot to avoid the same issue.
Garden or Potting Soil will be too dense for an indoor herb garden, cutting off the roots’ needed oxygen through sufficient air circulation. Instead, opt for a nutrient-rich potting mix made up of any combination of peat moss, perlite, vermiculite, and sand. The sand component with stones lining the pot’s bottom will provide adequate drainage to avoid waterlogged soil. Organic material like compost would also be a welcomed addition.
As long as you’re using a mixture of organic materials as the potting mix base, fertilizer shouldn’t be necessary in an indoor herb garden. If you’re using a hydroponic system, the needed fertilizer and nutrients are already built-in. However, if you decide to add more food to your potted plants, only incorporate fertilizer during the planting process by mixing an all-natural, organic food into the potting mix.
Light For Herbs
Most herbs will need a lot of bright light from a sunny window or grow light. Four to six hours of sun per day is ideal, so a south-facing window is best. A west-facing window will also work well, but any sunny windowsill with direct sunlight should be sufficient for an indoor herb garden. As long as your herbs get some natural light, they will grow, just not as fully as possible in a south or west-facing window. However, if you can’t get enough light from your windows, a grow light is a helpful alternative. If you’re not using a hydroponic unit and lack sufficient sunlight, here are a few of our favorite grow lights:
- 2 Pack Grow Light Strip for Indoor Plants: $18.99
- LED Grow Light for Potted Plants: $18.45
- Grow Light with 3 Modes: $49.99
Whether you’re using natural or artificial light, be careful of scorching your plants with too much direct light. Anything over eight hours a day is excessive and will dry out the soil too quickly or burn the leaves.
How Much Water Do Indoor Herbs Need?
Depending on the temperature in your home and the pot’s drainage, your indoor herb garden should only need watering a couple of times a week. If you find your plants needing water more often, this could mean the pot is too small for the plant, the environment is too warm, or your herbs are receiving too much direct light. Make sure the top inch of soil feels dry before watering. You may need to water as often as three times a week in the summer, and wintertime may only necessitate a weekly watering.
As with most houseplants, overwatering is a larger threat to your herbs than underwatering. Waterlogged soil will cause root rot and kill your indoor herb garden. Make sure your herbs are getting sufficient drainage and aeration to avoid drowning them. The soil should be kept moist but not wet, and the top inch of soil should feel dry before watering.
Harvesting Indoor Herbs
Harvesting your herb plants is the most rewarding part of indoor gardening, and the process is simple. When gathering your growings, either use sharp kitchen shears or your fingers to snip off the ready herbs. Kitchen shears are best for herbs like tarragon, while your fingers work well enough for others, such as sage. As a bonus, harvesting from your herbs will promote new growth in your plant since it is the same as pruning. No matter what tool you choose, make sure they are clean!
Before you start snipping your herbs, wait until the plant is at least four to six inches tall; otherwise, your herbs will be too young for harvesting. Though your herbs need to be mature before harvesting, don’t wait too long–– most herbs produce flowers when they are almost dead and no longer tasty.
When harvesting, pick stems from the top and outside of the plant. Shorter shoots and those toward the inside are younger and unlikely to be ready for harvesting. A word of caution: Don’t harvest more than a third of a plant at a time, or you risk killing the rest of the growth.
What Can You Do With Indoor Herbs?
While indoor herbs on your windowsill garden look beautiful, smell great, and freshen the air around you, the best benefit is eating them! Fresh herbs add a beautiful green garnish to any dish, and herbs like parsley and thyme will complete a Mediterranean meal. Basil and Rosemary will elevate your Italian comfort pasta, and cilantro will add a fresh burst to some homemade guacamole. But why stop at eating the food? Fresh herbs also add aromatic intrigue to homemade cocktails and fresh-brewed tea.
Herbs are not the only edible houseplants you can add to your home garden, whether in front of a sunny window or your hydroponic unit. Though often used as an herb or spice, garlic is another vegetable you can grow indoors to flavor your food. Sauté some fresh garlic alongside potatoes and kale from your garden, top with freshly sliced tomatoes and avocados, and finish with some basil and flaky salt for a delicious veggie bowl, all homegrown and organic!
If you find yourself with more herbs than you know what to do with, you can propagate clippings from your herb plant to grow a separate yield and gift it to a friend. To avoid waste, any organic material from your kitchen–– herb scraps included–– can be composted and reincorporated into your garden as plant food! You can create your own vegetation eco-system right at home.
Where to Buy Herbs?
You can purchase herbs as seeds or already sprouting plants at the garden center of any home improvement store like Home Depot or Lowes. Also, you can shop local and check out plant nurseries near you. If you’re looking to buy online, Amazon has several starter kits, as does Etsy. Here are a few of our favorites: