The Ultimate Guide to Growing Herbs Indoors
Bringing the outdoors in has been a popular trend in recent years, and one that seems to be here to stay. It’s no real surprise as we’ve begun to realize the importance of sustainability and living green. One of the easiest ways to replicate nature in our homes is with indoor plants. They’ve been proven to improve air quality, increase levels of energy and happiness and even improve brain health. When you add beauty and texture, delightful fragrance and unmatched flavour to this list of benefits, you’ll find that herbs are a winning houseplant. Their many colours, leaf shapes and sizes, and aromatic properties, combined with the delicious flavours and nutrients they add to cooking, make them a remarkably useful indoor plant.
While herbs are most often grown outside in the garden, having them at your fingertips allows you to effortlessly purify and refresh the air in your home, add interest and aroma to your DIY projects, and incorporate healthy seasoning to your cooking. What’s not to like? For the most part, herbs are easy keepers. But here are a few guidelines to follow when using them as indoor plants.
Choose your plants
While most herbs can be grown indoors, some are particularly well suited to these conditions, such as basil, chervil, chives, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary and thyme. Many herbs can be seeded and grown to maturity, but this takes a considerable amount of time. If you are looking to harvest fresh herbs sooner, you’ll be better off buying seedlings or potted starter plants.
Ensure there is enough light
Indoor herbs will need a bright spot to ensure growth. The more light they get, the faster they’ll produce a harvest. South-facing windows have the most hours of sunlight a day and tend to be nice and warm. Herbs best suited for this type of environment are rosemary, thyme, basil and oregano. East and west-facing windows get about six hours of light in the morning or afternoon, but remain cooler. Herbs that thrive with cooler temperatures and less intense light include mint, parsley, chervil and chives.
Grow lights are also a great way to provide the necessary light for your herb plants. Place plants within a foot of the bulbs or follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Start by having the lights on for 12 to 16 hours a day for bright-light plants and adjust as necessary.
Choose the right containers
There are virtually limitless choices when it comes to containers for your herb plants, but the most important thing to keep in mind when choosing one is drainage. Soggy soil, especially in cooler winter temperatures, can be fatal. So choose a pot with good drainage and use a small plate or round plastic saucer to protect the surface underneath. If you are using non-traditional containers such as mason jars, make sure to put a layer of pebbles in the bottom to catch any extra moisture so your soil doesn’t get too saturated.
In addition, you can use any size container, provided the plant fits, but keep in mind, that the smaller the pot, the sooner your plant will outgrow it and need to be repotted.
Watering and soil needs
Use a high-quality soil to plant your herbs in. Make sure it is not too heavy, has good drainage and has some organic compost or worm castings to add nutrients.
It’s important to water your herbs a little at a time and allow the soil to dry a bit before watering again. They do not like wet feet and will quickly die if overwatered. Use a small watering can to moisten the soil once the top ½ inch has dried out. If the leaves on your herbs begin to turn yellow, scale back on the amount of water.
Fertilize your plants once or twice a month with a liquid houseplant fertilizer.
Harvest a little at a time
Your herb plants will need plenty of time to get established before harvesting them. It’s tempting to harvest as soon as the first leaves or stems mature, but giving them time to grow is vital. When it’s time to harvest, only pinch a little at a time. Use a pair of scissors or your fingers to cut a few of the mature leaves. Never remove more than a quarter of the plant at a time. Cutting it back too much will cause distress and could even kill the plant. However, regular and controlled cutbacks will encourage new growth and bigger harvests later on!
Transplant when ready
Eventually, all indoor plants will outgrow their containers, and will benefit from being repotted into larger containers. If you see roots coming out of the drainage holes in your pot, growth seems to have stalled or the plant starts to flop over, it’s time to transplant.
Gently squeeze the sides of your small potted herb to coax the root ball out. Once it’s out of its original pot, check to see if it is root-bound. If so, it is helpful to water it thoroughly before transplanting it. You can also gently work the roots apart, to help encourage nutrient absorption. It may be helpful to make three or four vertical cuts up the side of the root ball and using your fingers to gently untangle the bottom of the root ball.
Now you can place your prepared herb plant into its new pot and gently add more soil around it until the container is full. Press the soil firmly around the root ball as you fill the pot. Once the container is full, water the plant to help it settle in and start to grow.
Decorate with Herbs
Now that you know the basics of growing herbs indoors, you can get creative with using them to enliven your spaces! Here are a few ideas to get you started.
Place a selection of herbs on your sunny windowsills. Alternate leaf colours, sizes and shapes for a wonderful indoor garden effect.
Place a mint or lavender plant on a windowsill in your bedroom or on your bedside table for a fragrant aroma that will relax and calm your mind and body.
Use a grow light garden in your kitchen for the ultimate ‘at your fingertips’ experience. They provide all the light your herbs will need, making them perfect for areas that have little to no natural light.
Use a vertical wall planter or plant stand to grow herbs if you’re running out of windowsill space. You may need to use grow light fixtures to add some extra light, but most can be purchased very affordably.