There’s something so welcoming about a kitchen dotted with pots of fresh herbs the cook can harvest to add their personal touch to their dishes.
Creating an indoor herb garden is quick, easy, and satisfying no matter what size your kitchen.
If you love the idea of growing your own culinary herbs, read on!
To help you get started, we’ve reached out to some of the most knowledgeable herb-gardening experts on the web who’ve generously shared their top tips. So, let’s get started!
Step #1 Choose the Herbs You Love
Visit any garden center and you’ll be amazed at the range of culinary herbs on sale. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to decide which ones to start with.
To avoid getting overwhelmed, Texas-based Cindy Meredith of the Herb Cottage suggests starting with the basics.
“Choose herbs that you’ll know you’ll use. This may sound redundant, but use the herbs you grow.
“So, if Italian cuisine is your passion, choose basil, flat-leaved parsley, and rosemary. If you’re more into Asian cooking, chances are you use plenty of coriander.”
Jessica Damiano, gardening columnist for the AP and author of The Weekly Dirt newsletter, agrees and goes one step further:
“I always recommend that gardeners plant not only what they like to eat, but also what will save them money.”
If you’ve been spending your cash on pots of fresh herbs that never seem to survive for long, growing your own supply will soon start making clear financial sense and add superb fresh flavor to your cooking. Even better, if you end up with more than you can use, you’ll be able to harvest the excess to freeze and use all year round.
However, it’s also important to understand that different herbs have different life cycles. For example, is your chosen variety a perennial that will thrive and continue to provide you with the fresh aromatics you’re looking for, year after year? Or is it an annual that will suddenly die off after your summer harvest?
“Rosemary is a long-lived shrub that grows quite large, and however much you like the flavor, a single plant will suffice for most home cooks using a few sprigs at a time. Basil, on the other hand, is an annual plant grown from scratch each spring that dies off at the end of the autumn. This is not related to how carefully you look after the plant or the climate where you live; it is simply the lifecycle of basil.” Alison, Gardening by Design
Step#2 How to Get Started
Once you’ve decided what to grow, the next choice is what you want to start with.
The most economical option is to buy a few packets of seeds, place them in compost and patiently wait for them to sprout. Growing your herbs from seed is immensely satisfying and you’ll feel like a real gardener. The downside is that you can’t use them immediately – so until they’re ready to harvest, you’ll still be spending money on store-bought fresh herbs.
These are young seedlings that have already developed leaves. Instead of seeds that take weeks to grow, aromatic microgreens are usually ready to harvest within 7 to 10 days.
You can use the tender stems as well as the leaves. Author and gardener Carol Michel particularly likes microgreens because “In just a few weeks, you can use the seedlings just as you would the cut leaves.”
Starting with mature plants will save you time and effort. Buy from nurseries centers or supermarkets in small, often overfilled containers. They are the most expensive option, but once you re-pot, they’ll keep spreading, and best of all, they’re ready to harvest immediately!
Step #3 What kind of soil do herbs need?
Christy Wilhelmi, founder of the popular Gardenerd blog, advises:
“Plant them in the best quality soil you can afford. Most big box stores carry poor quality potting soil and compost products, but your local nursery will offer better options. Enrich existing soil with plenty of organic matter if you plan to grow in native soil. Culinary herbs are cultivated varieties that need attention and nutrient-rich soil.”
Although herbs such as basil, mint, and cilantro thrive in nutrient-rich soil, it’s also essential to consider the native growing conditions of your herbs.
“Rosemary, sage, oregano, thyme, and marjoram require extremely well-draining soil. Therefore, it is more suitable to plant moisture-loving plants like basil, cilantro, dill, and tarragon together.” Herb expert Olivia Choong
Will your herbs need added fertilizer? Probably not at first if you’re using store-bought growing compost. But as they grow and spread, they may require additional help to thrive. Again, Olivia Choong explains:
“Fertilize during the active growing months of spring and summer. Over winter, plants do not grow as much, so less fertilizer is required. Use an organic fertilizer in granular or liquid form that is high in nitrogen to ensure that you will have a continuous harvest. Fish emulsion is a useful fertilizer and is often recommended for herbs, but do note that it has a strong fishy odor which can linger for a day or so when used indoors. You can opt for a deodorized version or look around for one with a lighter odor.”
Step #4 Choose the Right Planter
Herbs thrive when they have room to spread their roots and grow, so choose the largest planters that are appropriate for your available space – larger containers are great for plants growing on a porch or a patio. Still, only small pots will be practical if you’re starting your indoor garden on a window sill.
“The most indoor friendly and easier to grow herbs for small containers are rosemary, mint, thyme, basil, bay, and cilantro.” Lynn, Sensible Gardening and Living
And don’t be fooled by photos, cautions Gardenerd’s Christie Wilhelmi.
“Magazines always show herbs crammed into a single pot growing in abundance together. The truth is those images are staged for the photo, rarely practical, and less likely to succeed.”
Step #5: Getting the Light Right
Next question, how much light do herbs require? Well, although this varies greatly depending on the type of plant, Lynn of Sensible Gardening and Living offers a valuable rule-of-thumb.
‘Positioning the plants in an east or westward facing window will provide the most sunlight, but also make sure to rotate your plant (when watering) or use a grow light if you don’t have a suitable window.
“Herbs like plenty of light indoors so they don’t stretch,” explains Cindy Meredith.
Step #6: How Much Water is Enough?
They say that more indoor plants are killed by kindness than neglect. If your plants are thirsty, they’ll let you know as their leaves become soft and droopy. But overwatering can kill them slowly because waterlogged compost doesn’t allow the roots to breathe. Yellow leaves are the most common sign of overwatering.
Expert Cindy Meredith suggests letting the soil dry out a little between waterings.
Lynn, Sensible Gardening and Living, advises a flexible approach, depending on the varieties you’re growing:
“Become familiar with the watering needs of your plants. Not all herbs can tolerate dry or moist environments the same way. For example, sage, thyme, and rosemary can be watered every 2 weeks, whereas dill, mint, and fennel require damp soil and watering once or twice a week if it’s very warm and dry inside your house. Avoid having the pot sit in standing water by providing adequate drainage and airflow to allow water flowing out of the pot to evaporate.”
Step #7: Harvesting
Now for the really enjoyable part. Once your herbs are established and growing, harvest them as you need, adding them to your dishes – in the growing season, this actually encourages them to become even bushier.
However, do be careful not to over-prune as this could cause the plant to go into shock and even die. So let your watchword be – little and often.
Now that we’ve gone through the essentials and you can see how easy it is to establish an attractive herb garden indoors, let’s give the last word to Lynn, from Sensible Gardening and Living:
“Overall if you use high quality plants from a reputable garden center along with good soil, fertilizer, appropriate watering, and window placement, you will have an excellent and bountiful kitchen herb garden”
Finally, a sincere thank you to our gardening experts who so generously contributed their ideas and advice to this article. We hope they’ve inspired you to get started!