While Massachusetts is still actively under quarantine, I’ve been trying to find ways to positively fill my free time after the work day ends. With the temps beginning to rise, we settled on a new activity to try together – gardening!
Unfortunately, as we are putting the house on the market this summer, cultivating an outdoor garden just isn’t feasible at this time. Though I’ve always loved plants, flowers, and the idea of having a lush, romantic garden, I’ve never had much of a green thumb. To make it easier, we decided to try our hand at creating an indoor herb garden. Hopefully we can create the lush, outdoor oasis of my dreams once we move!
In this post you’ll find tips for growing a successful indoor herb garden, the best herbs to grow, and my favorite recommended products to help you get started.
Tips for a Successful Indoor Herb Garden
Make Sure You Have Plenty of Light
The more light you can provide, the better off your herb garden will be. There is a direct correlation between the intensity of the light and the flavors of your herbs; those grown in strong, bright light will have the best flavors. Herbs prefer 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, so a sunny windowsill is a great location. If you don’t have enough light, all you have to do is provide an additional light source. I’ve listed my favorites in the Shop This Post below.
Keep the Temperature Between 60-70 Degrees
Temperature plays an important role in the success of your herb garden. The idea temperature range for most herbs is between 65 to 75 degrees, which works very well in most home environments.
Tip: if placing herbs directly next to the window, take care not to let the leaves touch the glass as they could burn when the glass heats up from direct sunlight.
Water Slowly and Infrequently
I have a habit of overwatering my plants, but I was still surprised to hear that the key to watering indoor herbs was to allow the pots to dry out somewhat between waterings. To tell if your plants have enough water, test the soil using your finger. If the soil is dry about two inches below the top (depending on the size of the pot), then it is time to water. If the very top of the soil is dry, do not worry. Soil dries from the top down, so although the top is dry, the soil underneath is most likely moist enough for the herbs.
Make sure you water your herbs slowly as well, as too much water can flood through the bottom of the pot before the soil has had a chance to absorb it.
If you do find that you need to water daily, this may be due to several reasons:
The pot is too small. Tip the plant out and check the roots. Are they taking up the whole pot? If so, it’s time to move the herb to a larger pot.
The humidity in your home may be too low. This is an easy fix: in the same area as your indoor garden, add a tray filled with pebbles. Pour enough water to just cover them; the water will evaporate around your plants and provide the extra moisture they need.
It may be too hot. The heat of the sun dries plants out faster. If your herbs seem to be dropping and consistently getting too dry, move them back from the window a bit.
And, if like me, you struggle with over or under watering, you may want to buy a soil meter (like this one). These handy gadgets will keep track of how much water the soil holds and lets you know when it is time to water.
Use Proper Pots
Selecting the correct containers or pots to use when growing herbs indoors is a key part of being successful. Ensure your herb pots have plenty of drainage as herbs do not like to be kept in standing water.
Make sure (if using individual pots) that each as a saucer. You can very quickly damage a table or make a mess if there is nothing for the water to drain into. You can usually find these for less than $2 at your local garden center.
Choose the correct size for each herb, depending on preference. Basil, for example, has longer roots and benefits from a deeper pot. If the pot is too big for the herb you are growing, if will be harder to keep the soil evenly moist. If the pot is too small, the herb’s growth may be stunted.
Grow Each Herb Separately
It’s fine practice to plant multiple herbs in the same container if growing outside or if using a self-contained light system such as the Aerogarden. But when making an indoor garden, depending on your environment, it is much easier to cultivate your herbs in separate containers.
Select the Right Potting Mix or Soil
Because it is an indoor garden, make sure to use a potting mix that provides additional drainage. Look at the label of the mix and make sure it is suitable for indoor plants. Do not use dirt from the ground for your garden. It is too compact for indoor growing and will not allow the roots to breathe.
Even indoor plants require fertilizer to get the nutrients they need. The best types of fertilizer to use for herbs is either seaweed extract or fish emulsion. Both have a high concentration of nitrogen which promotes strong, leafy growth, During active growth such as the summer months, fertilize only once a week. During the slower growth periods, you may fertilize once a month.
Sea Magic Fertilizer– provides micro-nutrients and amino acids to promote healthy, disease-resistant plants.
If your herbs are too close together, they won’t receive enough air flow, which is damaging for the plants. Ensure they have plenty of breathing room.
Show Them Some Love
Talking to your plants actually does help! The herbs release carbon dioxide which they convert to food. You may also gently brush your fingers over the tops of your herbs or encourage your children to give them a little pet. The movement stimulates the wind and encourages the stems to be strong.
Easy Herbs to Grow Indoors
Chives are a common topping for foods such as baked potatoes, and can be used as a substitute for onions in many dishes. Not only do chives impart a flavor to many recipes, but they offer many health benefits as well.
According to the Illinois State University horticulture center, colonists brought chives to America for medicinal purposes. They contain not only vitamins and minerals such as calcium and Vitamin C, but also other antioxidants that can help fight off cancer. They are also a rich source of Vitamin K, which is important for long term bone health, as it assists the regulation of cells that help prevent bone demineralization. It also helps with the production of a bone protein called osteocalcin, which is vital for maintaining bone mineral density.
To harvest chives, cut them at the base (like cutting grass), no more than one third of the bunch at a time.
Mint is a wonderful herb. From boosting digestion to keeping your breath fresh, mint is packed with a number of benefits. It can be used to manage blood sugar levels and treat skin conditions and, in the summer, one should add mint to their diet. All varieties are suitable for indoors.
Harvest mint leaves at any size by pinching off stems. For a large harvest, wait until just before the plant blooms, when flavors are the most intense, then cut the whole plant to just above the first or second set of leaves.
Parsley is more than a beautiful garnish; it, like most herbs, contains unexpected health benefits that many of us may not know about, such as helping to prevent breast cancer, fighting inflammation, strengthening bone, and preventing lines and wrinkles.
To harvest parsley, cut leaves from the outer portions of the plant whenever you need them.
Tip: If you choose to start parsley from seed, soak it in warm water to crack the seed coat before sowing it.
Basil loves the warmth, so make sure to keep this herb around 70 degrees. If basil gets too cold, it begins to wilt and leaves discolor within 24 hours. Adding basil to your diet improves digestion, reduces inflammation, fights depression, improves the look of skin, and helps manage diabetes.
Use fresh basil in homemade pasta or pizza sauces, puree into soups, add to salads, or turn it into an ice cream topping! It’s wonderful with vanilla ice cream, fresh strawberries, and a little balsamic reduction.
I have never been a fan of cilantro, but I have been known to eat it if its very finely chopped and mixed in with fresh salsa! Cilantro may help to lower blood sugar, is rich in antioxidants, may benefit heart and brain health, and helps to fight infections.
For those of you who don’t like it, consider adding finely chopped, small amounts to fresh salsa, homemade guacamole, or cilantro-lime shrimp. I promise you don’t really notice it, and the benefits are too good to pass up!
Thyme is a Mediterranean herb packed with Vitamin C and Vitamin A, copper, fiber, iron, and manganese. The flowers, leaves, and oil of thyme are used to treat a range of ailments such as a stomach ache, arthritis, or a sore throat.
To harvest, cut off the top five to six inches of growth just before the plant flowers. Leave the tough, woody parts. Depending on what your recipe calls for, you can either strip the leaves from the stem and add as a a garnish or use the whole sprig. Do not wash the leaves as this will remove the essential oils.
To dry thyme, remove the leaves by pinching the end of the stem with your thumb and forefinger and pull up the stalk. The leaves will fall off. Remove any of the peripheral twigs, and lay fresh leaves on a cookie sheet. Stir them up after half a day and, in a few days, the leaves will be completely dried and can be stored in an airtight container.
I’ve not had much experience with lemongrass personally, but it is a wonderful herb that can be used in many recipes or as a tea. Lemongrass oil is very beneficial as it has antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, and anti fungal properties, eases stomach pain and nausea, and helps to lower cholesterol and regulate blood sugar. As a tea, lemongrass has a light, refreshing, lemony taste with the tangy notes of classic lemons. It is mildly sweet and a great way to start your day.
To harvest lemongrass, cut, twist, or break off a stalk that is at least 1/4 inch thick. The most tender part is the bottom, so remove it as close to the soil as possible.
Oregano is one of the most common herbs and is found in a multitude of recipes. From sauces to soups to meat and poultry, oregano is a wonderful addition and very easy to grow indoors.
To harvest, use scissors to remove the stems from the plant just as the flower bud forms. Cut back to just above a growth node or a set of leaves. This will allow the plant to branch from the cut area and produce more.
Rosemary, like many other herbs on this list, is rich in antioxidants and helps to lower inflammation, blood sugar, and improve mood and memory. It is an excellent indoor herb and, like other Mediterranean herbs, is drought-tolerant and thrives on bright, sunny windowsills. It is also highly fragrant and delicious.
To harvest, cut off the top two or three inches of each sprig, leaving green leaves. Be careful not to cut the plant too close, as you want to give it time to recover. If you want to preserve rosemary, bundle your clippings with a band or twine and hang them upside down to dry.
Sage also lowers cholesterol, supports brain health, and is packed with vitamins and minerals. Add sage to scallops cooked in a brown butter sage sauce, with creamy pasta dishes, or in robust dishes like sausage, stuffings, or cured meats.
To harvest, cut an entire stem if desired or pinch a leaf at a time. Dry sage but bundling clippings together and hanging them upside down. Strip the dried leaves from the stems and store in an airtight container.