Growing herbs indoors

by Michael Smith (Veshengro)

Herbs do enhance many a dish and many herbs have a lot of health value and benefits to boot.

If you live in a northerly climate, whether in Europe or the USA, however, growing herbs is, theoretically, limited to growing them outdoors in warm weather.

But, there are a number of herbs that do well indoors during the cold winter months.

There are some herbs that – unfortunately – do not well indoors, according a to experts in a variety of extension services, and will either shed their leaves or go into dormancy.

Some of the herbs you should not attempt to grow indoors, they say, include lemon verbena, sweet basil, summer savory, and tarragon. However, as far as lemon verbena, aka lemon balm, is concerned, which is a cousin to the mint, and seeing the voraciousness in which it grows I should take this advice with a pinch of salt. Trial and error may be called for here.

There are plenty of varieties of herbs, though, that will do definitely well indoors, especially if they are placed on a south-facing window sill.

When herbs are grown indoors they can be started from seeds or from cuttings.

Some herbs that are great candidates for indoor growing include Aloe, Basil, Borage, Calendula, Chervil, Chives, Ginger, Hyssop, Lemon Balm, Lemongrass, Marjoram, Mint, Oregano, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Scented Geranium, Sweet Bay, and Thyme.

Popular herbs such as parsley, sage, thyme, and oregano can be easily grown in small containers and harvested as needed for cooking and thus are ideally situated in the kitchen windowsill. Mine, alas, is north-facing so I will have to see what is going to happen with the poor plants.

Herbs can be grown indoors in many different kinds of containers. Terracotta pots are ideal, but some look-alike plastic planters are much, much cheaper than terracotta and will retain water better. There is also the traditional long, narrow window box, and those also can be inexpensive enough. Other containers too can be used, as long as drainage is fine.

Remember that certain herbs such as rosemary and sweet bay, for example, will need more space in which to grow.

One of the most important things to remember when growing plants indoors is the need for good lighting. Most indoor herbs will need about six hours of sunlight each day from a south or east facing window and, of course, the south facing windows are best.

Please also remember to give each herb container a quarter-turn once each week so all sides will get more or less equal sunlight. This will result in a more even growth and a healthier plant.

If you have only an east or west facing window, some herbs that can be tried include; mints, such as peppermint, spearmint, and lemon balm.

They say that the soil you use for indoor herbs is also an important factor and that you should never use garden dirt and only good quality potting soil with organic fertilizer mixed in. However, once again, I rather use my own homemade compost mixed with good topsoil from my garden, especially the stuff that the mole brings up.

Water herbs thoroughly when the plant is dry. Don't over-water but don't let the plants wilt. The water should never be ice cold but neither should it be hot. Fill your watering container ahead of time and let it get to room temperature.

Over-watering will do more damage than a little too much as long, as said, the plants don't actually wilt. Alan Titchmarsh, the garden guru of the BBC, has said more than once that more plants are killed by over-watering than by not being watered enough, and I have seen that more than enough myself.

And speaking of temperature, the ideal temperature for growing your herbs would be to have the room at 70 to 75 degrees in the daytime and 55 or 60 at night. It can be hard to regulate, but try to keep the temperature as close to this temperature range for best survival and growth of the herbs.

Besides the herbs mentioned, chives, onion sets, and garlic can also be grown indoors using some of the same pots and methods used for the herbs.

Plan well ahead. Do not wait until winter to get your indoor herbs started. Start in the fall and let the plants settle in before the really cold weather kicks in.

You could also start them in spring, put them out in their pots in summer, and then bring them indoors again before it gets too cold for them out of doors. That way you have all year round herbs for cooking and medicine.

© 2010