Your Guide for Growing Herbs Indoors
There are few things quite as satisfying as fresh herbs that you’ve grown yourself. You don’t have to worry about all those harmful chemicals plants are bathed in from the supermarket because you don’t need to use them when you grow in your kitchen.
All you need is a little bit of water, some sunlight, and perhaps some soil depending on the herb. In a matter of weeks, not months, your family will be eating food spiced up with fresh herbs you’ve grown yourself.
Like anything worthwhile you’re bound to have a few trials and tribulations along the way – you’ll probably ruin a few plants as well. The key is to stick with it and keep making adjustments. In the end you will succeed if you do your homework. We’ve put together a helpful guide below to get you started on the right foot.
Find the Right Spot – Orientation
The first thing you should think about is where you want to put your indoor herb garden. Your best bet is to find a spot with lots of exposure to sunlight – preferably something facing to the southwest as this will give your plants the optimal amount of sun they need.
Some herbs may be a little heartier than others, but they all need plenty of light. You’ll want to place them as close to the window as possible as well – I’ve killed more than a few plants I thought were getting enough sun when they simply weren’t close enough to the window.
Natural or Artificial Light?
A friend of mine has some of the best homemade herbs I’ve ever tasted. She lives in an apartment, she doesn’t have a garden, and she doesn’t have any southwest facing windows. So how does she do it? She uses artificial light.
She has a nice little setup with some LED bulbs hooked up to a timer that are setup to provide her herbs with the light they need when they need them. You can do the same. It might not be as straightforward setting up an indoor growth system with little or no natural light, but it can be done.
Watch for Burning
We’ve all had too much of a good thing at some time in our lives. Perhaps we’ve overindulged on our favorite food or had a few too many drinks. That’s part of life. It turns out plants and herbs can have too much of a good thing as well.
You have to be careful that your plants aren’t getting too much sun. If you notice the leaves are turning brown quickly there’s a good chance they’re starting to burn and it’s time to give them a break for a while. You can try moving spots, but remember they do have to have some light. It’s a fine balancing act.
Light isn’t the only thing that your herbs need for healthy growth. They need nutrients as well just like we do and of course they need water. The problem is most people are under the misconception that they need to be watered constantly. That’s definitely not the case and if you follow this philosophy you likely won’t have much success with your indoor herb garden.
In fact, there are some herbs that only need watering about once a week. Once you decide which types of herbs you’re going to grow make sure you confirm their water needs as they can vary greatly.
You can probably grow some pretty healthy herbs with just the right amount of light and water, but you’re not likely to have a bumper crop unless you take it up an extra notch. If you’re going to truly enjoy some epic herbs on your dinner table in the near future you need to add in a little bit of plant fuel to boost your growth.
Herbs are better with some extra nutrition, but you’ll want to make sure to use an organic fertilizer. Also, be sure to read up on the type of fertilizer you’re using as you don’t want to promote blooming. You’re after the leaves of the herbs – you don’t want it to start flowering.
Is Your Soil Healthy?
There are some herbs that grow well without the use of any soil at all, but for most of them you need a soil that’s healthy and rich. It’s important that your soil is soft and not compacted.
Let’s face it, you likely haven’t seen too many great gardens with a clay based soil and there’s a good reason for that – those types of soil are virtually devoid of the nutrition your plants need. It’s best to spend a little bit extra and get a good quality potting soil from your local hardware store. The soil from your outdoor garden may be contaminated with bugs and organisms that aren’t ideal for your herbs.
Choose the Right Herbs
As tempting as it may be to simply pick your favorite herbs, that may not be the best approach when you’re first starting out. The simple truth is that some herbs are easier to grow than others. Why not start out with something that you have a good chance of success with? It only makes sense when you think about it.
Herbs such as chive and lemongrass are a great place to start as they aren’t as demanding with their need for light and water as some other herbs. It’s probably best to avoid basil and oregano at first as they can be a little more demanding.
DIY or Prefab Units?
When it comes to indoor herb gardens you have a rich array of choices to get you started and there really is no right answer. The question you’ll want to ask yourself is how green is your thumb? Be completely honest with yourself.
If you really have no clue how to grow indoor herbs you may be better off with some sort of prefab kit that comes with all of the pieces you need to get started. For the seasoned gardener you’ll probably prefer to create your own personalized setup based on your own experiences and that’s fine to.
The Good ‘Ol Mason Jar
My grandmother had most of the gardening tips I’ll ever need in my life and she loved to grow herbs indoors in her old mason jars. It may sound a little old fashioned, but it’s actually still a great way to grow herbs.
These jars are the ideal size for the job, they’re widely available, and they’re inexpensive. If your own grandmother used to do the same thing you might have thought she was a little eccentric, but she was actually onto something. Sometimes the oldest tricks in the book have stuck around for good reason – they work!
Choose Starter Plants Over Seeds
Most people buy seeds when they’re ready to start a herb garden – it doesn’t matter whether it’s an indoor or outdoor garden. This may work out well for you if you’re lucky, but it’s not what I’d recommend.
In my experience you’ll always have more success if you start your garden using small starter plants instead of seeds. You’ll have a better base to start with and you won’t have to wait as long for your fresh herbs. I’ve seen a lot of frustrated people waiting patiently for their seeds to take route with little or no success. The choice is yours.
Go With Herbs You Like!
I know earlier in this article we talked about picking easier herbs to work with when you’re starting out and to avoid the problem child’s – that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t pick herbs that you actually like. By all means start with something you have a good chance of success with, but make sure it’s a herb that you and your family actually like as well.
Otherwise you’re likely to wind up with a lot of glum faces around the dinner table who are only pretending to like your meal. It may seem like a bit of a tightrope you’re walking, but once you get the hang of things you’ll be able to grow just about any herb you want.
Do Your Homework – All Herbs are Not Created Equal
If you think you know all there is to know about herbs think again. I can almost guarantee you there are probably dozens of herbs you’ve never heard of. Even if you are familiar with most herbs out there, you’re probably not aware of every single variety of herb in each category. There isn’t just one type of Oregano for example.
Herbs from different corners of the globe may have subtle differences between them so it pays to experiment a little bit. Why not try some different varieties of your favorites over time? You may find some pleasant surprises along the way.
Be Careful Which Species You Grow Together
Some herb gardens are quite eclectic – there are multiple different herbs growing side by side and they are often intertwined. This is a really bad idea if you want to have a great variety of homemade herbs available for your family’s use.
Some species of herbs are much more invasive than others and will tend to dominate at the expense of others. Mints are a very invasive species and are best grown well away from other herbs. That doesn’t mean you can’t grow multiple herbs at one time – it just means you have to keep them properly separated during their growth cycle.
Trimming and Pruning – Don’t Let it All Grow Out!
At one point my own indoor herb garden looked a bit like something a mad scientist would have come up with. Everything was overgrown and it basically looked like a tangled mess. Albert Einstein probably would have called it organized chaos, but my wife sure didn’t. What I didn’t know then was that I wasn’t doing myself any favors.
Herbs grow best when they’re kept under control, not when you let them grow freely. This means regular trimming and pruning. When your herbs start to look a little unruly it’s time to get out the scissors. If you do, you stand a much better chance of growing some of the best indoor herbs around.
Don’t Let it Flower
Even if you are trimming and pruning on a regular basis that doesn’t mean all of your problems are over. I’m betting you’ve probably never eaten the flowers from a herb plant. That’s because they have little nutritional value and they really don’t taste all that great.
As you trim and prune your herbs make sure you get rid of any flowering buds that appear. Sure they may look nice, but you want great tasting herbs for your dinner table, not great looking herbs for your table centerpiece. It’s an important distinction and one that any herb gardener should keep in mind.
Be on the Lookout for Bugs
We mentioned earlier that you should avoid using soil from your garden for various reasons. One of those reasons is the potential for harmful bugs that may eat or damage your herb plants. Be careful though.
Even if you use potting soil from the store you can still run into a problem with unwanted pests. It pays to be vigilante and always be on the lookout for these unwelcome houseguests. You’re probably not going to have to deal with a plague of locusts in your home, but there are plenty of other potential critters that can cause you and your plants problems.
Time to Start Growing
The great thing about growing herbs indoors is that you can start any time you like. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is and you don’t need a lot of room.
You’ve probably heard some of our favorite celebrity chefs talking about how much better everything tastes with fresh herbs and there’s nothing better than ones you’ve grown yourself. We’re confident if you follow the tips we’ve talked about above you’ll have a healthy indoor herb garden in no time at all.