October 08, 2018
Indoor Herb Garden: Everything You Need to Know
The holidays are almost in full swing, so it’s about time to fire up the kitchen and break out all of those old family recipes. In this season, meat, produce and herbs greatly abound in our kitchens. Doesn’t it seem like it’d be much easier if we had those ingredients readily available? Tending to a farm of live animals or a backyard full of fresh produce isn’t always possible depending on where you live, but keeping a small indoor herb garden in the kitchen is something that’s easy enough for almost any home.
Imagine having fresh herbs not only for the holidays, but for every meal year round! Growing herbs indoors is easier than you think. We have a list of the best herbs to grow indoors, tips for herb care requirements and styling ideas for your garden so you can have a small culinary corner at home.
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Which herbs grow best indoors?
You can grow lots of popular herbs in the comfort of your own home. Some herbs are perennials and will grow back every year. Others are annuals that will die out after their respective growing season. Learn more about perennials and annuals so you can pick the best herbs for your home. These and other characteristics are important to know when you’re getting started with your indoor herb garden since they can help narrow down what herbs you can grow indoors.
To help you get started, we rounded up the best indoor herbs and broke them up based on their light preferences. Take a look at our list below to see each herb’s different needs so you can pick the best varieties for your indoor herb garden.
1. Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Basil loves warm temperatures and pairs well with tomato-based recipes. Its sweet, peppery flavor lends itself to creamy pesto sauces and refreshing cocktails, too. Basil grows quickly and may need periodic repotting to support its rapidly growing roots. Due to this, basil also needs to have about ten inches of space around its soil to let its roots flourish.
2. Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
Cilantro is an aromatic and flavorful herb used in many global cuisines. The more fragrant cilantro is, the more flavorful it will taste. Its seeds are called coriander and are also packed with strong flavor when roasted. You can start harvesting cilantro when its stems are at least six inches tall. Cut the entire stem when harvesting and use immediately for max flavor.
3. Oregano (Origanum vulgare)
Oregano is a staple in many Italian and Mexican dishes thanks to its bold and pungent flavor. Pair oregano with basil for a delectable sauce or stew. You can also sprinkle some dried oregano for more robust flavor in a pizza. Start harvesting these zesty herbs when the plant grows at least four inches tall. Freeze or dry the leaves to use them in later dishes.
4. Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Parsley is a rich source of many vitamins and minerals like iron and vitamin C. Most use parsley as a simple garnish, however, this small sprig of green is full of bright flavor — great for seasoning salads and sandwiches. Harvest parsley when the stems are at least four inches tall. It’s best to cut the outermost stems at the base of the plant to encourage growth in the center.
5. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary is a woody herb perfect for adding a robust and slightly bitter flavor to savory dishes. Plant your rosemary in a pot as tall as your plant so it has room to grow tall and spread its roots. New growth sprouts from this plant wherever you cut, so cut from the top to encourage its growth. Cutting from the base is a better choice if you want to contain your plant’s size.
6. Sage (Salvia officinalis)
This versatile herb is used in dishes, teas and even in purifying rituals! Sage’s fresh smell and earthy taste make it a top choice for big holiday dinners. Lightly harvest sage during its first year to give it time to fully grow and provide you with lots of herbs once its roots are established. Cut from the top of the plant to encourage new growth.
7. Tarragon (Artemisia dracunculus)
French tarragon is the best variety for cooking since its taste isn’t as overwhelming as Russian tarragon. It has a bittersweet, licorice-like flavor that makes it a delicious choice for many poultry-based dishes and sauces. Harvest fresh and light-colored tarragon in the late summer after it reaches at least eight inches in height for full flavor. You can freeze or dry leaves, but keep in mind that it will lose flavor over time if left unused.
8. Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Thyme tastes great both fresh and dry in soups and marinades. It has a gentle flavor with hints of mint and lemon depending on the type of thyme you grow. Thyme grows quickly, so it will supply you with lots of tasty leaves for a few years. Pinch the leaves from the top and toss them in soups and marinades for a splash of fresh flavor.
9. Bay (Laurus nobilis)
This herb can grow as tall as 60 feet in the wild! The key to promoting its height is to keep it a little cramped in a small pot. Regularly harvesting its leaves once it is established also helps keeps bay contained. Because of its height, this herb is better off in its own pot than mixed with other herbs. Bay leaves are great for stews and sauces, since the heat brings out their slightly peppery taste.
10. Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
Chervil is a sweet herb that tastes like a mix of tarragon and parsley. This herb’s fresh flavor is a great addition to omelettes and casseroles. It grows very quickly, so frequent harvesting is required to support bushy leaf growth. Use it immediately after harvesting since it quickly loses flavor after it’s picked.
11. Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
These herbs have a zesty onion flavor that adds extra pizzazz to any dish without the bold flavor of an actual onion. Its mild flavor also makes it the perfect garnish for soups and stir fries. Harvest the leaves when the plant is at least six inches tall and leave at least two inches of the stem above the soil.
12. Mint (Mentha)
Mint’s cool flavor tastes great in soothing teas and sweet desserts. Unlike most herbs, mint prefers damp soil instead of dry soil. Keep your mint moist, but not drowning in water. Younger leaves hold more flavor than mature ones, so frequently pinch off leaves to get the most flavor.
Harvest your herbs from the top to promote bushier growth.
Don’t pick more than a third of the plant or else you’ll stress out your herbs.
Pinch off flowers to discourage blooming.
Use herbs soon after harvesting for the most flavor in your dishes.
How do you start an indoor herb garden?
A healthy DIY indoor herb garden requires well-draining pots and soil, a bright light source and plenty of space. You should note what herbs you want to grow to make sure you have the space and time to grow them.
For now, read through all of these general herb care guidelines and planting tips so you can learn how to grow herbs indoors like a pro!
Pot and Location Requirements
Pick well-draining containers that are made of the right material for your climate. For example, terracotta is ideal for cooler climates since it dries out faster.
Indoor herb gardens require pots that drain well and are accustomed to your climate.
Test your pots’ drainage prior to starting your garden so you can make any necessary adjustments. You can do one of three things to test them:
Drill additional holes into the bottom of the pot to increase drainage. Add water afterwards to see drainage improved.
Add pebbles below the pot to keep the plant’s roots from sitting in water.
Pick up a new pot with better drainage.
You should ideally keep your herbs in separate pots so you can have complete control over the water, soil and light conditions for each herb. This will also make it easier to tend to their individual needs.
Alternatively, you can keep some herbs together in the same container if they have similar care guidelines. For example, place herbs that prefer lots of direct light and warmer temperatures in one planter and herbs that prefer moderate light and cooler temperatures in another planter.
Your ideal material depends on the surrounding climate. These are the different types of planters you can consider for your indoor herb garden:
Clay-based pots, like terracotta, tend to dry out faster and work best in cooler climates.
Glazed and ceramic containers hold water better and are ideal for warmer climates (so your herbs’ soil doesn’t dry out too fast).
Upcycled materials like mason jars and tin cans create a fun look, but be cognizant of how different materials retain water.
The size of your pot depends on the type of herbs you’re growing. Some herbs require larger pots if they have longer roots, while others can survive in smaller pots. The right size is important because a mismatched pot can stunt your herb’s growth or make it harder for the water to reach its roots.
Once you have your plants’ pots or planters selected, make sure you give each herb breathing room to promote good air circulation. A crowd of herbs with stagnant air surrounding them can invite moisture and bacteria. If you’re planting multiple herbs in the same planter, check your specific herb’s care guidelines to see how much space it needs from other plants.
Select a well-draining, indoor potting mix for your herbs. Add natural, leaf-promoting fertilizer to replenish the soil’s nutrients.
Use well-draining, indoor potting mix to give your herbs a happy home to spread their roots and breathe. Indoor potting mix is lighter than gardening soil and is better suited for indoor gardens. The higher the quality, the better. You can add a dash of perlite to your soil to increase drainage. Well-draining soil is grainy when wet and shouldn’t stick together too much.
You should never use gardening soil or dirt from your backyard because it’s normally too compact to allow proper drainage. This soil can also have bugs you probably want to keep out of your house and your food!
While considering the best soil for your indoor herb garden, you should also think about the type of fertilizer you will use.
The best fertilizers for indoor herb gardens are high-quality, natural and promote leaf growth. Fish emulsion and seaweed-based fertilizers are great natural choices for your indoor herb garden. Opt for fertilizers with more nitrogen and less phosphorus. Nitrogen encourages leaf growth, while phosphorus promotes flowering.
Regardless of what you choose, it’s important to add fertilizer directly to the soil after you water your herbs. This helps your herbs absorb nutrients.
Pro Tip: You can water and fertilize your herbs at the same time if you pick a liquid fertilizer!
Start by fertilizing your plants once a week throughout the year and adjust your fertilizing schedule accordingly depending on how your specific herbs react. Cut back to once-a-month feedings in your herbs’ dormant winter season. Our homemade plant food guide is great place to learn about the signs of nutrient deficiencies in your herbs and how you can solve them.
You might start to notice a white ring around your pot. This is a salt buildup that comes from fertilizer. Flush out your herbs’ pots to get rid of buildup by following these directions once a month:
Thoroughly water your pot over the sink until water starts to run from the bottom.
Let the excess water drain out.
Water it thoroughly again and let it drain completely.
Give your herbs at least six hours of direct sunlight from a south or east facing window. Install grow lights directly above if needed.
The more light herbs receive, the more flavor the herbs will have when you harvest them. Most herbs prefer at least six hours or more of sunlight every day.
South and southwestern facing windows get the most light throughout the day and are best for herbs that require more than six hours of sun every day.
East facing windows still get a fair amount of light during the day and are best for herbs that need six or less hours of sun and prefer cooler temperatures.
Keep your plants as close to your windows as possible so they can get enough light. You can also install grow lights directly above your indoor herb garden to supplement your herbs’ light source. Pick these up from your local garden center or hardware store.
Light deficient herbs will appear spindly and will not have many leaves. Move your herbs closer to a light source or use a stronger grow light to help them thrive.
Herbs with too much light will look burnt or have brown spots. This means that they are getting too much light. Drooping leaves and fast-drying soil are other signs of overexposure to the sun. This is not as likely to happen since most herbs love the sun, but it’s something to keep in mind in warmer climates. If this occurs, move your herbs away from the sun for a few hours to let them recover. Make sure none of the leaves touch the windows; the glass can burn your herbs.
Herbs prefer temperatures between 65 and 75 degrees Fahrenheit. This is normal room temperature, so it’s somewhat easy to achieve in most homes depending on where you live.
Water your herbs a couple of times a week when the top two inches of soil are dry. Avoid overwatering to prevent root rot.
Water your soil slowly at its base to let it absorb the water. Let the excess drain from the bottom. It’s important to let the water drain because sitting water causes root rot. Water your indoor herb garden a couple times a week to keep your herbs nice and hydrated.
Water deficient herbs will have dry, brown leaves and very dry soil. If this happens, water your herbs and move them to a cooler place to help them recover.
Overwatered herbs will have wilted brown or yellow leaves and moist soil. Move your herbs temporarily out of direct sunlight and repot your herbs in fresh soil if possible.
You can also place a few pebbles at the bottom of your pot to prevent your roots from sitting in water and to promote air circulation from the bottom.
Keep in mind that chilly winter temperatures can throw herbs into a dormant period. This means that they’ll most likely produce less leaves and need minimal watering throughout the season. Make sure you adjust accordingly, especially since water takes a longer time to drain and dry in the winter.
Indoor Herb Garden Ideas
Now that you have the basics down, it’s time to start thinking about how you want to style your inside herb garden. You can grow herbs in the kitchen, along your wall and in hanging pots, depending on your available space and design preferences.
Indoor kitchen herb gardens are a no-brainer since you can keep your herbs close when you’re cooking. You can also keep pots along your windowsill to let your herbs get all the light they need throughout the day. If you’re pressed for space, you can create an indoor wall herb garden to maximize your space and free up your precious counter area. This type of garden also creates a fun conversation piece when you have guests around the house.
Growing an indoor herb garden is a rewarding process that adds fresh ingredients and natural style to your kitchen! Indoor herbs are great for quickly adding a delicious twist to your morning tea or finishing off your Saturday night dinner with some fresh seasoning. Pick up a fresh bouquet with a few dipped berries to have some flowers for your dinner table and berries to enjoy after a night of cooking.