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Learn How To Grow Your Herbs Indoors

By Lori Cumpston

photography by Donnie Beauchamp

The growing season may be over outside, but you can plant an herb garden inside to indulge your green thumb and cultivate savory seasonings for your kitchen.

Think how a flavorful bowl of stew, full of fresh herbs, could brighten up a gray, wintry day. Or how a few sprigs of just-picked basil could zest up your family's favorite Italian dish.

Indeed, herbs don't require the effort needed by typical vegetables or flowers, says Ron Smith, a horticulturist at North Dakota State University in Fargo.

Smith suggests ways to add tasteful greenery to your home:

Select a container

First, consider the container. Depending on the size of your kitchen window, or other space you've chosen, you can use a window box or individual pots. Indoor herbs tend to remain small, because you'll be harvesting and pinching as you need them, so choose smaller pots, about 4-6 inches. Avoid planting too many seeds in one container to prevent overcrowding. Follow instructions on the package.

Get adequate sunlight

Herbs can tolerate a variety of light conditions ranging from direct sunlight to artificial light. Though some herbs grow with as little as six hours of sunlight a day, most grow best in full sunlight.

"The key to all of these things is that you have to give them absolutely as much light as you can possibly give them," says Troy Marden, a horticulturist with Moore and Moore West Garden Center, Nashville, Tenn. "If you have a bay window or a greenhouse window, that's the perfect climate for them."

"At very least, they need a sunny windowsill with morning or afternoon sun," he says.

If your climate tends to get a little dreary during the winter months, consider using artificial light to give your herbs the stimulation they need, Smith advises. Generally speaking, herbs do best when the household temperature is between 68 and 74 degrees.

Avoid overwatering

Water herbs enough to keep them hydrated, but don't allow the soil to remain damp. Herbs need to go through a drying cycle to prevent root rot. When the root ball is dry, it's time to water.

Mist your herbs now and then, especially during the winter months when humidity is low. If pesky bugs have invaded your indoor herb garden, put your plants in the shower and give them a good hosing down.

The best herbs to grow indoors are rosemary, thyme, chives, parsley, and mint, Marden says.

"There are hundreds of herbs, but these are the easiest of the bunch to grow," Marden says. "They're the most common culinary things that you'll want to have access to for cooking."

"There's nothing like fresh basil," Smith says. When you snip fresh basil and start cooking with it, "that will pull them into the kitchen quicker than any dinner bell."