An indoor herb garden will provide you with fresh herbs year-round to use in favorite recipes. The plants will also brighten up the decor, and may even add a fresh burst of fragrance to the kitchen.
All you need is a sunny windowsill and a few containers to grow your own fresh herbs. Use these tips and tricks and get started growing your indoor herb garden today.
- A container for each herb you want to grow
- Saucers to place under containers to catch drainage water (and protect windowsill)
- Good quality potting soil that contains compost and perlite
- Small watering can with a long spout
- Seeds or plants
Any container that can hold soil and water, plus has drainage holes in the bottom will work as a growing container. Herbs don’t care if their feet (roots) are in a recycled cottage cheese container or in an expensive piece of pottery as long as their head is in the sun.
Best Herbs to Grow Indoors
Good choices for a sunny windowsill herb garden include basil, chives, coriander, dill, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, and thyme.
Annual herbs are very easy to grow from seed. However, most perennial herbs take longer to germinate and grow so it’s faster to start with plants.
Select dwarf versions of your favorite herb plant whenever possible. The dwarf version will be a smaller, more compact plant, but still have the same big flavor.
Shade Tolerant Herbs
Some herbs do prefer a little shade. These will grow well on a windowsill that only receives the morning sun or in a grouping where a couple of containers receive less direct sun than the other herbs.
- Chervil: Is used in egg dishes, soups and salads to increase flavor.
- Mint: It’s a lively addition to iced tea or dessert garnishment.
- Sweet Woodruff: Perennial and fragrant, this herb is used to flavor soups and wine.
- Tarragon: This herb is highly aromatic and has an anise-like flavor.
Fill the container to within one inch of the top rim with potting soil. Don’t use garden soil, it tends to be heavy and may contain disease organisms that will attack tiny pants and kill them before they can mature.
Sow seeds on top of potting soil in each container. Check the seed packet to determine planting depth for each seed variety.
Put seeds into the soil. Lightly water top of soil being careful not to disturb the seeds.
Learn what conditions each herb prefers; for example, basil prefers warmth, while sage and rosemary like cooler temperatures, and arrange the growing containers on the windowsill accordingly.
Place the plants that like full sun and warm temperatures closest to the window glass, and the plants which like a little shade and cooler temperatures can be placed farthest away from the window glass.
Be careful that plant leaves do not touch the window glass. The hot glass will burn leaves in the summer and freeze them in winter.
While windowsill-grown plants will be close together, they still need adequate air circulation to thrive. Allow a couple of inches between each container and re-arrange the pots once a week or two to prevent stale air from becoming trapped around containers.
A south-facing window provides enough sunlight for most herbs. Some even grow well in an eastern exposure window. In either case, sometimes grow lights will be needed to encourage optimum growth from the plants.
If winter months are particularly dark and dismal in your region, or if plants become leggy and pale, they will need to be supplemented with grow lights for a few hours each day. The extra amount of light will bring them back to productive health and keep them strong until the summer sun returns.
The soil in containers dries out quickly, so water herbs regularly to keep the soil moist but not soggy. Use the small watering can with a long spout for watering so the water can be directed to the base of the plant.
Drain saucers after watering to prevent standing water that will cause the soil to sour.
Twice a year, place herb pots in the kitchen sink and give them a gently spray bath with lukewarm water. This will wash off all dust and debris and keep plants looking nice. Allow foliage to dry before placing plant back on the windowsill.
Fertilize every other week with a half-strength solution of an all-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer. Reduce water and nutrients during winter months when plant naturally wants to go dormant.
Pinch back branching plants, such as basil, to keep them from shrubby prevent the plant from becoming leggy.
Re-pot plant every couple of years or anytime you see roots growing out through the bottom drainage holes.
Rotate pots of herbs every few days so every side will get even exposure to the sunlight. This will ensure attractive and uniform growth.
Never permit herbs grown indoors to produce flowers, keep them pinched off so all the plant’s energy will go into producing usable foliage.
Keep the temperature above 50 degrees at all times, 65-70 degrees is optimal. If it is too warm, the herb plants will dehydrate and shrivel up, if it is too cold, the herb plants will go dormant.
Salt from fertilizer often builds up in the containers of herb grown indoors. The excess salt shows up as white residue on top of the soil or near the top rim of containers. Your tap water may also contain salt and create a build-up in the soil that needs to be flushed out occasionally.
To remove the excess salt, the containers will need to be flushed. To do so, place the container in the sink and allow a low stream of water to run through the container until it runs freely out of the bottom drainage holes. Allow pot to completely drain before placing it back on the windowsill.
During summer months, snip plants regularly to encourage branching and new growth. Harvest successive cuttings whenever you need fresh herbs.
Harvest before the sunshine hits the plant.
As a general rule, cut no more off the plant than one-third of the stem’s length. Exceptions include chives and lavender: When they bloom, harvest the flowering stems at ground level.
After harvesting, strip the leaves off the stems by sliding your thumb and forefinger from top to bottom. Snip off thicker leaves, such as those of parsley, bay, or tansy, which don’t strip off readily.
If you plan to remove the herbs before serving the food, skip stripping and use whole stems. Tie them together for easier removal from whatever you are cooking.
In addition to using fresh herbs in cooking recipes, use your windowsill herbs to make fragrant bouquets and soothing teas or for a relaxing herbal bath. Many herbs are used for medicinal purposes too.
Chewing parsley after a meal freshens breath and chewing on fresh mint leaves calms an upset stomach.
When short-term storage is needed, snip off the lower leaves from each stem and stand herbs upright in a glass that is half-filled with water. Loosely wrap a paper towel around the glass, then invert a plastic sandwich bag over the top of the glass. Store in refrigerator and change water every other day.
Dry Fresh Herbs
Snip off healthy branches from the main stem of your favorite herb and pluck off the leaves from the bottom of each branch. Bundle several branches together and tie the ends together with twine or place a rubber band around the ends to hold the bundle securely.
Hang each herb bundle upside down in a dry, airy indoor location and allow to dry out naturally. Check herbs weekly and test for dryness by crumbling one leaf between your thumb and forefinger. When the leaf crumbles without effort, the dried herbs are ready for storage.
Crumble all dry leaves into small airtight containers and store in a cool, dry place until needed.
Freezing Fresh Herbs
Fresh herbs freeze very well and will retain both their flavor and color when frozen.
Rough chop herbs and place them in an ice cube tray. Fill each slot with chopped herbs and gently press them down. Carefully pour enough water, vegetable or chicken stock over each herb-filled slot until the greenery is covered, then freeze.
When the herb cubes are frozen solid, remove them from the ice cube tray, place in freezer bags and store in the freezer until needed. Place frozen herb cubes into soups, stews or meat marinades for an extra burst of flavor.