Having your own indoor herb garden means you can easily pump up the flavors in your kitchen or treat yourself and your guests to fresh teas. It's quite easy to successfully cultivate your own little table-top herb collection, practiced green thumb or no; before long, you'll be cooking with herbs!
If this is your first herb garden, you may be wondering if you should start with a seed or seedling. Growing some herbs from seeds, like rosemary, can take months to get to the point where it’s bushy enough to use. It's a good idea to get a seedling that’s already got a root ball you can plant directly into it's forever pot. This way, you'll have fresh herbs at the ready in weeks.
Fortunately, there are plenty of options when it comes to indoor-friendly herbs. Choose from thyme, chives, sage, and mint, just to name a few. Ultimately, the choice is about which of your favorites will do well indoors. For example, basil is delicious and versatile, but it's a tough one to grow inside because it needs compost-rich soil and direct sunlight.
Most herbs require about six to eight hours of sun each day, which can be a challenge in the winter months. If you don’t have south-facing natural light, you need grow lights. These are LED or fluorescent lights that provide the necessary intensity in the absence of natural sun. Turn to a simple clamp light affixed to a counter over the plant, or go all-in with a system that holds multiple plants.
This is a challenge, because the amount of water your herbs need depends on many factors, including climate, soil type, and season. While droopy leaves are a key indicator that a plant needs water, waiting til they get to this point over and over won't reap you the best harvest. A finger test is the easiest solution: simply stick your finger in the soil to about the first knuckle; if it comes out dry, then your plant needs moisture.
When choosing a container for edible plants, make sure it has a drainage hole at the bottom. Also, put pebbles in the bottom of the pot. This allows the water to run through and not get bogged down in the soil, helping prevent root rot. You’ll also need a good potting soil that isn’t too compact and won't smother the roots. Finally, choose a planter that’s porous, like terra-cotta, because it helps with continuous aeration.
Temperature is something to consider, especially if you’re keeping your herb plants by the window. The temperature at that location can be more intense than inside the house, especially with the glass acting as a magnifier for some sunlight. If you’re dealing with more sensitive herbs, having the leaves touch the glass can damage them. In addition to rotating the plant so that all sides get light, remember to bring it back from the window once in a while, or permanently if you notice damage.
Indoor herbs need to be fed consistently to ensure they grow healthy and robust. Once a month is a good fertilizing cadence. Just add some liquid fertilizer to water and feed them this upgraded mixture every 30 days or so. Make sure that you choose a grow-type fertilizer and not one that's for blooming, as you want foliage, not flowers.
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Because these plants are kept indoors, the chances of having to deal with pests is minimal, unless you have another plant in the vicinity with that particular problem. Having said that, there are plenty of insects that can have their way with your herbs. One of the peskiest is aphids, but you can deal with them by putting the leaves under cold water or using an organic pesticide that’s safe for edible plants
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As with pests, diseases are less likely with an indoor garden, but issues can still arise. A few herbs, particularly lemongrass, thrive in soggy soil, but the majority don't. Overwatering can lead to root rot, which can cause your plant to collapse. Drooping or dull foliage that turns yellow or brown is the most obvious sign of this. If you're growing mint, watch out for the rust fungus, which causes leaves to turn brown and fall off. Apart from ensuring that plants have good drainage, it's vital to remove diseased leaves, so infection doesn't spread.
Once your herb plant has enough growth for a harvest, you're ready to up your cooking game. But be warned: don't overharvest. Make sure that you're not taking off more than a third of the leaves at one time, or the plent will take a long time to recover. For herbs like basil, pinch off the leaves individually at the stem. When cutting thyme, remove the stems about four inches from the base.