By Rachel Crow
Growing herbs indoors is a wonderful – not just because of their culinary, therapeutic and aromatherapy uses, but also because they offer myriad leaf shapes, colors, textures and fragrances for creating delightful potted displays. Once you know how to grow herbs indoors, you can enjoy these many benefits year round.
Whether you have little or no space for outdoor herb garden ideas, simply want to keep herbs on your kitchen windowsill for use in cooking, transforming dishes and salads with their unique flavors, would like to keep a lavender plant in your bedroom to aid sleep or a container of scented lemon balm in your hallway to welcome in guests, this advice will help you do so successfully.
Growing and using herbs for their therapeutic properties is also becoming more popular. 'People don’t realize what we have in our native herbs. You can grow plants for herbal infusions easily, such as using the leaves of mint for easing upset stomachs, stimulating digestion and easing bloating,' says Jekka McVicar of Jekka's family run herb farm.
How to grow herbs indoors
There are a number of options for growing herbs indoors, including:
- Growing herbs from seed.
- Starting off with young herb plants.
- growing herbs from cuttings.
- Using grow lights.
- Growing herbs in water rather than soil.
One of the easiest way to grow an indoor herb garden is to start with young plants.
‘Starting with young plants gives us an instant gratification and allows us to start harvesting fresh herbs quicker,' says Amy Enfield, Horticulturist for Bonnie Plants.
Perennial herbs, such as rosemary and thyme are easiest to grow from young plants.
The herbs plants can be grown in a variety of pots and planters to complement your interior scheme, or you can create a vertical display on shelves or in hanging baskets.
Which herbs grow best indoors?
Some herbs grow better indoors than others.
'Because of the reduced light levels indoors, herbs that grow well in partial sun outdoors are the best options to grow indoors,' explains Amy. Among the easiest herbs to grow indoors are:
- Lemon balm
- Greek oregano
- French tarragon
- English thyme
'These herbs will last longer and won’t be as “leggy” – or stretched,' says Amy.
However, if you have a spot in your house that gets a lot of direct sunlight, rosemary and sage are also good indoor herb options.
Do indoor herbs need direct sunlight?
Herbs need as much direct sunlight or natural light as possible to thrive indoors.
'They should be grown in a bright, sunny spot like a window that faces south and receives at least six hours of sunlight each day. Even partial shade herbs should be grown in the brightest spot possible indoors,' says Amy.
'Most herbs love a sunny windowsill so when you can, plant them south facing. They will still grow elsewhere but not as quickly,' advises Claire Ransom from online plant subscription box LazyFlora, which provides edible herb bundles.
If you do not have any south-facing windows, then 'mint, parsley and chives will thrive with less intense light and do prefer slightly cooler temperatures,' says Claire.
Signs that your indoor herb garden is not receiving enough light include:
- Poor growth.
- Abnormally long stems between leaf sets.
- Leaves that are pale or turn yellow.
If you see any of these signs with your indoor herbs then try to move them to a different location where they will receive more sunlight.
Indoor herb pots
'Herbs need room to grow, so make sure to select a container that gives them some space to grow,' explains Amy Enfield.
'For most herbs, a 6in container will work fine. When selecting your container, make sure that it has drainage holes, as herbs hate sitting in water which will cause their roots to rot. To protect your tabletop or windowsill, make sure you also have a water collection tray to sit underneath your plant,' adds Amy.
Herb planter ideas that are glazed or made of plastic are ideal for growing herbs indoors. Clay or terracotta pots tend to dry out quickly, especially in the winter.
Planting combinations for indoor herb gardens
To grow herbs indoors, using individual containers is best so each plant can be put in the best growing conditions.
'If you want to create mixed herb gardens, however, select containers that are 10-12in in diameter, or a window box. It is important to combine herbs that have the same light needs and water requirements,' advises Amy.
Think about the care the individual herbs need.
'Rosemary, thyme and sage like fairly dry soil so they make a good container combination. Whereas parsley and basil need more moisture, so they can also be planted in the same pot,' says Claire.
How to grow herbs indoors year round
In the winter when natural sunlight is reduced it can be harder to grow herbs indoors on even the sunniest south-facing windowsills.
'However, if you grow your herbs under a grow light, all herbs can be successfully grown indoors,' says Amy Enfield.
These specialty lights mimic direct sunlight to provide full nourishment to plants.
How to grow herbs indoors from seed
One of the most cost-effective ways of growing herbs indoors is to start them off from seed.
Some herbs, such as basil, cilantro (coriander) and chervil, are in fact best started from seed and replanted throughout the year.
'The benefit from starting your herbs from seed is that you have a wider variety of herbs to choose from and may be a good option if you want to grow a lot of one type of herb,' says Amy.
However, do bear in mind that many herbs can take a long time to grow from seed. Therefore you may prefer to start with a combination of young plants, for immediate harvesting, and then sow seeds successionally for herbs to enjoy throughout the year.
To grow herbs indoors from seed, start your herb seeds off in small pots or seed trays of moist, peat-free multi-purpose compost.
- Do not sow too many herb seeds as most will germinate, so sow what you need.
- Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil and water lightly.
- Use a propagator or cover the pot with a plastic bag secured with an elastic band to increase the temperature.
- When the herb seeds have germinated, remove the covering, and keep the compost moist.
- Thin out seedlings so that each one has the space to grow healthily.
- When the seedlings have developed their first true leaves and are large enough to handle, plant them on into 6in pots.
How to grow herbs indoors from cuttings
You can either take softwood cuttings in spring, or semi-ripe cuttings in late summer or autumn.
To take softwood herb cuttings in spring:
- Take cuttings in the morning when the plant is full of water.
- Look for new side-shoots that don’t carry flower-buds.
- Using a sharp knife or secateurs, cut just below the leaf node - where a leaf is joined to the stem.
- Cut at an angle.
- Trim the cuttings to about 2-4 inches long.
- Take more cuttings than you want – to allow for failures.
- Fill a pot with an equal amount of potting compost and horticultural sand or perlite, and make a hole with a dibber or pencil.
- Plant the cuttings in the pot and firm the soil around them.
- Water and place in a propagator or cover with a plastic bag secured with an elastic band.
- Place on a sunny windowsill and keep the compost moist.
- Remove from the propagator or remove the plastic bag once you seen signs of growth – usually about 3 to 4 weeks.
To take semi-ripe herb cuttings in late summer or autumn:
- Select cuttings from this season’s growth.
- Using a sharp knife or secateurs, cut just below the leaf node.
- Trim the cuttings to about 4-6in long.
- Remove the lowest leaves.
- Dip the bottom of the cutting in fresh hormone rooting powder, and remove the excess.
- Then plant into pots as above with softwood cuttings.
Growing herbs in water indoors
There are some herbs that can be grown in water indoors without soil.
Stems of perennial herbs, such as sage, thyme, mint, basil and oregano, will happily grow roots in glasses or jars of plain water.
You can create an attractive display on a sunny kitchen windowsill of kilner or jam jars filled with herb plants to use for cooking, all year round.
To grow herbs in water indoors:
- Cut some stems off herb plants you're already growing, or herbs you have bought from the supermarket, and trim them to about 6in long.
- Remove the leaves from the bottom 4in.
- Cut the bottom of the stem at an angle so it can absorb more water.
- Fill a large-mouthed jar or glass with clear water from the tap or bottle, but avoid distilled water.
- Ideally use opaque glass as clear glass will need more regular cleaning as algae will form quicker on it.
- Place the herb stems in the jars and place on a sunny – preferably south-facing windowsill.
- Harvest each leaf as it grows to full size to encourage the stem to produce more leaves.
How often should I water my indoor herbs?
You should not water indoor herbs too much.
'Some people love their plants too much and water them everyday, while other people neglect their indoor herb gardens just a little too much and never water them at all,' says Amy Enfield.
'The right way to water is somewhere in the middle. Your herbs should be watered when the top inch of soil becomes dry. The easiest way to test this is by gently sticking your finger into the soil either daily or every other day. If the soil still feels cool and damp, wait to water, but if the soil is dry it’s time to give them a drink,' Amy advises.
Top tip: When you water your indoor herbs, water them thoroughly. Saturate the soil and allow the excess water to drain away.
Remove any standing water in the water collection trays that remains 20 minutes after watering to prevent root rot.
How do you maintain potted herbs indoors?
To maintain potted herbs indoors and also ensure that leaves are available for when you need them for cooking or making infusions or tisanes, they need to be lightly trimmed regularly.
'A light trim once a week, or every other week depending on how fast your plant is growing, will keep your herbs from flowering, which can alter their flavor, and not always in a good way,' says Amy.
Trimming the indoor herb plants will also encourage new, young growth to form.
'When you trim your herbs, you should never remove more than a third of the plant in a single harvest,' Amy adds.
This feature was created by H&G sister brand, Period Living magazine
Period Living is the UK's best-selling period homes magazine. A subscription provides you with all you need to know about caring for and improving a traditional house and garden.
I am the Content Editor on Homes & Garden's sister magazine, Period Living Magazine. I joined the team nine years ago, after freelancing for years on a range of titles, covering everything from homes and gardens, to history, arts and crafts. I have the joy of covering all of these areas of interest still - handily packaged together in the pages of Period Living Magazine and for the Country Channel of Homes & Gardens.
I love discovering how passionate gardeners have transformed often previously neglected plots into beautiful spaces brimming with blooms for our real garden stories; I feel privileged to meet and interview many artisans and craftspeople creating unique homeware, sharing their stories and the skills of their traditional crafts; and I find uncovering the background stories of historic properties and antiques endlessly fascinating.
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