How to grow herbs indoors. How to grow an herb garden. Harvesting herbs and storage for herbs.
Are you interested in growing herbs at home? I remember the time before I started growing my own herbs. I had a ton of spice jars filled with sort-of green oregano, parsley, basil and other herbs.
There are many kitchen staples that I was buying that I could have been growing all along. I didn’t realize the health benefits associated with eating and cooking fresh herbs until I actually started growing and using them.
And no one told me the difference in color in herb spices that you buy in the grocery and herbs that you grow at home. I thought that the flavor might be better with fresh herbs, but I didn’t know that our food would look more appealing also!
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Why you should grow your own herbs
There are so many reasons that you should be growing your own herbs!
I started growing herbs a few years ago. I already had a large vegetable garden each summer, so why not? I knew that fresh vegetables tasted so much better than ones I could buy in the grocery store, so herbs had to be the same way.
I didn’t realize until after I started growing herbs that there were so many benefits and reasons that I should have been growing herbs all along.
Herbs are really versatile.
It’s true that you can grow herbs almost anywhere. Live in an apartment? You have plenty of room to grow herbs, even just in a sunny windowsill!
Have room outside for a raised bed or a few potted plants? Herbs will grow well in almost any place you put them.
Growing herbs can reduce your grocery bill.
Do you spend money on bunches of fresh parsley and sprigs of thyme? You can grow an entire plant for the cost of one or two packets of herbs.
The herbs that you grow will be more fresh and, you’ll know what went into growing them.
Reduce your carbon footprint.
Everyone seems to be concerned with global warming, greenhouses gases and reducing their carbon footprint. This is totally a good thing! The problems created with greenhouse emissions are not good and hard to even fathom.
One way that you can reduce your carbon footprint is to become more self-sufficient. This includes growing herbs! Not only will you not have to drive to the grocery for a bag of cilantro, but you’ll also reduce the amount of fertilizer used and the fuel associated with growing the herbs on a farm and having them shipped to a grocery store.
Fresh herbs are healthier.
It’s no secret that fresh foods are healthier for you. Fresher herbs have more nutrients than old or dried herbs. Don’t get me wrong, preserved herbs still hold some nutritional value, just not as much as the fresh herb.
It’s so convenient to grow your own herbs.
I know you’ve craved food. We all have. And there’s nothing worse than craving something and not getting it!
If you grow your own herbs, you can make that jar of pesto that you want or the mint tea that you just need, all without driving to the grocery store!
How long does it take to grow herbs?
This depends on a few factors like what kind of herbs you’re growing, the conditions you’re growing in and how you start your plants.
Some herbs are ready to harvest within a couple of weeks of purchasing them while others need more time to adjust.
Good growing conditions will allow your plants to put off more growth, which means that you’ll be able to harvest from them sooner. And of course, starting plants from seeds takes longer than if you purchase plants that are already growing.
What is the best way to grow herbs?
As I mentioned before, there are a ton of ways to grow herbs. So, the question shouldn’t be what is the best way to grow herbs, but what is the best way for you to grow herbs.
If you live in a small space and you don’t have room outdoors to grow, then a kitchen windowsill is the perfect place to grow herbs. You’ll see them frequently, which will help you remember to water them enough. If they’re in your kitchen, you’re also much more likely to actually use them!
Living in an apartment may mean that you don’t have a kitchen window. In that case, any sunny windowsill will do. Try to put them in a window that is very visible, like in your living room. You’ll be much more likely to keep it healthy and use it if you see it frequently.
A patio can also be a great spot to grow herbs. You can grow them in pots or a small raised bed. Depending on how much space you have, you can experiment with different kinds of herbs. Just don’t forget about them being outside. (A ton of people that have tried growing herbs say that they forget to water them or even use them when they are outside). Because of this, its a good idea to plant them where you’ll see them each day. Maybe a pot by your front door is a better idea for you than on your patio.
You can also add herbs to flower beds and gardens. Herb plants are attractive and provide a nice touch of green for flowerbeds. Many herbs also repel insects, which will help to keep pests out of your garden.
Should you grow herbs indoors or outdoors?
This is a question that you’ll need to answer for yourself. Herbs can thrive both indoors and outdoors.
If you’re diligent about taking care of your plants, then try to get your herbs outside if you can. They’ll enjoy the rain and higher levels of sunlight.
Now, let’s be real. If you think you’ll forget about them or won’t use them, don’t plant them outside. Yes, outside plants will enjoy the sunlight of being outdoors but they’ll quickly dry up and die if you keep forgetting to water them. And nobody wants to cook with dead, dried up basil or mint.
If this is your first time growing herbs, try growing a small pot or two indoors until you get used to taking care of them and using them.
Growing herbs in pots and planters
Herb plants are smaller and more compact than many other houseplants, vegetable plants or ornamental plants. This makes them really well-suited to growing in containers.
There are a ton of containers that you can grow herbs in. The most common containers used to grow herbs are flower pots, galvanized containers and mason jars.
Growing herbs in your kitchen
If you’re growing herbs in your kitchen, you can grow them on your kitchen counter or in a kitchen window. You’ll probably want to grow them in something that compliments your kitchen decor, which can be really fun.
Try growing in some terra-cotta flower pots for a rustic look.
Galvanized containers make really attractive herb containers, especially in a farmhouse style kitchen.
If you’re going for a more modern look, opt for some fun and funky colored, small flower pots.
You can even grow herbs in fun, space-saving hanging pots.
Growing herbs in mason jars
One of the best ways to grow herbs indoors is in mason jars. Mason jars have a rustic appeal that can blend well into any room. They’re also super portable, so your can easily move them to give them more sunlight or to harvest the herbs.
A crucial part to any plant care is ensuring that the plant has the proper amount of water. Too little water and the plant will dry up; too much water and the plant will drown. Mason jars aren’t exactly designed to grow plants in, so they don’t have drainage holes that many flower pots have.
There is an easy fix to work around this. Use marbles, small rocks or gravel in the bottom of your mason jar. The rocks provide an area where the excess water can drain. For a quart jar, you’ll want to have a layer of rocks that is about 2″ deep.
Add the soil mix on top of the rocks.
Loosen the root ball of the plant that you’re putting into the mason jar. Place it on top of the potting soil and firmly pack soil around the roots and the base of the plant. Give it a good watering when you finish.
Growing herbs in water
Growing plants in water is called hydroponics. It’s a much cleaner way to grow plants since, literally, there’s isn’t any dirt to get the plants dirty.
The easiest herbs to grow in water are herbs that are perennials. All herbs can be grown in water, but some require much more work than others.
The most common perennial herbs that do well in water are:
- Lemon balm
Starting these herbs is simple.
You’ll want to cut a 6″ stem from the plant, cutting at an angle. Strip the bottom 4″ inches or so of leaves off of the cutting.
Take the 6″ cutting from an existing plant and put it into a jar with water. Change the water once a week until roots develop. Over time, the cutting will grow roots. If you notice the water or the roots turning green, you’ll want to block the sunlight from reaching the water in the jar. Do this by taping paper around the jar or painting it.
You can either harvest from this plant or, once the roots are established, start a new plant using the rooted cutting.
Growing herbs in water over the winter is a great way to propagate new plants and keep your herb garden going over the winter months.
Best soil for herbs
Most herbs grow well in typical garden soil. This means that for the most part, normal potting mix or healthy garden soil can be used to grow herbs. Some herbs do better in a well-drained soil. Rosemary and other herbs that were developed in the dry, Mediterranean climate prefer a grittier, drier potting mix.
If you’re planting in containers, be sure to use a potting mix, not a garden soil mix. Garden soil doesn’t drain the same way that potting mix does. Using the two interchangeably can cause problems with your plants. Use potting mix in containers and garden mix in the garden.
You can learn to make your own potting mixes for herbs and many other plants with my FREE POTTING MIX RECIPE GUIDE.
Where to get plants
There are a few different ways that you can grow herb plants. You can grow them from seeds, from cuttings or divided plants, or by purchasing plants that are already started. There are pros an cons to each method.
Some methods are cheaper than others. You’ll also find that there is a difference in the amount of time needed to grow herbs from the different methods.
Starting herbs from seeds is a great way to grow herbs and reduce your costs. You’ll have more choices when it comes to the variety that you want to grow, which can be a good thing.
When buying seeds, make sure to buy seeds that are from a reputable company and are well within the expiration date. Old seeds will not sprout as well as fresher seeds.
It can be tempting to buy all of the cool herb varieties, but stick to buying what you know that you’ll actually use. Sure, chocolate mint sounds cool, and it smells wonderful, but are you really going to use it? If not, stick with regular mint.
Starting seeds is an excellent way to not only reduce costs and pick the varieties of herbs that you want, but you’ll also be able to grow healthier plants. When you purchase plants from the store, you don’t know anything about the plant other than what it looks like when you buy it.
When you start seeds, you’ll be able to watch the plants as they grow. You can cull plants that don’t grow well since they usually won’t grow well the rest of their lives. You’ll be able to keep the best of the best and start off with really healthy plants.
To start seeds, you’ll need a few items:
- A sunny, warm spot or a grow light
- seed starting trays
- seed starting soil mix
Fill the seed trays with seed starting mix. It’s crucial to use seed starting mix, which is a softer mix that drains well. Seed starting mix doesn’t compact like other potting mixes. Soil that is too compacted will restrict the growth of tender new roots and seedlings.
Use your finger to make a small indention in the soil for the seed. Be sure to read the seed packet to see how deep the seed should go into the soil. You can also put seeds into the soil using a seeding tool.
Place two seeds into one hole. Using two seeds per hole helps to ensure that you will have a plant growing. Not all seeds will germinate and make seedlings. If both seeds germinate, you can either let them grow together or you can remove the smaller, weaker plant.
When the seeds are in the soil, gently cover them with soil. Water them really well using a gentle mist. A water hose or watering can will be too rough and will cause the soil to come out of the tray, bringing seeds out with it. A misting spray bottle with water is the best option.
Seeds need lots of water to germinate properly. Keep the soil moist, but not saturated. They will need daily watering, sometimes as much as twice/day. Depending on the herbs you bought, you should see sprouts within a couple of weeks.
Starting seeds in seed starting soil and trays is a good way to ensure that your plants are off to a healthy start. Once the seedlings start to outgrow their seed-starting space, you will need to relocate them so that they can continue to grow.
Transplanting, or moving, herb seedlings is hard on them. You’ll need to make sure that your seedlings are strong enough to be moved. Try to move them too early and they may break.
The best time to move your herb seedlings is once they develop true leaves. The leaves that first appear on seedlings aren’t ‘true’ leaves and they don’t resemble the leaves seen on the mature plant. True leaves will usually appear 5-6 weeks after germination.
Check the plants for any signs of weakness. Yellow leaves, curled leaves, or other deformities indicate a weak plants. Only transplant strong and healthy plants.
Ideally, the herb plant should have a root ball. This can be hard to determine without pulling out the seedling. A plant with a strong root ball will pull the soil out of the container with it, creating a plug.
Before you try to move your seedlings, water them well to dampen the soil. This helps to reduce the shock of being moved and makes it easier to get the entire plant and plug out of the container.
Place soil into the bottom of the new container. The potting soil that you put into the new container should be moist. Make sure you have enough room at the top for the seedling’s stem base to come up just below the top of the pot. This should be 1 -2″ below the pot’s rim depending on the size of your seedlings.
Don’t pack the soil in the pot. Your transplants are still gentle and don’t need to be moved into compacted soil.
If you are transplanting sage or rosemary, you may want to add some rocks to the bottom of the container to help with drainage.
Now you can remove the seedlings and place them into their new containers. Create a hole in the potting soil in the new container that is large enough for the entire root ball and plug. If you used seed starter pellets, remove the thin outer covering of the pellet before placing the transplant into the new container.
A good rule of thumb is that an 8″ pot can hold one plant. A 10″ pot can hold two plants.
Place the herb transplant into the hole and gently pat the soil back around it. You want to gently compress the soil, but not compact it around the plant. You should still be able to see the base of the plant and the leaves.
Once the plant is in the soil, gently water it around the base. Avoid watering herbs on the leaves. Water it gently until you see water come from the bottom of the pot. After transplanting, keep the plant in partial sunlight. Gradually introduce the plant back into full sun.
If transplanting tender seedlings doesn’t appeal to you, then you’ll be glad to know that you can still grow herbs from seeds. You can directly sow the seeds into the container that you want to keep them in as they grow.
Keep in mind that not all seeds will germinate. You can put more than one seed into a container and remove the weaker seedlings. When direct sowing, use a potting mix, not a garden mix blend. A garden blend will compact too much and can prevent seeds from germinating properly.
You’ll need to keep the soil moist just like you would for seedlings that are started in trays. Start by watering with a misting spray bottle, once or twice a day to keep the soil moist.
Does your neighbor grow really fragrant lavender? Or do you have a rosemary plant that you want more of? Make cuttings!
You can take cuttings from most perennial or woody herbs. Simply place the cuttings in water to sprout roots and then re-pot them.
How to take cuttings
Taking cuttings from herbs can seem intimidating, but is fairly simple.
You’ll need a sharp knife and a jar of plain water that is ready to put cuttings in.
A cutting should be taken from the stem of the plant. Aim for a cutting that is about 6″ long and has healthy leaves on it. Use your knife to cut the stem at an angle. The more slant you can get, the better. This increases the surface area of the cutting that can absorb water.
Place the cuttings in a jar of water in a sunny location. Change the water out in the jar weekly until roots start to grow. Within a few weeks, you should see roots start to develop.
If the water starts to turn green or the roots start to turn green, the water is getting too much sunlight. To fix this, tape paper over the part of the jar filled with water or paint the jar to prevent sunlight from hitting the water.
Once the plants have strong roots, they can be transplanted into pots.
Dividing herbs is another great way to propagate plants.
If you’re dividing herb plants, you’ll want to make sure that they are at least 2 years old. This will ensure that the plant can handle the stress of being divided. It’s not a good idea to divide plants that are actively growing, so plan on dividing any herbs in the early spring or late fall.
The best herbs to divide are ones that grow in clumps. Mint, tarragon and chives are easily divided.
Use a shovel and dig up the entire herb plant. Make sure that the shovel goes well beneath the root ball.
Lift the entire plant out of the ground. Using a sharp knife or a garden spade, cut straight through the center of the plant and soil. Cut all the way through the roots. You want to cut the plant into two equal halves.
If you want to, you can keep dividing the plant into smaller sections. Divide it as much as you want, but be sure that each section has roots, stems and leaves.
Now that the plant is divided, you can replant it. The divided herbs can be planted near each other or spaced out. When you replant the herbs, make sure that the roots are entirely covered with soil.
The newly divided plants need lots of water. Water them daily until the plant is well-established. You’ll know the plant is established when new leaves and new growth appear.
For more information about how to divide herbs, watch this video:
Where to plant herbs
Most herbs are versatile and can grow in numerous conditions.
Typical, well-drained garden soil is usually the perfect soil for growing herb plants. Some herbs, like rosemary or lavender, prefer soil that is drier and better-drained.
Most herbs will thrive in full sun (areas with 6+ hours of direct sunlight). If you don’t have an area that is full sun, try growing herbs like parsley, mint, tarragon or chives. These herbs grow well in shade.
Many herb plants are tender and can be easily damaged in windy areas. If you are growing herbs in a exposed area, like an apartment patio, tuck the plants closer to the building to help protect them from harsh wind.
Which herbs can be planted together?
Many herbs can play nice together and be planted in the same pot. There are two main rules that you need to remember when it comes to planting herbs in the same container:
1. Avoid putting plants that need lots of water in the same container as those that prefer drier soil.
2. Make sure that plants are a similar size. Don’t put large plants in a container with smaller ones as the large plants will often swamp a smaller plant.
Plants such as chives, mint, coriander and parsley can be planted together. All of these herbs enjoy moist soil and are similar in size.
Drier plants such as rosemary, lavender, bay, thyme, sage and oregano can also be planted together. Be careful of size with these. Rosemary can grow to an almost bush size, so if you want to plant other herbs with it, choose a dwarf variety.
Make sure that your container is large enough to accommodate multiple plants.
Not all fertilizers are made the same, and despite some claims, all fertilizers can be overused. There are several types of fertilizers that can be used to help your herb plants grow.
Water soluble fertilizers are easy to use. Simply mix the fertilizer with water and use it to water your plants. A fish emulsion is a water soluble option that is also organic.
If you are fertilizing herbs in containers, only use 1/4 of the recommended rate. When you apply fertilizer to a garden, much of the fertilizer seeps through the soil and it’s accessible for the plant. In containers, there isn’t anywhere for the fertilizer to escape to. Fertilizer rates are usually determined for garden use and account for the lost fertilizer.
The soil in container herbs can build up salts from fertilizer. To prevent this, thoroughly saturate the soil until water runs from the bottom of the pot. This will help to flush out excess salts from the soil. Do this before fertilizing the plants to avoid accidentally flushing out good nutrients.
Fertilize herbs plants during the spring, summer and fall. Herbs do not need fertilizer over the winter, even those that are brought indoors.
Do not get fertilizer on the leaves. Fertilizer can burn the leaves on your plants. Apply fertilizer to the soil about one inch from the base of the plant to avoid burning the stem. Most commercial potting soils have fertilizer in them so you won’t need to start fertilizing your plants until 4-6 weeks after planting.
Most herbs need at least 4 hours of sunlight, which can dry out the soil.
Plan on keeping the soil moist to the touch. Some plant, like basil, require more water, while others, like lavender and rosemary prefer drier soil.
Common mistakes to avoid
Growing herbs is fun until you make mistakes. Avoid making these common rookie mistakes when growing herbs:
1. Growing the wrong variety
It can be all too easy to want to grow neat varieties of herbs. And, it can be equally as easy to grow herbs that you don’t intend to.
When buying herb seeds, stick with the basics. Purchase herbs that you currently use. Purple basil plants are pretty to look at, but will it still be appealing when you make purple pesto?
2. Using the wrong soil
This is especially true when starting seeds. Make sure that the soil is well-suited to your plants. If starting seeds, make sure that you use a seed-starting mix. Use a soil with more grit and better drainage if you’re planting Mediterranean herbs like lavender, sage or rosemary.
3. Complex plants too soon
Some herbs are more complex than others. If you’re just starting out, choose herbs that are easier to grow. Basil, parsley, mint and rosemary grow easily and will help easy you into herb growing.
4. Watering like houseplants
Herbs are not houseplants. Repeat. Herbs are not houseplants.
Herbs that are grown indoors may require less water than those grown in a garden, but they will still need more than the weekly watering that most houseplants thrive on. Don’t get into a habit of watering all of your plants at the same time. Pay attention to the soil and keep it moist.
5. Not pruning properly
Trim your herbs frequently. Pruning your herbs can help them grow and create more compact plants. Prune in 3-4″ pieces, removing new growth from the top of stems. Herbs that aren’t prune will become too tall and top heavy.
6. Removing the wrong leaves
When you’re removing leaves for a recipe, don’t remove the large leaves at the bottom of the plant. These leaves provide the majority of the energy for the plant. Remove the smaller, more flavorful leaves at the ends of the stems.
7. Garden takeover
Some herbs can take over your garden or container. Plant these by themselves, preferably in a container to keep them in one area. Mint, chives and thyme will spread quickly, coming back year after year.
Herbs that make good houseplants
Almost all herbs can make good houseplants. A sunny windowsill is the perfect place for herbs that want direct sunlight, while a kitchen counter can be the perfect space for herbs that prefer shade.
Winterizing the herb garden
Some herbs can survive harsh winters with little protection while others will die at the first sign of cold. The first thing to do is determine your USDA cold hardiness zone. Once you have that information, you’ll have a better idea of how to winterize your herb garden.
Of course, if you grow herbs in containers, your containers can be brought inside for the winter. Herbs grown outside will need a different approach.
Hardy perennial herbs can survive harsh winters with almost no help but some herbs are more tender and may not make it through the first frost.
1. Never apply fertilizer after August.
5. Overwintering Tender Herbs
Once you start growing herbs to cook with or use, it can be tempting to simply cut pieces from the plant as you need them. And that’s ok!
If you know ahead of time that you’ll need herbs, there are some things that you can do to make sure that you get the best possible flavor and health benefit and keep the herb plant healthy.
Cutting plants regularly helps to encourage new plant growth. Cutting the ends of the stems will encourage the stem to bush out from where you cut it.
You can cut handfuls at a time, as long as you’re careful. The best part of the plant to cut from is the end of the stem. Before cutting, look at the stem. Aim to trim the top 1/3 of the stem off, no more. This gives you a healthy portion without harming the plant.
Don’t trim the top 1/3 of lavender or chives. When they bloom, harvest the stems that are blooming at the ground level.
There is an ideal time to harvest herbs. Harvest herbs in the morning, after the dew has dried but before the hot sun has time to bake the plants. The sun will cause many of the essential oils that are good for you to leaves the leaves.
We grow many herbs, like basil and bay for their leaves. You don’t have to cut the entire stem in order to get the leaves that you want. On tender plants, you can pull off the leaves with your thumb and forefinger. Tougher plants may require cutting with scissors.
The leaves that you should harvest aren’t the large ones near the base of the plant. Look for tender, smaller leaves at the end of stems. The large leaves should remain on the plant to help supply the plant with energy. Taking the smaller leaves won’t hurt the plant and they are more flavorful.
When you think of storing herbs, you may picture bundles of tied up, dried herbs. This is definitely an option, but know that it’s not your only option.
Have you ever bought a bunch of cilantro or fresh parsley, tossed it in the fridge and then looked at it the next day? Odds are that it was wilted and not-so-fresh looking.
Herbs that are too wet will become slimy, while herbs that are too dry will wilt. Too much light and they turn yellow. Too much cold or oxygen and they turn brown. When you store herbs in the fridge, you’ve got to make sure that all of those scenarios are avoided to keep them fresh longer. Don’t fret; it’s easier than you think to keep them fresh for up to a few weeks.
1. Wash and dry them before putting them up.
Wash herbs in cool water and then dry them. You can lay them out on a paper towel or use a salad spinner to remove the excess water.
2. Soft herbs should be stored differently than hard herbs.
Soft herbs are tender through the leaves and stems. Think mint, cilantro, parsley and basil. Hard herbs have a woody stem; rosemary, thyme, sage and oregano are hard herbs.
Soft herbs should be put into a jar of water, like you would put flowers in a vase. The entire jar can then go in your fridge. Change the water every few days and loosely cover the tops of the herbs with a plastic bag. An exception to this is basil, which should be kept on the counter. Basil turns black in the fridge.
Hard herbs should be loosely wrapped in a damp paper towel and then put into a plastic container in the fridge.
You may find yourself with more fresh herbs than you can use if you’re growing your own. If that’s the case, put some up for the long-term. That way, you’ll have herbs to use all through the winter.
Drying herbs is the traditional method for keeping herbs for extended periods of time. There are a couple of ways that you can dry herbs.
Gather bunches of 10-15 stems and tie the cut ends together to create a bunch. Hang the bunch upside down so that it can dry.
You can also buy an herb drying rack and spread herbs across it to dry them.
Want to dry herbs quickly? Dry them in the microwave.
To microwave dry herbs:
- Remove any excess water from the plants, making sure that they are totally dry. Wet herbs will cook in the microwave, not dry.
- Place 4-5 stems between two dry paper towels.
- Turn the microwave on for 2-3 minutes and check the herbs.
- The herbs should feel dry and brittle. If they aren’t, continue microwaving in 30 second increments.
- Place on a rack to cool before putting into storage containers.
Microwave dried herbs are often more colorful than dried herbs from a rack or that were dried in a bunch.
Once your herbs are dried, you can put them into glass or plastic storage containers.
Another method of keeping herbs long term is to freeze them. Herbs can be frozen bare, in water or in oil.
To freeze bare herbs, lay stems out on a cookie sheet so that they aren’t touching. Put the cookie sheet in the freezer and freeze them. Once frozen, move the herbs to a plastic bag and put them back into the freezer.
You can freeze herbs in an ice cube tray. Place the pieces of herbs into the individual cups and cover them with either water or oil. Once frozen, move the frozen cubes into a ziploc bag in the freezer.
Final thoughts about growing herbs
Growing herbs is an excellent way to have a constant fresh supply of herbs on hand. Herb plants are also easy to grow and can be a great way to get gardening.
Herbs can be grown almost anywhere, from a large garden patch to a kitchen windowsill. They are also easy to maintain, harvest and store.