Growing herbs is one of the best ways to add a little more depth of flavor to your recipes. It’s nice to have herbs in the garden through the summer, but it’s even easier to use them if they’re growing on your kitchen counter! Growing herbs indoors also means you’ll have fresh herbs on-hand all year. Furthermore, if you tend to choose organic foods, indoor herb gardening lets you control the growing environment and avoid consuming herbicides and pesticides.
Growing your own herbs is also a great way to get an early start on gardening before we can really get outside and grow a vegetable garden. Basil, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme are especially easy herbs to grow indoors in Iowa. Here are a few tips for beginner herb gardeners on how to grow each of them inside your home!
What Do Herbs Need?
A common belief is that all herbs come from hot places with Mediterranean-style climates, so they all need to be kept hot and dry. Many Mediterranean herbs do prefer these conditions, but not all of them, so don’t treat every herb the same! With that said, they all have a few things in common.
All herbs need these things:
Strong sunlight for a minimum of 6-8 hours per day. If you have a sunny south-facing window, that’s the perfect location. You’ll still need to supplement with a grow light during the darkest weeks of winter. Under artificial light, they’ll need 10-12 hours of light per day.
The ideal temperature for growing herbs is between 60-70ºF, so it’s best to keep them in a spot where the temperature is nice and steady, away from drafts and heating vents.
Every herb needs good drainage to prevent the development of root rot. Use high-quality potting soil, and adapt it to the preferences of each plant. Make sure your herb containers have drainage holes and place a saucer under each pot to catch any excess water.
Since herbs have their own different preferences, it’s best to let each of them grow in their own individual pot. 4″ pots are a great size to start with for most herbs.
Organic seaweed fertilizer is excellent for herbs. Seaweed fertilizer has a high nitrogen content, which encourages strong leafy growth, and is available as an organic fertilizer. During the spring and summer, herbs can be fertilized once per week. In winter, cut back to one application per month.
All plants need good air circulation, so don’t cram your herbs too close together! Good air circulation helps your herbs grow their best and helps to prevent the spread of diseases.
Watering is a bit tricky and varies depending on the herb. Generally, you should only water once the soil at the top of the pot is dry. We’ll include more watering details for each different herb below.
Soil Needs: Nutrient-rich, but well-drained.
Watering: Basil needs to be watered regularly; it likes evenly moist soil, but not wet roots. Don’t let basil’s soil get too dry before you water again. Basil is sensitive to both over-watering and under-watering, so do your best to keep it on schedule. Feed with organic fertilizer every 2 weeks in spring and summer.
Other Notes: Pinch off individual leaves for cooking. Pinching the top leaves from stems will encourage bushier growth. Pinch off any flowers you see right away, as the flavor of the plant may lessen once it goes to seed.
Soil Needs: Sandy and rocky soil.
Watering: Oregano likes the soil on top to get dry between waterings, but don’t let it dry out completely. Feed with organic fertilizer every 2 weeks in spring and summer.
Other Notes: Oregano benefits from regular trimming; it encourages bushier growth, so don’t be afraid to add it to your recipes frequently. Pinch off any flowers you see as soon as possible.
Soil Needs: Parsley isn’t too picky and will do well in any good-quality potting soil.
Watering: Parsley likes evenly moist soil, so it may need more frequent watering, like your basil. It also likes humidity, so if your house has really dry air, it’s a good idea to mist it once per day. Feed with organic fertilizer every 2 weeks in spring and summer.
Other notes: Once parsley is about 6 inches tall, you can start harvesting it. Work from the outside in, clipping the stems close to the soil. Don’t cut the tops off the whole plant, as this will stunt new growth.
Soil Needs: High-quality potting soil with good drainage in a terracotta pot.
Watering: Rosemary needs its soil to dry between waterings. To test, stick your finger in the soil to a depth of about 1″; if the soil is dry, it’s time to water.
Other notes: Rosemary does need excellent air circulation because it can be prone to powdery mildew. Indoor rosemary plants will need regular fertilizer. Rosemary shouldn’t be harvested until branches are about 8″ tall, then you can cut off the top 2-3 inches of each stem. Then the plant will need time to recover from the trimming before you can harvest again. You may want to keep several rosemary plants at once so that you always have one that is ready for trimming.
Soil Needs: High-quality potting soil, with some extra perlite added for drainage
Watering: Thyme also needs to dry a bit between watering, so make sure the top of the soil is dry before you water.
Other notes: You can start using thyme as soon as it has a nice amount of foliage. Clipping the woodiest stems short, right down to the soil line, will encourage new growth.
If you’re ready to start your own kitchen herb garden, stop by our garden center for a visit. We’ve got a variety of herbs, soils, pots, fertilizers, and grow lights available to help you get started, and even countertop herb garden kits that include everything you need in one convenient package!