Starting an Indoor Herb Garden

Starting an indoor herb garden is surprisingly simple. With a little light and a few well-chosen herbs, soon you'll have home-grown herbs to enjoy.

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When I see those tired, bruised bundles of “fresh” herbs at the grocery store, I think about how much better they would look if I grew them myself. Fortunately, anyone can grow fresh herbs indoors with a few plants or seeds and a little effort.

Find the Best Spot for Growing Indoor Herbs

Consider light, temperature and easy access when determining the best place in your home to grow indoor herbs.

Light

Herbs need lots of light to grow their best. As Susan Betz notes in her book Herbal Houseplants, “Light is nourishment and energy to a plant.”

Most herbs need five to six hours or more of sunlight each day. Placing them near a bright, sunny window may be enough.

If not, you can grow herbs successfully with artificial light. Any full-spectrum light source will work. Just remember to purchase a timer to turn your lights on in the morning and off at night. Most herbs grow well with 12 to 14 hours of artificial light each day.

Temperature

Fortunately, herbs grown indoors do well at the same temperatures we like. Make sure the location you choose isn’t in the path of hot air from heating vents or cold blasts from opening an outside door. Hot air can quickly dry out the plants, and cold can damage them.

Accessibility

Grow indoor herbs where you will see them each day. That way you’re less likely to forget to water them, and can quickly spot issues and take care of them. You’re also reminded to use your herbs as they mature!

Decide Which Herbs to Grow

If you’re new to growing herbs indoors, start by heading to the produce section of your local grocery store, where they may have small pots of herbs for sale even in winter. Potted herbs I’ve found include mint, cilantro, basil, parsley and rosemary.

You can also start many types of herbs indoors from seeds, including basil, chives, cilantro, oregano and parsley.

Or you can grow herbs like sage, basil, parsley and cilantro hydroponically (without soil) using a system like the Rise Personal Indoor Garden.

Care for Your Herb Plants

If you purchase indoor herb plants, check them carefully for signs of insect pests. Once you’ve brought them home, wash them off thoroughly without bruising the leaves. Do this by dipping the plant in a bowl of lukewarm water with your hands over the soil to keep it in place.

If you intend to use the herbs within a few weeks, leave them in the plastic containers they came in. If you’re letting them grow for a while before harvesting, repot them in something sturdier (like a clay pot) with basic potting soil mix. If the soil includes a fertilizer, you’ve saved yourself a step.

Most herbs grown in a container prefer moist but not sopping wet soil, so water when the top inch of soil feels dry. Herbs also prefer higher humidity than most homes have in the wintertime, so mist plants daily to increase the humidity.

Harvest Your Herbs

When you harvest your herbs, cut off the leaves just above a node, the point where they’re growing on the stem. That way you’ll encourage the plant to sprout new side shoots and grow new stems.

Be sure not to cut more than half the height of the plant off at any one time. Leave enough of the plant so it will continue to grow. Always wash herb leaves thoroughly before cooking.

Carol J. Michel
Carol J. Michel is the award-winning author of five books of humorous and helpful gardening essays and two children’s books. With degrees in horticulture and computer technology from Purdue University, she spent over three decades making a living in healthcare IT while making a life in her garden. She grows vegetables, annuals, perennials, trees, shrubs and houseplants. In between tending her own garden and writing about it, she records a weekly gardening podcast, The Gardenangelists, with Oklahoma-based garden writer and coach Dee Nash.