Indoor Winter Herb Garden – Grit

Just because summer is gone doesn’t mean you can’t taste the fresh summer herbs this time of year. Fresh herbs are very expensive in the supermarket, so why not grow yours indoors this winter? When spring returns, and it still does, simply harden your indoor grass plants for a week or two, then plant them in the garden outside for continued growth through the summer. Here are some of my favorite herbs to grow indoors. Try one or a few and have herbs for soups, stews, salads, herb crusted breads, all winter long.

Photo from Pixabay / donterase

Lemongrass: Technically, you don’t even grow lemongrass, as long as it’s not planted in the ground, making it an incredibly easy herb to keep around the house. When buying a rod in your local market, look for plenty of rods and make sure the base is intact. Cut off the top and place the stem in a few inches of water. The stem will produce roots and dozens of new shoots. Lemongrass is found in many Asian recipes. It’s light and refreshing with a lemony appeal.

Chive: These are one of the easiest herbs to grow indoors, as they don’t require a lot of light and are prolific in their production. Chives are easier to start from an already established plant. Simply remove a bunch from the established plant (including the roots), place it in a small pot half-full of potting soil, then cover the roots to the crowns with more potting soil. Trim off about a third of the top growth to stimulate new growth. Who can resist tasty chives on their baked potato? Or make your own vegetarian onion and chive dip.

Mint: Spearmint and Peppermint literally grow like weeds. They are both very filling and very invasive, which means that they can quickly suffocate other herbs. Keep in mind that it takes a lot of spearmint to produce the same minty high as peppermint, so if you are growing it indoors, where space is limited and harvesting is frequent, peppermint is the best option. Start your peppermint plant with seeds – not root or leaf cuttings – in a small pot filled with potting soil. Peppermint will thrive in shade, but make sure it is in a location where it receives at least some light each day. After living in the South for 10 years, I still enjoy drinking iced tea year round and one of my favorite additions to tea, hot or iced, is mint.

Parsley: Parsley is one of the most commonly used herbs and is very easy to grow, although the seeds can be difficult to germinate and can take up to two weeks to see results. Parsley doesn’t require a lot of light or maintenance once you start it. Keep in mind, however, that this plant grows quite slowly, so the first few mows won’t reap much. Parsley is said to be good for stomach aches and as a breath freshener. It is also delicious as a garnish and gives a fresh flavor to potato salads and sauces.

Oregano: The Greek variety of oregano is the easiest to grow; However, all oregano requires six to eight hours of sunlight per day, so a well-lit window, especially one with southwest sun exposure, is best. As an herb in pizza sauces or any other Italian dish, oregano is a staple.

Thyme: This is another plant that requires six to eight hours of sunlight per day, and it may even need extra light. My favorite is lemon thyme, which can be used in place of regular thyme and has a unique citrus flavor and is not as easy to find as other varieties in stores. Absolutely delicious on chicken and fish.

Rosemary: This herb is very easily overwatered. It prefers to stay on the dry side and does not need particularly rich soil. Several varieties are available; some look like bushes and others are more of a creeper. Choose an upright variety like Tuscan Blue or Blue Spire. These will remain more compact, making them a better choice for indoor growing. Chicken loves rosemary, but my favorite use is beef stew or pork stew.

Basil: This is one of my favorites to use when cooking. However, this herb is one of the most difficult to grow, especially indoors during the winter months. The best strains for indoor growing are Spicy Globe or African Blue. African blue won’t have the broad, bright green leaves you might be used to seeing in grocery stores; it resembles Thai basil with its narrower leaves and blue-purple stems. I use basil all year round to make fresh pesto.

Cultivation advice: When purchasing herbs for indoor growing, it is best to buy plants that have not already grown outdoors. The shock of bringing them back inside can cause trauma and affect growth and production. Remember that winter is a natural resting phase for plants, so it is unrealistic to expect abundant growth. Try minimal watering and let them do their job. Cutting them regularly will promote their growth, so cut them back – remember, you are growing them for use!

Tips for growing herbs indoors during the winter

Some of these herbs start well from seeds. Basil, parsley, chives, thyme, and oregano are all fairly easy to start from seeds. Simply place the seeds in a starter tray available at most garden centers or online, or start in small, shallow pots. Use fresh potting soil and keep it moist, not wet, until they germinate. Germination will be faster if the tray or pots are kept in a warm, sunny place. After the seeds germinate, simply spray every other day and allow the soil to dry out a bit between sprayings. After the seedlings have their third set of leaves or are about 4-6 inches tall, transplant them to a larger terracotta pot, soil and all. Try not to disturb the roots when transplanting.

A common mistake is to plant all the herbs in one container. This inhibits growth and in the case of an invasive weed, you will likely see a takeover of weeds in your container, so plant each weed in its own container.

Containers should have enough bottom and since herbs can be susceptible to fungi, allow them to breathe using terracotta pots, at least 6 inches in diameter. To allow additional ventilation, place the pots in a container of small pebbles.

Always use a high quality organic potting soil containing vermiculite or perlite for proper drainage. Avoid using soil from the outside, as it contains organisms controlled by the outside environment. Rosemary, thyme, and basil prefer a soil with more lime, so it is beneficial to add a spoonful of crushed eggshells to the soil. While herbs are hearty, they like to be fed every now and then, especially when growing in limited pot space. Herbs are grown for their leaves, not their flowers, so any fertilizer you give them should promote leaf growth, not flowers. One of the easiest ways to feed your herbs is to add a tablespoon of fish emulsion to a gallon of water and use it every time you water.

Water the herbs at the base, where the stem meets the soil, do not water the leaves. Water once and let the water drain completely, then start again. How often your herbs should be watered is a matter of observation and learning to read each individual plant. A good rule of thumb is to allow the soil to dry out between waterings. Remember that one of the biggest mistakes in watering herbs is overwatering them; herbs don’t require as much water as a typical houseplant. If you see leaves turning yellow, this is the first sign of overwatering.

If your herbs need extra lighting, fluorescent clip-on reflector lights work best. Attach the lights to the pot, four to six inches from the plant. If you see brown spots on the plant, it is a sign of scorch and the lights may either be too close or have been used for too long.

Terri S. Tomasini