If you’re into gardening at all, especially growing your own food, you may be a little bummed when colder temperatures take over for a while. But don’t fret. Despite the change of season, you don’t have to let it deter you from keeping your hands in the soil.
That’s right — it’s absolutely doable to continue your green thumb journey year-round. You just may need to rethink your game plan. As in, instead of gardening outside, bring your garden indoors with a container herb garden.
Here’s the 101 on the DIY.
Herbs are easy to grow, they’re low maintenance, and they look good. Plus, they are an easy and fun way to boost the flavor of your meals.
“An indoor herb garden offers a convenient way to add some fresh flavors to your home-cooked meals whenever you need it, while also saving time and money on trips to the grocery store,” says Tripp and Carmen Eldridge, Farm and Garden experts and resident farmers at Arden.
Not only are herbs delicious and great for getting more creative in the kitchen, they can also help inspire you to cook more. “In addition to the convenience factor, having an indoor herb garden can help you lead a healthier lifestyle by motivating you to skip the drive-through and try new home-cooked recipes using your newly grown herbs,” explain the Eldridges.
According to Naomi Robinson, gardener and founder of Houseplant Authority, “Having them indoors also means you can use them year-round, compared to outdoor herbs, many of which tend to suffer during the colder months.”
Plus, a herb garden doesn’t take up much space — consider a windowsill, kitchen table, or side nook — and you can decide just how many herbs and varieties you want to grow. Maybe that’s a handful or a plethora of plants to your heart’s content. Though it’s true, they will need plenty of sunlight, so you’ll have to find a bright spot in your home.
There are a variety of factors to consider to help you decide if planting seeds or seedlings is your best bet. You’ll need to contemplate how much you want to spend, what varieties you’d like to grow, how much time you have, as well as how soon you want to reap the rewards of your herbs.
Seedlings, also known as starter plants, are exactly that — a plant that has been started from the seed that gives you a 4- to 8-week head start.
“Buying seedlings will give you plants ready to use instantly, but buying seeds and growing plants yourself requires time (from 30 to 60 days) and dedication,” says Reese L. Robbins, gardener and creator of JustPureGardening. “If you’re wanting to reduce costs, seeds are a better bet. “Seedlings are more expensive than seeds, but buying seeds will give you a bigger choice of herb varieties,” says Robbins.
If you prefer participating in the whole process, you’ll want to opt for seeds, so you can watch them sprout and grow.
“You can start almost any herb plant from seed, but for herbs that grow slowly or have seed that’s difficult to germinate, it might make more sense to start with seedlings or small plants,” says Bloomscape’s gardening expert, Lindsay Pangborn.
But it’s also important to keep in mind that some herbs don’t do well being moved, aka transplanted. “Another consideration is that some herb plants don’t transplant well — meaning they might suffer stress or shock when moved from one container to another,” says Pangborn.
There’s no wrong way to start your herb garden. It’s all a matter of preference and figuring out your needs and the amount of time you can invest.
Where to source seedlings and seeds
You can head to your local nursery or gardening center for different herbs available. You can also find an array of seeds, too. If you want a bigger selection, you may need to turn your attention to online nurseries or garden centers.
“The best solution for most people is to simply ask at your garden center how best to start with the specific herb you have in mind as it will vary from herb to herb,” says Robinson.
Herbs are easy to grow in containers and you can choose to plant in ceramic or plastic garden pots or upcycle containers you have on hand, such as yogurt pots, milk cartons, or even plastic boxes for salad mixes.
“When initially planting herbs into their pots, it is important to make sure the pots have drainage holes to allow excess water to escape the pot,” says Pangborn. “The quickest way a herb can be ruined is by allowing the roots to sit in water, leading to root rot.”
Choosing soil or potting mix is straightforward since most are created for most types of plants, including herbs.
“Any general-purpose potting mix will be perfect since they are formulated to be well-draining while retaining just enough moisture,” says Pangborn. “Avoid potting mixes that advertise to hold on to excess moisture, and never use garden soil for potted plants, which can be too heavy and wet for plants living indoors.”
There are plenty of herbs that do well indoors. Here are some to consider to get yourself started.
Dill is rich in antioxidants and may be beneficial for the heart.
“Dill likes to have at least 5 hours of direct sunlight each day in order to produce the full flavor it’s known for,” says Robinson.
Mint is a digestive aid because of its antispasmodic properties.
“Mint prefers indirect light for around 3 to 4 hours a day. It’s for that reason that mint does best when placed in a south-facing window during fall and winter and then moved to an east-facing window in spring and summer,” says Robinson.
Oregano may help protect against infections, due to its antibacterial and antiviral properties. It also tastes great on pizza!
“Oregano grows best in bright light with at least 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day,” says Robinson. “To make sure this happens, place your oregano plant in a south-facing window, although you may want to consider an artificial growing light in winter.”
Rosemary is a hearty plant once it gets off the ground. Despite being a Mediterranean plant, it will do well in different climates, including indoors.
“Rosemary does best when it gets at least 6 hours of full sunlight each day, with the general recommendation being to keep it in the brightest room in your house,” says Robinson. “This herb can struggle with the shorter days in winter, though and so an artificial light can be a good idea here.”
Tarragon may help lower blood sugar and blood pressure in certain people.
“Your tarragon plant thrives in bright, indirect light for 6 to 8 hours per day, so anything other than a south-facing window will tend to work best with this herb,” says Robinson.
Quenching your plants’ thirst is important. But not all herbs need the same amount of water. “It’s important to check pots for water needs on an individual basis rather than watering everything on a schedule, which can lead to overwatered, stressed plants,” explains Pangborn.
And when it comes to watering your herbs, it turns out that some techniques are better than others. “When you are watering the herbs, do so slowly so that water absorbs into the soil,” says Pangborn. “Allow any excess water to drain out of the pot and be sure to remove any excess water that collects in the saucer.” So, in this case, leftovers are not good.
There is a way to ensure you don’t overwater your indoor herb garden. “The easiest way to avoid overwatering is to simply use your finger to check the top 2 inches of soil in each herb’s pot. If it’s dry, it’s safe to water your plant,” says Robinson.
So, what can happen if you give your plant too much water? It can lead to soggy soil and the roots can begin to rot.
If all this sounds a bit overwhelming and you prefer something a bit simpler and convenient, you’re in luck. You can opt for purchasing an herb kit and still reap all the beautiful rewards of fresh herbs without having to worry about all the details.
“Herb kits can be a great place for beginners to start since they include everything you need,” says Pangborn. “They also tend to be curated to include herbs that can grow well together and have complementary culinary uses.”
So, whether you’re ready to go full greenery indoors or you want to take it slower, experimenting with an herb garden is full of benefits both during and after the process.