Like the icing on the proverbial cake, herbs are an essential ingredient in creating a fabulous meal. I look for any excuse to sprinkle them on my food and always have a rotating favourite (it’s dill at present) which is why the idea of an indoor winter herb garden appeals – particularly for apartment or small-space dwellers for which the outdoors isn’t an option.
“It’s almost winter out there and the coming of winter is a not always the most exciting or activity packed time in the garden. During this season of short, dark days, indoor herb gardens offer welcome greenery and fragrance. You can easily bring herbs indoors for the nippy months even if you have little experience with plants or very little space to work with,” says Gisele Zanier, founder of Beyond Sunflowers.
And while you can grow a variety of herbs indoors, some are better suited than others. “Parsley, basil, sage and thyme are known to hold up stronger inside. The extra perk is that they are all perfect herb solutions for winter stews, casseroles and roasts,” says Gisele.
For the novice indoor herb gardener, the first thing you need to figure out is where exactly you will grow your plants. “You need to find a table or shelf with sufficient fluorescent light (you must remember that to a plant, light is food) as this will guarantee that your herb plants obtain all the necessary light and will also prevent them from the die-back that occurs from being against a cold window. In warmer months, you can move your herbs to a sunny window or a shady balcony that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day so that they thrive,” says Gisele.
As for selecting your plants, the easiest way to start is with established ones (hello instant gratification!) – especially if you are a novice gardener. And next up is choosing a gorgeous vessel and making sure it has drainage holes at the bottom and is deep enough to promote proper root development. “You can plant multiple herbs in one container or select individual pots for each herb plant. You should also make sure that your herbs are not to overcrowded as this can lead to fungal problems that may kill your plants,” says Gisele.
When you return from the nursery and it comes to repotting, Gisele recommends filling your pot with store-bought potting mix. “Be sure the mix is lightweight and will drain well. Pour a five centimetre layer of potting soil into the bottom of your container and place your plant gently in its location. Finish filling it with potting mix, pressing it firmly around the plants and leave about three centimetres of space at the top to make room for watering,” says Gisele.
“Remember that too much love can kill your herbs by watering too often – excess water is harmful to the roots and causes rotting. Fertilise your herbs once a month with an organic fertiliser. Once you start to see new growth, you can begin to use your herbs for cooking,” says Gisele.
The best herbs for indoor growth:
- Parsley: Parsley needs at least eight hours of direct sunlight each day. If you can’t provide enough natural sunlight, grow the plants under fluorescent lights.
- Basil: Requires bright light and warm temperatures.
- Sage: Appreciates a manicure (prune back spindly branches) and drier conditions.
- Chives: A member of the onion family, it is best used fresh. Chives like bright light and cool temperatures.
- Dill: Choose a dwarf variety. You’ll need to make successive plantings to ensure a continuous crop since dill doesn’t grow back after harvesting.
- Lemon balm: This is easy to grow from seed and its fresh fragrance can be enjoyed in salads and drinks.
- Oregano: The soil needs to be loose and well-drained to prevent over-watering. The plant requires partial to full sun light either in a well-lit window or under a florescent light for at least 6 – 8+ hours per day.
- Rosemary: Soil needs to be well drained, but don’t let it dry out completely.
- Thyme: Many varieties of thyme are available. Very well-drained, or gravelly soil is especially important for woolly or creeping thymes. Keep the plants moist by misting until you see new growth.