Growing an indoor herb garden

By Nancy Livingstone
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It’s easy to enjoy the culinary delights of fresh herbs year round with a simple indoor herb garden
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Many herb plants grow quite easily in containers and require only minimal care.

Although you may still be shivering from blasts of cold winter air, don't let that deter you from gardening—indoors! If you have little experience with plants or if you just don't have the space to grow them outdoors, a simple indoor herb garden may be just the solution for you. Indoor herb gardens, as any house plant, require some house plant care, but they will provide you with the beauty of having plants indoors. Many herbs have pleasant aromas and can be used to flavor many recipes.

Start with these five herbs: oregano, chives, mint, rosemary, and thyme. Most cooks use them on a regular basis, and they will actually make it through the winter in your indoor garden. If you're lucky, you can even harden them off and plant them outdoors come spring.
  1. Make sure you have a sunny windowsill where your herbs will survive. A south or southeast window would be perfect if it gets at least 5 hours of sun per day and is away from drafts.
  2. Purchase some of your favorite small herb plants from your local nursery or order from an online site to get your started.
  3. Get a container that is at least 6-12 inches deep. You can plant multiple herbs in a wide or long container or use at least a 6" pot for individual plants.
  4. Use a soilless potting mix to avoid soil born diseases. Be sure the mix is light and will be well draining. Your local garden center has a variety of potting mixes available and has knowledgeable staff that can assist you.
  5. Put a 2-3 inch layer of potting mix into the bottom of your container.
  6. Position your herb plants in the container.
  7. Finish filling in with the potting mix, firming gently around the plants. Leave about an inch at the top of the container for watering.
  8. Water sparingly. Herbs don't like to sit in wet soil.
  9. Feed once a month with a fertilizer labeled for use on edibles.
  10. Allow the plants some time to acclimate. Once you see new growth, you can start using your herbs.
Place your herb containers by the sunniest window you have. Put the diehard sun lovers in the center and the less demanding off to the sides. Of the five herbs recommended for indoor culture, oregano requires the most light.

Growing an indoor herb garden is remarkably easy and will reward you with a constant supply of fresh herbs for your favorite recipes—almost at your fingertips. Here are some ideas for their use:

A caution about selecting your herbs: Just because you like to cook with a particular ingredient doesn't mean you can grow that plant indoors. As much as you may love basil, for instance, this herb turns into a sorry specimen after a few weeks cooped up inside.

Chives: Use in salads and sauces or with vegetables. Chocolate mint: Use in teas, soups, and salads. Girardus rosemary: Use with meat, especially lamb. Italian oregano: Use for sauces, especially Italian cuisine. Orange balsam thyme: Use with fish and poultry. Some important tips about growing an indoor herb garden:

Remember to use pots with drainage holes so your herbs don't rot. And that means the pots need to rest in saucers, which—if you are eyeing the width of your sill right now—will be a little wider than the pots. So you need at least a 5-inch windowsill. Terra-cotta pots are great, but they do dry out quickly in winter's heated indoor "weather," and the saucers leak. Use a plastic liner or rubber pad. If you use one large container, still use a plastic liner.

When your herbs receive the right amount of water, they will flourish and thrive.While it's important to make sure your herbs are getting enough water, over watering can also be harmful to your garden. Keeping an eye on the moisture level of your soil will give you a good idea of how often you need to water your herbs. Typically, once every one to two weeks will be plenty. Water just enough to keep the soil moist. Too much water can deprive your plant of oxygen. Yellowing of the leaves is a sign of over watering. Also, when growing an indoor herb garden, never trim more than 1/3 of the plants foliage.

Now that you know the ins and outs of growing an indoor herb garden, enjoy!

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