By Linda Ly
The end of summer doesn’t have to mean the end of your favorite herbs in the garden. Fresh herbs add an impressive culinary finish to every meal. To keep herbs thriving even through the cooler days ahead, bring them indoors and grow them on a sunny windowsill – even if they’re not currently part of a container garden.
Growing herbs indoors doesn’t just flavor your cooking, it is also good for your health. Virtually untouched by food scientists, herbs remain close to wild plants. Ounce for ounce, herbs contain more phytonutrients than even well-known “supergreens” like spinach and kale.
If you are ready to start gardening for good health, it’s quick and easy to build your own indoor herb garden. Learn more about:
How to Grow Herbs Indoors
The key to creating an instant inside herb garden is potting up or digging up “plantlets” from divisions of healthy, vigorous plants you already currently have. Instead of leaving them dormant, or losing them altogether when winter weather rolls around, easily turn your flavorful greenery into a window herb garden.
What You’ll Need
Choose strong plants
When exploring your garden for the best herbs to grow indoors, look for a healthy plant with deep, well-established roots. It will be more likely to survive the stress of transplanting with little damage. The best time to divide an herb plant is right after it flowers, in late summer to early fall. The day before you divide it, thoroughly water the plant with a gardening nozzle. This will prevent unnecessary strain on the roots when removing the herb from the ground.
Divide the herb
Gently dig up a small section or “clump” of the plant, taking care to keep as much of the roots intact as possible. Loosen the tangled roots with your fingers and gently, but firmly, lift the new plant from the soil.
If needed, use a pair of pruners to make minimal clean cuts to separate the transplant from the original plant. Shake off as much garden soil as you can so that potential pests don’t hitchhike inside on your new plant.
Fill it up
Scoop potting soil into a pot until it’s about one-third full. Position the plant in the center and then fill the space around it with more soil. When planting herbs, add just enough soil to cover the top of the roots.
Give it a drink
Gently pat down the surface of the potting soil to level it out, then water thoroughly. For the first watering, fill the water collection dish at the bottom of the pot with water so the soil saturates from the bottom up.
Give it love
At first, place your newly potted herb in a shady spot to allow it to recover so its roots can adapt to their new home. Water daily, keeping the soil moist, but not waterlogged. After a week or so, move the pot to a sunny windowsill (southern exposure is best) and water when the first inch of soil feels dry.
Keep a close eye on your herbs to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out. Most herbs will begin to die as soon as soil dries. Consistent moisture will keep your indoor herbs healthy and happy.
In addition to moisture, be sure to harvest your plant frequently so it will continue to grow into healthy and tasty herbs. Snipping the ends of the plants on a regular basis will encourage new growth, providing delicious, healthy culinary additions for months to come.
Best Herbs to Grow Indoors
There aren’t a lot of requirements for growing herbs indoors – just consistent watering and a window with bright sunlight. Choose herbs that complement the style of cooking you enjoy the most. For example, basil and oregano are classic Italian and Mediterranean flavors, marjoram and tarragon add a French flair and cilantro and chives are great for Mexican cuisine. The options and combinations are endless…just go with what you love.
- Basil – Ideal to grow in the kitchen, basil does fine in a container with nutrient-rich, well-drained soil. It will need at least 6 hours of sun daily, so place it in a sunny window. Water frequently, and be sure the pot has adequate drainage – basil will not tolerate water stress. Indoor-grown basil needs to be fertilized. A general houseplant fertilizer will work, but should be used at half-strength.
- Bay – A bay tree can be grown indoors but place it in a spot that gets the most light in the house, ideally near a window so the tree can get fresh air. During winter months, water sparingly and mist leaves regularly.
- Chervil – Chervil, popular in French cuisine, is one of the few herbs that will actually do better indoors than it will outside. Chervil likes cooler temperatures and light shade and struggles in the hot summer sun. It should be planted in rich organic soil that is moist but not soggy, and watered regularly. Frequently trim the new growth on the top of a chervil plant to encourage growth and to prevent it from bolting (going to seed).
- Chives – Growing chives indoors is easy and rewarding, as the plant will produce tasty herbs that grow in abundance. Chives need at least 6 hours of sunlight to do best. If you notice a chive plant leaning or growing toward the window, rotate it to ensure it’s getting enough light all the way around. A low-dose fertilizer is recommended, but do not over-fertilize or flavor will be compromised or weakened. Chives like humidity and do well when planted next to other pots of herbs. Water chives when soil is just dry to the touch at the top of the soil.
- Cilantro – Cilantro is one of the few herbs that will not transplant well from your outdoor garden. Start it from seed or a starter plant from the nursery. Plant cilantro in an unglazed terracotta pot so it will receive the moisture it needs and to allow air to pass through the roots. Also be sure the pot has ample drainage holes. Because its root system is shallow, indoor cilantro will require more fertilizer so it gets the nutrients it needs. Plant in a mixture of sand and potting soil and use a liquid fish emulsion fertilizer for best results. Cilantro will need 5 – 6 hours of sun a day.
- Creeping savory – A variety of the herb savory, creeping savory does well indoors and has a flavor similar to that of marjoram or thyme. It likes dry, sunny conditions and will grow nicely in virtually any type of well-drained soil. It tends to become a bit leggy without enough sun, so be sure to place it in a location that gets a lot of light. Just after planting, keep the plant moist until it is established, but after that, water it sparingly.
- Dill – Like cilantro, dill will not transplant well, so it should be started from seed or a small starter plant. Dill grows what is known as a long tap root, so it needs a very deep pot, at least 12 inches, to grow well. While it will grow in most soil types, it does prefer a slightly acidic, well-drained soil. Dill needs 5 – 6 hours of sunlight a day. Misting dill often will keep soil moist, which will ensure the best growth. When growing dill indoors, use a stake to give the plant some added support. Dill can get tall and leggy due to lower light levels indoors compared to when growing outdoors.
- Marjoram – Marjoram does exceptionally well indoors, often thriving for years. It needs a sunny area and well-drained moderately moist soil. Pinching back the plant before it blooms will keep it a manageable size and from becoming too woody. Marjoram is drought tolerant, so no need to water it too frequently.
- Mint – Mint is pretty low-maintenance and can be grown year-round as long as you give it the proper care it needs. Plant mint in well-drained soil in a wider than deep container next to a sunny window. To retain as much moisture as possible, plant it in plastic rather than porous terracotta. Mint roots are very aggressive and can grow around themselves, choking the plant, so it’s best to only plant one per container. Keep your mint watered and moist.
- Oregano – Oregano grows indoors in similar conditions to outdoors. It needs adequate drainage and likes soil that is mixed with sand or peat moss. Only bury the root ball under the soil, making sure the main stems are well above to avoid rot. Oregano needs 6 – 8 hours of sun a day and soil should be allowed to dry out in between waterings. Fertilize every couple of weeks with a diluted water-soluble food.
- Parsley – Parsley can do exceptionally well indoors and needs light, moist soil. Be sure to dump the saucer underneath the pot after watering so water doesn’t sit in it, allowing the plant to absorb moisture from the bottom up which can rot the roots. Use either a half-strength or fish emulsion fertilizer every two weeks to feed. Parsley needs about 6- 8 hours of sun daily. Turn the pot 1 -2 times a week to avoid over-exposure of sun on one side.
- Rosemary – Rosemary is one of the trickier herbs to grow indoors. Rosemary desperately needs as much sunlight as possible. 6 – 8 hours is ideal, and a fluorescent bulb may be necessary. Rosemary is also finicky in terms of how much water it needs. Too little and roots will dry out and die; too much will result in root rot. Only water rosemary when soil is dry to touch at the very top, and do not let the soil dry out completely.
- Sage – Sage needs sandy, loamy soil that is well-drained and not overly-fertilized. It should rest in a sunny window and get medium to full sun every day. Wait until soil is dry before watering, and then give it a full, thorough watering. Sage is pretty drought-tolerant, but if leaves begin to wilt, a drink of water should perk it right back up.
- Tarragon – Tarragon does best in low- or diffused-light, making it one of the best herbs to grow indoors. Plant it in a non-south-facing window in an unglazed clay pot that will let moisture out and roots breathe. Three parts potting soil mixed with one-part sand will enhance draining for best results. Give tarragon about 6 hours of sun a day and allow it to dry out in between waterings. Take care to not overwater. A diluted fish fertilizer can be applied every other week.
- Thyme – Thyme is another easy – perhaps one of the easiest – herbs to grow inside. Plant thyme in a clay pot with good drainage holes. Mix sand with peat moss, perlite and potting soil to give thyme the nutrients it needs. Feed it with a diluted liquid seaweed or fish emulsion fertilizer every couple of weeks. Make sure your thyme plant gets about 6 hours of sunlight every day and allow it to completely dry out in between waterings.
- Vietnamese coriander – Vietnamese coriander grows just as well indoors as it does outdoors. However, it will stop producing if it is allowed to outgrow the pot it is in. Be sure to use a big enough container and repot as often as necessary. Keep it in full sun and be sure to keep the soil moist. Aggressively cutting the plant back will encourage growth.
Common questions about indoor herbs
Can I grow herbs indoors?
Yes, there are many herbs you can grow indoors. In fact, most (and nearly all of the popular ones), will do just fine in an indoor herbal garden.
What herbs can grow without sunlight?
All plants need sunlight, but there are a handful of herbs that need less than the full sun requirement many others demand. Some herbs that can do with less sun include mint, chives, parsley, cilantro, tarragon and most varieties of thyme.
What herbs grow best together?
Many herbs can grow well together, just be sure to only plant those with like needs together. Herbs that need more water (like mint, chervil, chives and Vietnamese coriander) should not be planted in the same container as ones that prefer less moisture (such as marjoram, rosemary, thyme and oregano).
With herbs being so easy to grow indoors in container gardens, it makes sense to grow your own window herb garden and take advantage of the tasty benefits. Now that you’ve learned how to grow herbs indoors, you can garden for both joy and good taste – even during the cooler months.