Nothing cheers a kitchen more than shelves and windowsills full of fresh potted herbs. Top your eggs with fresh dill or rub a pinch of fresh thyme into your potato salad easily with indoor herb pots. Or, use herbs to brighten other rooms in your house. Grow lavender in your bedroom, rosemary in the living room, or nasturtiums spilling over stairwells. Want to know how to get started growing herbs in pots? Read on!
1. Choose a Pot:
Most herbs will grow well in shallow pots. Growing plants indoor also cleans and renews the air: this is ideal in cold, northern winters especially. Chives and thyme prefer shallow containers, particularly if they’re wide enough to allow for a bit of spreading. Lavender, however, will never forgive you for denying it depth. Larger pots—3-5 gallons, ideally—are essential for keeping a happy lavender plant.
You’ll need a pot with drainage as well. Adorable, reclaimed tea-boxes and miniature cauldrons are only going to work for a week or so unless you add drainage. Fill the cauldron with pebbles or punch holes in the tea box bottoms and your herbs will thank you.
Play around with container ideas. You can likely find all kinds of different, unique pots in thrift shops, and adapt them for your own decor. Try hanging chamomile or thyme in watering cans suspended from the ceiling. Grow cilantro in an old canning pot, or paint a rainbow of terracotta planters.
2. Location is Essential:
Most herbs are going to need at least 5 hours of sunlight a day. Windowsills and sun rooms are ideal, but certainly not your only options. I like to grow my culinary herbs in the kitchen, to keep them close at hand. If your kitchen window is a less-than-ideal spot, cluster your herb pots on a counter instead. Another idea is to set them up on a rolling cart and move it around to follow the sun.
Herbs that aren’t specifically for culinary use can be displayed anywhere within the home. Chamomile and lavender are lovely in a bright bedroom or bathroom. Grow tulsi beside the medicine cabinet, and peppermint freshens laundry rooms wonderfully. As long as there’s light, you can match your potted herbs to the room that best fits their scent or use.
3. Find (or Make) the Right Soil:
What’s the right soil? Potting soil is the right choice. But that doesn’t mean it has to be store-bought potting soil. You can mix your own.
This type of potting medium is essential for growing healthy herbs because regular garden soil packs down and fails to drain well. If you want to grow happy herbs, but don’t want to buy pre-made potting soil, compost is going to be your best friend.
Stretch a medium-sized mesh screen (smaller than chicken wire but wider than window screening) over a wooden frame. Sift compost like flour through it for the softest, fluffiest, most nutrient-dense potting soil available.
If sifting your own concerns you, you can even sift in some peat moss or coconut coir to lighten the soil even more. Try 1 part peat moss to 5 parts compost for a fantastic blend.
4. Pick Your Plants:
The herbs you choose to grow will help you decide whether to start with seeds or seedlings. Many herbs can be cut from friendly neighborhood gardens as well. Practically everyone growing mint or thyme is ready, willing, and able to dig up a portion of these quickly spreading herbs for you to pot up.
Greenhouses are full of healthy seedling in spring and summer as well. Sometimes the easiest way to get started is just to run over to the local plant store and stock up on pretty seedlings. Parsley, oregano, mint, marjoram, and basil are excellent seedling options.
Starting seeds is the most enjoyable option, though. All the common herbs can be started relatively easily from seed or root, and the joy of watching your own seeds sprout and bloom can be worth all the extra time and effort.
That said, starting seeds does involve extra effort, and a busy gardener may want to just save seed-starting for the herbs that refuse to transplant well. Start cilantro, dill, fennel, and anise from seed and leave them in their original pots.
5. Water the Herbs:
Struggling container gardeners tend to either neglect watering entirely, or drown their little pots with over-attentiveness. I’m a neglectful waterer and too often I’ve seen my herbs shrivel up in despair after weeks of drought. Don’t let either extreme happen in your potted herb garden!
It’s best to get to know the ideal conditions for your plants, and plan accordingly:
- Mint, cilantro, parsley, lemongrass (ideal for brightening up bathrooms), and lemon balm like moist soil. Don’t drown them, but check the soil daily and keep it just damp enough to notice the moisture.
- Woody herbs like lavender, lemon verbena, rosemary, and thyme love drier soil. Allow the dirt in their pots to feel dry when you test it for up to three days before watering moderately.
- Calendula, basil, and dill like soil that is neither too dry, nor too wet. Remember to bring these herbs indoors if they’re porch plants during a rainy season. When you water, give them just enough to moisten the soil and make sure their pots have plenty of drainage.
So, how do you check the soil? It’s a quick and easy little test. Just poke a finger down to the knuckle in the soil and feel around a bit. The top layer of soil, exposed to the air, will always feel dried than the soil underneath, so it’s essential to check the sub-layer as well.
I like to put “check pots” and “water if necessary” on my to-do lists each day, to save my plants from neglect. You may not need the reminder, but if you see your little herbs starting to shrivel up, set up a reminder and make it a part of your morning or evening ritual.
6. Add Nutrients:
Herbs are picky about nutrients. They certainly don’t want to starve, but they’re not going to thrive if you over-feed them either. The best way to keep your potted herbs happy is by mixing up a nutrient-dense potting soil from the start. If you’d rather avoid mixing your own, add a nice layer of manure to your potting soil before planting the herbs.
In either home-mixed or store-bought potting soil, it’s ideal to add a fresh dressing of compost or manure to the plant every couple of months as a gentle renewing of nutrition.
Herbs prefer to avoid the more direct fertilizer applications, though a well diluted fish emulsion can work wonders as a very occasional treat.
Remember that your herbs will lose flavor and scent if they’re over-fertilized. Over-fertilization reduces essential oil concentration in the plants, making them bland and useless in your kitchen, bathroom, and medicine chest.
7. Harvest your Herbs:
As your little herbs grow taller and stronger in their pots, you’ll find yourself reaching for them more often. After all, they’re incredibly useful in so many ways, aren’t they?
When you’re ready, there are a few important harvesting tips to keep in mind.
First of all, avoid over-harvesting. Cutting too much off a plant will make it suffer, and can even kill it outright. You my have to start all over again from either seeds or seedlings. Make sure you have an abundance of basil before making pesto, or wait until your basil plant is near the end of its productivity to harvest it all.
Don’t forget to deadhead and prune your plants. When flowers are past their prime, pinch them off and toss them in the compost pile. This will encourage your plant to continue growing and flowering. If leaves wither, pinch them off as well.
Pruning leggy growth is an essential as well. When harvesting, pinch off a branch or leaf at the stem’s base to encourage bushing instead of spreading off into lanky tendrils.
Most importantly, enjoy using these lovely herbs you’ve grown! Explore new ways to weave them into your life. Basil is a regular in most kitchens, but you can scatter the leaves in the bath to promote mental clarity. Or else tuck a leaf or two under your pillow along with chamomile and lavender to inspire beautiful dreams. Marjoram is the ultimate sausage seasoning, but it is equally impressive in a cold-fighting tea with mint and yarrow.
As you get to know your herbs, using them daily will begin to feel so natural. Harvesting a little dill in the kitchen for breakfast, a bit of fennel for a stomach ache in the evening, or chamomile for a calming bath will be a regular occurrence.
There’s no better way of getting to know herbs than by living with them. Embrace the process and you’ll find yourself falling in love with all the wonderful healing plants that surround you.