Do you fancy a garden? Winter months can be leave you feeling at loose ends! We enjoy being outdoors and getting our hands dirty. Alas, those freezing temps and piles of snow are not the ideal environment for growing things. But just because your landscape goes into hibernation mode during the winter months doesn’t mean you have to do the same. There are plenty of ways to utilize your green thumb in the great indoors! One of them is creating an herb garden.
During the colder months, your store’s produce aisles often prove less than exciting. Having herbs available at your fingertips in the comfort of your own home is a great way to perk up those cozy winter meals with fresh flavor, enticing aroma and vivid color. The best part? Herb plants are easy to grow and maintain. Pro Tip: You can do this with veggies too! Click here to get started on a windowsill vegetable garden.
Getting the Garden Started
Here are the items you will want to have on hand:
- Pots with drainage holes – Use one pot per herb (avoid planting multiple herbs in one pot). Instead, give each variety its own personal space as some don’t play well with others. You can use containers made of terracotta, ceramic or plastic that measure at least 6” in diameter and 6-12” deep. Don’t forget to put saucers underneath to catch the extra water. You’ll want to protect your surfaces from damage.
- Gravel – fill each pot with a layer about ½” thick to encourage proper drainage.
- Fresh soil – Dirt from your backyard isn’t going to cut it. It is likely to dry out quickly when put into pots, making watering more frequent. Look for a good quality potting soil that is made for indoor planting – it should be lightweight and drain well. Check the label for perlite or vermiculite, these are ingredients that promote good drainage. Once you have your soil, add a few inches of soil over the gravel in each pot.
- Herb seeds or seedlings – You can visit your local garden center or order online for more variety. Starting with small herb plants will provide herbs usable herbs right away, but growing from seed is a great option as they tend to germinate quickly.
- When starting with seeds, bury them to a shallow depth of about three to four times the seed’s diameter, about ¼” deep.
- With seedlings, remove the plant from its container and set into a pot, covering the roots and gently pressing the soil around the plant. Leave about an inch of space in the pot for watering.
- Labels – label your herbs. This is especially important when you start from seed. Some herbs can look surprisingly similar! Have some fun with the herb labels…a couple of our favorite materials include copper and ceramic.
How to Help Your Herbs Thrive
Create the right conditions with light, moisture and temperature.
- Sunlight – It is essential to the growth of your herbs. Many herbs are Mediterranean plants, so that makes sense. To grow herbs in winter, choose a sunny spot that gets at least 6-8 hours of sun per day, which would be a west or south-facing window. Occasionally turn your plants so that they experience even levels of sunlight all around and prevent them from leaning in one direction. Take care to keep leaves from touching the window glass, which can cause damage during Michigan’s ice cold winter. Foliage may freeze and plants could die.
- Water – Watering your herbs the correct way will produce the best results. Water once and let the water drain through completely, then repeat. Let the soil dry out between each watering. Water herbs at the base, where the stems meet the soil, avoiding the leaves. Herbs don’t require as much water as a typical houseplant. A sure sign of overwatering is yellow leaves. Too much water can also cause the roots to rot. Pay attention to each individual plant to determine its needs. A good way to test the need for water – stick your finger in the soil a couple of inches, the soil should be moist. If not, it’s time to give that plant a drink.
- Temperature and Humidity – Herbs prefer the same temps we do, which means a comfortable 60 to 70 degrees. Avoid big temperature fluctuations and avoid putting plants near vents. When windows are shut up tight and the heat is on, dry air and poor air circulation may result. If humidity is low, mist plants a couple of times a day. If may be helpful to use a humidifier in the room to increase the moisture in the air.
Another Thing or Two
A few tips to keep in mind.
- Indoor herbs will not grow to the same height and size as those in your outdoor garden. They tend to be more spindly or “leggy”.
- Herbs are ready to use when plants reach 6-8” in height. Let the plant grow back to full height before harvesting again. Pro Tip: If there is an herb you love to use, plant more than one pot of it.
- Clip herbs regularly to promote further growth. You are growing them to use, after all, so clip away!
- Pinch back branching herbs (like rosemary) to keep plants shrubby rather than leggy. Regular harvesting of leaves and stems also forces plants to stay shrubby. Never trim more than a third of the plant.
- Remove flower buds from plants to keep them growing.
- Fertilize once a month with an organic fertilizer designated for edible plants.
- Avoid putting plants too close together…give each plant some breathing room.
Herbs to Try
- Parsley is a very popular herb and is easy to grow. It likes full sun, but will grow slowly in an east or west facing window. If growing from seed, it tends to take longer to germinate than other herbs. Once it gets going though, it is pretty low maintenance.
- Chives are one of the easiest herbs to grow. They are ready to be used once they reach 6-12” high.
- Basil needs moist soil, warm temps and as much sun as possible. Keep this one in the sunniest spot in your home.
- Oregano has a sharp, pungent flavor and loves a sunny window.
- Rosemary smells divine and prefers dryer soil. Make sure you watch it carefully though, because once it dries out completely, you may not be able to revive it.
- Bay or Bayleaf is a must for all those soups and stews. It can thrive in an east or west facing window, but don’t overcrowd…it needs it space.
- Sage doesn’t mind the dry, indoor air, but needs the strong sun of a south-facing window.
- Peppermint can handle minimum light, but still needs at least some sun exposure each day. It also prefers its soil to stay evenly moist.
- Thyme likes full sun, but will grow in any window when it gets at least 6 hours of sun a day. When first planted, cover lightly with soil and keep evenly moist until the plant gets going.
- Dill can grow very large, so choose a dwarf variety for indoors. Unlike most herbs, it doesn’t grow back after harvesting, so it will need to be re-planted if you want more.
It doesn’t matter which herbs you choose to try, they are truly some of the easiest plants to start and maintain. Not only do they add a punch of flavor to your cold weather menu, but nothing beats snipping a few leaves off your own plants and throwing them straight into the pot. And not to mention, growing them will help to keep your thumb green all winter long.
While you’re at it this winter, dream about enhancing your outdoor garden or creating a brand-new space for it! Then, contact our team to make your vision a reality.