How to Create an Herb Garden in Your Home
Growing herbs in a container garden allows you to snip off a sprig at any time to toss into a recipe. Not only is it economical to grow herbs yourself, it’s also a fun hobby. Growing herbs isn’t any more difficult than growing other potted plants. And if you’re like me, it’s easier to care for (and remember to care for) a plant when it’s in you see it more often.
General Herb Care
Generally speaking herbs love sunlight; in fact, the more light that an herb receives the better it will grow! It’s one of the most important details you can pay attention to, actually, as herbs prefer 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. If you have a southern facing window, it’s the perfect spot to place your herbs.
If you don’t have a southern facing window, consider providing additional light with a CFL task light. If extra light isn’t an option, focus on herbs that need as much sunlight. Chives, mint or parsley can’t abide with more than 6 hours of direct sunlight.
Avoid placing the leaves of your herbs directly against the glass of the window as the leaves touching the glass could burn. If drafty windows are a concern, consider placing a towel between the glass and the plant to limit plant stress.
Inspect plant leaves regularly for signs of stress such as wilting, burning and discoloring.
Herbs grow best when temperatures are between 65 to 70 degrees, which is about the average temperature of a household. Should you want to slow down the rate of growth of your herbs consider lowering the temperature in your home (or stashing the plants in a cooler location).
Herbs need plenty of circulation, so don’t squish them together or it may promote disease. If you grow multiple herbs next to each other consider rearranging their order from time to time to increase circulation and promote growth. Gently brush your hand across the tops of your herbs to encourage stem health.
Like other plants, herbs prefer to have brief dry spells between watering. Allow the soil to become dry to about 2 inches from the top before watering it slowly, yet thoroughly. Don’t pour the water in too quickly, or if may go straight through the pot without being absorbed by the soil. Generally speaking, you’ll likely need to water your herb garden two to three times a week.
It is important to select a container with a drainage hole, since herbs won’t grow well in standing water. Place a saucer or something decorative under the container to avoid making a mess.
In addition to adequate drainage, the material of your container is also important. Clay pots tend to dry out quicker than ceramic pots, so if your home tends to be on the humid side clay pots will be fine. If your home tends to be more arid, you may need to select ceramic pots. Don’t feel limited to traditional containers though, you can also use unusual containers such as aluminum cans or plastic containers.
Purchase containers that will have enough room for your herb but won’t be too spacious or too cramped. If a pot is too large it will be more difficult to keep soil moisture even, if the pot is too small your plant might become stunted.
Never use soil from your outside garden, as it may contain disease or tiny bugs. (And who wants bugs inside their house, yuck!) Growing herbs indoors requires soil with more drainage than normal. Be sure to select a potting soil specifically for indoor gardening. Packages labeled as “potting mix” tend to have added perlite which aerate the mix. Add peat or a little sand to the soil for herbs that tend like soil on the dry side.
Sometimes soil can get overwhelmed with fertilizer salt or even sodium levels in your tap water. If you notice a white substance accumulating around your herb container it may indicate this salt buildup. Simply hold the plant over the sink and add enough water until it runs freely from the bottom of the pot. Inspect pots several times a year for additional buildup and repeat the over-watering process as necessary.
Selecting Herbs for Your Garden
You may be wondering what herbs to plant, and your herb garden although you may be tempted to only plant the basics (such as basil, bay laurel, oregano, parsley, rosemary, and thyme) consider spicing things up by adding a few unusual plants to the mix, such as chervil, chives, or mint. Here’s a few tips on the
A must in Italian dishes, basil is easy to grow and add to sauces, sauces or sandwiches. Keep basil in bright light, but away from drafty windows. Pinch off individual leaves as needed, but keep in mind that basil will become woody after a few weeks. You’ll need to replant basil regularly to have a steady supply.
Bay Laurel, most commonly called Bay leaf, is often used when cooking roasts, soups or stews. Keep the air circulating around bay laurel to discourage disease. Pluck individual leaves from a large plant and allow them to dry before storage. You’ll find that older leaves have a stronger flavor.
Chervil is an herb used when making béarnaise sauce, or added to egg, potato, and fish dishes. Keep chervil in a moderate sun and temps between 60 to 70 degrees. Replant chervil every few weeks to ensure you have a constant supply.
Chives add a dash of flavor and color to tons of foods, such as potato dishes, soups, salads and eggs. Harvest chives by giving your plant a “flat top haircut” with a pair of clean scissors, or by chopping an individual leaf. Leave at least 2 inches on the blade so that your plant isn’t shocked and will regrow. Keep chives in bright sunlight, preferably in a south-facing window.
In addition to tasting good, mint has many health benefits, it aids in digestion and can help relieve headaches. Snip mint leaves and stems for use in yogurt, teas, cooled water, or add it to balsamic vinegar with other herbs from your garden. Mint is a hardy plant and can even withstand extremely cold temperatures.
Oregano is a staple in almost every cuisine. Clip leaves from the plant, then strip leaves from the stem and add to sauces, meats, casseroles, soup and stews. Dried oregano is almost twice as potent than fresh leaves, so be sure to alter recipes calling for oregano appropriately. Keep oregano in moderate to strong light, and water the plant only when the surface of the soil is dry.
Although quick service restaurants frequently use parsley as a garnish, this herb is a great addition to soups, pesto, chicken dishes and other fresh sauces. Whether you choose to plant curly or flat-leaf parsley, the herb grows best in deep pots placed set in strong light.
The needle-like leaves of rosemary omit a homey aroma when crushed. Snip a sprig off your plant and toss the stem whole into soups, or strip leaves and crush them by mincing the mini leaves for sauces or on meats. Keep rosemary where light is strong.
Thyme grows best in clay pots, which allows the herb to have a period of dryness between watering. Keep the plant where it will receive at least 6 hours of light a day. Harvest herb by running your thumb down the length of a stem, or by picking a leaf from the plant. Dry thyme by placing several stems on a cookie sheet and allowing it to dry out over a day or so.
While you can grow your herbs next to each other, it’s important to put each herb in its own container when growing them indoors. Placing each herb in its own container will allow you the opportunity to vary moisture and light levels as needed for each specific plant.
Gather herbs together in a small bundle of 10- to 15 stems and hang them upside down in a warm place to dry. It may take several weeks for the herbs to dry completely. Store dried herbs whole (not crushed) in an airtight container for up to one year.