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Growing Herbs Indoors

Have you ever wanted a fresh sprig of rosemary or thyme for a specific recipe and had to settle with stale, store-bought dried herbs? Well, now you can bring the freshness of an outdoor herb garden indoors with a few easy tips. Whether you start them from seed or purchase plants you will be rewarded for your efforts. Try to keep them where all the cooking action is so you can pick a sprig whenever you need it. Setting the plants on a windowsill in a south-facing window would be the ideal growing location. The light should be enough for your hand to create a well-defined shadow when you place it between the plants and your window. If you don’t have a bright window you can substitute grow lights, but for the lights to be effective, the plants must be close to the lights, perhaps 6 inches away, and the lights should be on for about 18 hours a day.

Basil is a staple for cooks but a word of caution, basil needs more sun than most herbs and is a short-lived windowsill plant, so multiple plantings would be advised.  Also, if you use a lot of oregano or parsley try succession plantings so there are always fresh sprigs available. Ready?  Let’s get started:

  • Choose robust plants, a container, and good potting soil for each plant. That way, each plant has plenty of room and they don’t have to compete for space with a too-close neighbor (even though they don’t usually grow to full size indoors.)
  • Place in a southern window for optimal light but do not allow the plants to touch the window.
  • Water plants as soil becomes dry to the touch, and make sure they have proper drainage. Do not leave standing water in the saucer, as the plants will rot very easily in soggy soil.
  • Turn the pots frequently to keep them growing evenly on all sides.
  • Since you are harvesting, you will need to fertilize them to keep them putting out new growth.  We recommend either of two Espoma products, used every two to four weeks at the label rates: Espoma Organic Grow!, or Espoma Organic Fish!
  • Wait for plants to reach 6-8 inches in height before harvesting. Take only about a quarter of the plant or less each time. Remember: If you use a lot of oregano, basil, or parsley, you may want to plant more than one plant to maintain a continuous supply.  That way you can harvest from one plant while the others fill out from the previous harvests.

Important Tip: When using fresh herbs, you will need more than you would if you used dried ones. The ratio is usually 3-1 but it is probably best to do a taste test as you go.

Best herbs for growing indoors:

  • Basil
  • Chives
  • Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme

Note:  We have a good selection of herbs year-round, but our best selection arrives in March.

by Marian Parsley, Seasonal Plants Buyer

Stephanie Fleming was raised at Behnke’s Nurseries in Beltsville. Her Mom, Sonja, was one of Albert & Rose Behnke’s four children. She was weeding from the moment she could walk and hiding as soon as she was old enough to run, so many weeds, so little time. Although she quickly learned how to pull out a perennial and get taken off of weed pulling duty.

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