There are so many reasons to grow herbs indoors; they add garden-fresh flavor to food, fragrance and greenery to indoor spaces, and because packages of fresh herbs are expensive to buy at the supermarket, growing your own can save you money. It’s easy to create an herb garden for a kitchen window when you start with a little smart planning. Most herbs grow well indoors, but you’ll need to provide a few basic necessities, like adequate light, to ensure a healthy windowsill garden.
There are plenty of herb kits available online and in stores, which combine seeds, soil, and pots to grow popular culinary or tea herbs at home. However, as much as I love growing plants from seed, it’s much easier – and faster – to pick up a handful of herb transplants from your local garden centre or farmers market for an instant, ready-to-use herb garden.
How many plants do you need? With certain herbs, like rosemary or bay, a little goes a long way and one plant is likely sufficient for the culinary needs of an average family. Herbs like basil, parsley, or cilantro, are often used in larger quantities and I find that I like to have at least two of each. To pick which herbs you should grow on your windowsill, think about the ones you use the most when you’re cooking, and start with two or three of your favorites.
Grow a Healthy Herb Garden for a Kitchen Window:
Healthy plants will produce a larger harvest, so aim to provide the basic necessities to your indoor herb garden. The plants will need light, water, and an occasional feeding. Another reason to keep your plants healthy? Pest prevention! Herbs that are grown with inadequate light or too much water, are more prone to pests like aphids or spider mites. Giving your herbs ideal growing conditions means healthier plants and less work for you.
The biggest issue that gardeners face when growing herbs indoors is a lack of light. Herbs need plenty of light to produce healthy growth. When growing them on a windowsill, find a south-facing window that offers at least 6 to 8 hours of sunshine. If you don’t have a good spot, you can use grow-lights.
Many indoor gardeners use fluorescent light fixtures, which are typically two to four-feet in length, and are fitted with inexpensive fluorescent tubes. These fixtures can be used to start vegetable and flower seedlings in spring and grow culinary herbs indoors in winter. In smaller spaces, like countertops, shelves, or convenient corners, where you may not have room for a large grow-light, you can grow culinary herbs with a more compact system, like the SunBlaster Grow Light Garden or the even smaller version, the Micro Grow Light. Of course, you can also set up a spotlight fitted with a simple and inexpensive incandescent light bulb.
Overwatering is the fastest way to kill herb plants. Most herbs, like basil and rosemary, need well-drained soil in order to grow well, and if you’ve planted them in pots without good drainage, it can be a struggle. It’s hard to add drainage holes to clay or trendy cement pots, but you can drill some in plastic or wood pots. If using a pot without drainage holes, add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the pot, and practice smart watering. If the soil is still moist, don’t add more water.
Also, look for a pot that fits the plant well; it should be about an inch larger than the size of the rootball. If you buy herb seedlings in four-inch pots, replant them in five to six-inch pots. If you have a wide windowsill, or a window shelf, you can grow herbs in larger pots, stuffing several different types in a single container. Or, plant them in a windowbox, for an attractive indoor garden. When repotting herbs, choose a high-quality potting mixture. These mixtures are both lightweight and free-draining, which herbs appreciate.
A monthly dose of fertilizer will encourage your herbs to send out fresh growth and result in healthier plants. You can use liquid or granular fertilizers, but it’s best to stick to organic products when growing edible plants. Most herbs, particularly woody herbs like thyme, oregano, and rosemary have low fertility requirements and can be fertilized with a half-dose of the recommended application. Whatever fertilizer you choose to use, be sure to read the package directions carefully before using.
The Best Culinary Herbs for an Indoor Herb Garden:
Most culinary and tea herbs can be easily be grown in an herb garden for a kitchen window, or under grow-lights. If you’re a tea lover, like me, try fragrant herbs like mint, lemon verbena, and lemon balm. However, for culinary use, these are my must-grow herbs:
Basil – Among the most popular of the culinary herbs, basil is grown for its complex, aromatic flavor that livens up a wide variety of dishes. Basil is easy to grow, but to grow well indoors, you have to give it plenty of light. A south-facing window is good, but a grow-light, or a supplemental grow-light that is turned on for a few hours after the sun has set each evening, is even better.
Parsley – My grandmother always kept a pot of curly parsley in her windowsill because she loved the fresh flavour and scent of parsley. I also love adding parsley to my cooking, but I prefer the flat-leaved Italian parsley, which I like to chop into my salads and pastas for a punch of bright flavor. Parsley is very easy to grow indoors on a windowsill, and unlike basil, it appreciates ample moisture, so water often if the soil is dry to the touch.
Chives – Chives may be the easiest herb to grow and have a mild onion taste that lends flavor to scrambled eggs, quiche, pasta, soups, baked potatoes, and a million other meals. Growing chives from seed is a very slow process, so it’s best to start with a pot of fully grown chives. For me, this means digging up a clump from my garden in autumn. The chives are then potted up and placed in a sunny windowsill.
Cilantro – Cilantro is a pungent herb that adds intense flavor to Mexian, Asian, and Indian dishes. It also grows well in containers on a sunny windowsill or under grow-lights. It’s relatively quick to grow from seed, but you can also find transplants for a quicker harvest. It’s not a long-lasting herb, persisting for a few months in a window before it goes to flower. I usually buy up a fresh pot of cilantro seedlings in February to replace my autumn crop.
Rosemary – Rosemary is a Mediterranean herb with a strong, fresh scent that invigorates a winter-weary gardener. It needs plenty of sun, which can be hard to provide during the short, dark days of winter. If grown with insufficient light, rosemary will produce soft, scraggly growth. I find it beneficial to grow winter rosemary under grow-lights to ensure it receives enough light. Chop and sprinkle the leaves on roasted vegetables and meats, in stuffing, and on bruschetta.
Oregano – Every Friday is homemade pizza night in our house and just before our individual pizzas are put in the oven, they’re sprinkled with fresh, chopped oregano. Oregano is very easy to grow, but slow to grow from seed, so find healthy seedlings at your farmers market. It’s also drought tolerant and the soil should be allowed to dry to the touch between waterings.
Herb Harvesting Tips:
- Clip your herbs often to encourage fresh growth.
- Never remove more than one-third of the plant at any one time.
- Herbs like basil and cilantro will eventually produce flower buds, but these should be pinched off. You want to direct all plant growth into producing flavorful foliage, not flowers. To remove, simply snip off flower buds with scissors or pinch them with your fingers.
For more information on growing an herb garden for a kitchen window, check out Indoor Kitchen Gardening, an excellent book that details how to grow herbs indoors, as well as sprouts, microgreens, and more.
Will you be growing herbs on your windowsill this winter?