Fresh herbs are delicious, and often considered better in flavor than their dried or dehydrated versions. Use indoor herb gardening to grow fresh herbs all year round, and enjoy the flavor of fresh picked basil, parsley, and more – even in December. It’s easy to get started growing herbs indoors.
There are a few different methods for indoor herb gardening. Most often, you may think of herbs in pots on a sunny windowsill. This method works for many and is a good herb growing method if your windowsill is sufficiently sunny. However, pots of soil can be messy, and in soil based pots it can simply be difficult to time harvests for when you need the herbs. It is accessible, to many, however, especially if you’re already growing some houseplants. Normally you do need one pot per type of herb you are growing.
The second method is to use a hydroponic growing method like the Kratky system. Hydroponic plants grow faster than those in soil, can be harvested sooner, and there’s over-all less mess. You don’t need to re-pot into fresh soil, transplanting is at a minimum, and it’s easy to position a passive hydroponic jar under a grow-light mounted on a kitchen cabinet. I normally use one to three jars per herb type that I’m growing, depending on how much of that herb I use in a week.
The third option is for an active all-in-one hydroponics system, like an Aerogarden. These come with built in timers, pumps, and lights and just need a few square feet of space on your counters to run. You can often grow multiple herb plants, and types, in the same system, and at the same time. I have grown stevia, basil, parsley, chamomile, and lettuces in my aerogarden, simultaneously. While the harvesting times are different, it can be fun to watch different types of plants grow together, and it’s a fun conversation piece for guests too.
For your herb indoor garden, you’ll need a few things no matter which method of growing the plants that you chose. Universally, you’ll need herb seeds, or herb seedlings. Seed can be funner to start with, as you can get unique varieties or unusual herbs. I started stevia from seed, and I’ve grown orangelo thyme, a faintly citrus-y thyme, as well as regular thyme. There are many unique herb varieties, all with faintly different flavors that can help you level up your herb-based cooking skills, as long as you’re growing them.
You’ll need containers that match your prefered growing method. With an all-in-one active system, the system itself is your container. For growing in soil, 6″ pots will fit on many windowsills and give your herb plants enough room to grow well and large. The small, 4″ decorative herb growing ceramic pots can grow small herb plants, but they will need regular fertilizing due to getting root-bound. Some of those decorative pots do not have drainage holes, so make sure whatever pots you chose do have adequate drainage. Larger pots reduce the need for fertilization, and can give you a stronger plant if you eventually want to grow it outdoors instead of indoors. For the kratky system, widemouthed mason pint jars work great for containers.
Lastly, no matter which method you chose you’ll need adequate light. A sunny, south facing windowsill (in the Northern hemisphere) works well for some herbs. A grow light works great for kratky jars, and active hydroponic systems normally have a built in grow light. Sunlight should be avoided if using passive kratky jars, as even with the jars being protected from light the daily temperature fluctuation can negatively impact plant roots, if the jars are on a windowsill, especially in winter.
Herbs to Grow:
The best herbs to grow in with indoor herb gardening are your culinary favorites, or ones that don’t tolerate frost. Rosemary is a good example of a great indoor herb, it’s not frost hardy so growing it indoors lets you keep a plant going for many years. Other herbs include mint, which grows aggressively outdoors, but is a good candidate for pots, or containers indoors or out. If you prefer fresh mint tea, then an indoor plant can be very enjoyable.
Chives and green onions are another easy to-grow option. In fact, there’s an easy method to perpetuate green onions in the short term. Check out this tutorial on growing green onions in a glass jar on your counter. With this method you’re able to cut the green onion’s leaves and just harvest what you need for the current salad, or meal.
Other great herbs include oregano, basil, cilantro, sage, dill, lavender and many, many others. You can even grow calendula and other less-culinary herbs indoors if you wish.
Soil-based indoor herb gardening:
Herbs can be successfully seed-started in small, one or two inch pots. Then, once they have a root system established you can transfer them into six inch pots with fresh potting mix. Make sure your potting mix of choice has perilite or vermiculite in it, for moisture control. I prefer resting my indoor herb planters on saucers or plastic trays, this protects other surfaces from water damage, and with a 1″ lip on the tray I can bottom water too.
Fill your starting pots with potting soil. Add your seeds, or transplant your seedlings into the pots and water well.
Set your herb pots under your grow light, or in your sunny windowsill to make sure they get enough light. Water once or twice a week, when the soil surface is dry to a depth of half an inch, up to one inch if using a 8″ or lager pot.
I prefer watering from the bottom, as this make sure that the soil actually soaks up the water. Some potting soils are hydrophobic once they dry out and they need to sit in water for a bit to overcome that.
Herbs should only be lightly fertilized, maybe once every three months, or when new growth seems to stall. Alternatively, if growth stalls the plants can be planted up into larger pots, or if it’s the right time of year, they can be moved to the garden. New soil will have fresh nutrients for the plants, and root bound plants can experience growth stalls too.
I prefer to avoid clay pots, as they dry out quicker than glazed ceramic pots, or regular plastic pots. I re-use my plastic pots for several years, or until they break.
Many short lived perennial herbs will live longer in indoor herb gardening, since they will be protected from frost. You can also take cuttings of your outdoor herbs in the fall, root them, and grow them over-winter with indoor herb gardening.
Hydroponic indoor herb gardening:
The kratky method is the easiest, passive hydroponic method to get started with and gives quick results.
What you need:
Net pots: These are small plastic pots that are used to hold either clay pellets or coconut coir in the kratky system. You can make your own from small plastic cups, or purchase some that will fit with your desired jar size.
Widemouthed jars: I prefer glass, pint mason jars but any jar that will hold your net pot will work.
Substrate: Either coconut coir, or hydroponic pellets work. You can also use sponges, cut slices of pool noodle, and more. These are just to hold the seeds in place until the plant grows, or to hold seedlings in place until the roots develop. I like coconut coir for starting seeds in the kratky method.
Foil or black paper to cover the jars: Blocking out light is important in hydroponics, as the nutrient solution is attractive to algae. However, algae needs light to grow, so blacking out the jars helps prevent algae growth from killing your plant’s roots and making the jars look gross.
Led light or other grow light: I prefer LED grow lights for their energy saving side. Use full spectrum lights for grow lights, and you can use whatever lights you have on hand, or can get. Again, a sunny location can work, but a windowsill may intensify the light too much in deep winter, or mid-summer for this growing method.
Getting Started: Kratky Herb Gardening
Start by assembling your materials and fill your net pots with coconut coir. Soak the coir in water and rinse it well before filling the pots, as coconut coir can have a high salt content. Peat moss avoids the high salt content, if you prefer that.
Place your seeds, or your bare-root seedlings into the net pots. If starting with soil-started seedlings the seedlings will need to have the soil washed off their roots with cool water, before being transferred to the kratky net pots. Coir, pebbles, or hydroponic pellets will not fall through the net pot openings, but soil will.
Firm in the seeds, or seedlings, and set up your kratky jar. Use Masterblend formula for herbs, and follow the package directions to mix each part into warm water. This is your plant food for this hydroponic method. Mix each part individually, and make sure it is fully dissolved before adding the next part. This is important, as if they parts are added out of order, or not fully dissolved they can bind to each other and prevent the plants from accessing the nutrients. See this post for more information on Kratky growing.
Fill your jars to the base of the net pots. This lets the substrate help wick some water up to the plant roots. Wrap your jars in your blackout material and place them under the grow lights. Make sure the plants have good air circulation as well.
As the nutrient formula in the jars is used up by your herb plants it will great an airspace. This airspace is important for your herb plant, it lets the plant develop air roots for respiration. If you do need to top up the water in your herb jars, make sure to leave some space between the bottom of the net pot and the water level, at least 1″ for the air roots to breathe. The humidity in this section of the jar keeps the roots alive and healthy.
All In One Indoor Herb Gardens:
These are normally active hydroponic gardens, like the brand-name Aerogarden. They often come complete with plant markers, and as a vegetable, or herb gardening kit. They have pre-seeded plant pods, and are pretty much plug-and-play for hydroponics. Especially the programmable smart gardens, though the timed light can act up if you have power surges or power outages. To fix it, simply reset the clock on the garden though.
Simply follow their directions to set up, fill up the water tank, add your pods, and set your timers. If you’re completely new to gardening and indoor herb gardening, this option may create the best indoor herb garden for you. And these gardens are super fun to watch grow too.
A few notes on these types of gardens, however. The pods may not always have good germination. The kit I tested had zero germination in several of the herb types provided. If you have access to other herb seed, you can simply place a fresh seed into the non-growing pod and let that seed germinate. You don’t need a new set of pods just because the provided seeds didn’t sprout. You only need to add one or two seeds to a pod, as otherwise you’ll have to cull excess plants.
It’s never too early, or too late, to start with indoor herb gardening. Currently, in April, the Farmer’s Markets are starting up and there are starter herb plants available from many growers. It’s the perfect time to start trying new herbs, new plants, and new growing methods. Even if you’re reading this in December, there’s seeds to order and you can start your own new seedlings indoors.
Feel like herbs are too much? Get a packet of fresh herbs from your grocery store, maybe mint or basil and when you start cooking with them place the healthiest sprigs in some water. Strip off most of the lower leaves and only leave the top three or four leaves. Let them root and transfer them to a pot. Boom! New herb plant, with zero risk.
Just get started and try. Herbs are awesome, and fun!
Even if you just live in an apartment, with barely any space, a single pot of herbs, a jar of sprouts, or a tray of microgreens can fit on the counter. Try growing something this week. Eating something you grew is one of the most rewarding things about any type of gardening, indoor, outdoor, or even micro.
New to growing food and vegetables?
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- Even if you don’t have any land.
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