Edible Landscaping

How to: Grow Herbs from Seed

Basil is easy to start from seed indoors. Large trays of it will need transplanting into pots before being moved into the garden.

Mix and match herbs in containers for an attractive edible appearance.

Herbs are rewarding plants to grow. Not only do they provide tasty additions to all types of foods you cook, many plants are beautiful as ornamentals and produce attractive flowers in the landscape. While the easiest way to have herb plants is to purchase them from your local garden center or on-line, you can start many herbs from seed indoors in spring. Starting with seed not only gives you a wider selection of herb varieties to grow, it's less expensive, especially if you're growing many plants.

While the most common herbs to grow from seed are annual herbs such as basil and dill, you can start almost any herb from seed, given the right conditions. Here are some of the top culinary herbs to grow and some tips on starting them from seed.

Basic Needs

Regardless of the herb you're growing indoors from seed, there are some basic needs they all have. For the best success, use a grow light set up so your herbs are growing under artificial lights. This will ensure short, stocky plants that are better adapted to outdoor growing. Set the lights on a timer for 14 hours a day and keep the lights 2- to 4-inches away from the tops of the herbs.

Use seed starting potting mix when growing herb seeds. A seed starting mix is even lighter than regular potting soil and is easier for germinating seeds to poke through. Many herb seeds are tiny, so having a heavy mix makes it harder for them to sprout and more likely that they will rot before germinating.

While clay pots are fine for growing on, it's best to use plastic trays with small cells to start your herbs. The small cells make it easy to start many herbs all at once, and you can sow herbs with similar growth requirements near each other. They can be transplanted into larger pots as they grow. The exception is herbs that don't like transplanting such as parsley. Start these in larger pots to reduce the number of times they are transplanted.

Place the tray or pots in a warm room, out of direct sun. If you can apply bottom heat with a heating mat, that will speed up germination. Cover the cells with clear plastic to keep the soil moist. Once they germinate, remove the plastic and place the trays under lights.

Light sprays of a liquid organic fertilizer will help keep your herb seedlings green and growing strong. Apply a diluted solution weekly starting a week after germination.

Transplant your herbs once they are too large for their pots. If you planted in single cell trays, separate the herbs from each other and pot them into individual pots. Harden plants off before planting them outdoors or moving the pots outside.

Top Herbs and How to Grow Them from Seed

Chives are another easy herb to grow from seed. It actually can become a weed, self-sowing readily in your garden.

Sage, thyme and oregano can be grown indoors as windowsill herbs for use right in the kitchen.

Basil – One of the easiest herbs to grow from seed, sow two seeds per cell and thin to the strongest one after germination. Basil germinates as fast as 4 days from seeding in warm soil. Basil seedlings don't like excess water, so let the pots almost dry out between waterings. Once seedlings have grown their true leaves, transplant into 2-inch diameter pots.

Chives – An easy herb to grow, seeds self sow in the garden readily so you know it's a quick germinator. Keep the soil evenly moist and the seeds will germinate in 10 days from sowing.

Cilantro – Cilantro hates being transplanted. Sow seeds in pots that can be moved directly into the garden or in a larger pot outside. Soak seeds overnight in warm water, and sow 1/4 inch deep. Cilantro seeds should germinate in 7 to 10 days.

Dill – Dill is a great herb for the beginner to grow from seed. It has big seeds, so it’s easy to handle. It grows quickly, germinating within 1 to 2 weeks of sowing the seeds.

Parsley – Parsley seed is notoriously slow to germinate, sometimes taking up to 4 weeks. To speed it along, soak the seeds overnight in warm water and sow 1/4 inch deep in the soil. Parsley doesn't like to be transplanted, so grow seeds in pots large enough to move outside into the garden.

Oregano – This small-seeded herb can take weeks to germinate, so be patient. Gently press the tiny seeds into the soil and keep evenly moist. Oregano and thyme can be prone to damping off disease if the soil is kept too moist.

Sage – Like parsley, sage is slow to germinate, sometimes taking up to 21 days. Be patient and keep the soil evenly moist.

Thyme – Thyme seed is so small, it's easy to mistakenly sow a bunch in a little pot. Some growers mix sand with this small seed so as to not plant too much. Gently place a few seeds in each cell or pot, and lightly press them into the soil. It may take 2 to 3 weeks for the tiny seedlings to appear. Watch out for damping off disease.

Other stories on growing herbs:

Herbs in a Pot
Indoor Herb Growing
Starting Herbs on the Windowsill

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