In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
February, 2009
Regional Report

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My rosemary is thriving and has a bonus red geranium for extra beauty.

Start Herbs for the Windowsill

It's too early to begin anything for the outdoor garden, but why not get a head start and make yourself feel good by starting some herbs on the windowsill? I still have plenty of dried herbs from last year's garden, but tossing a little fresh basil, chives, or parsley into my dinner really gives me a welcome hint of summer.

Find a Sunny Window
I happen to have a southeast-facing window, a perfect place to grow them. Sometimes it may be several days before we see sunshine, but I've had pretty good luck growing in the four to six hours of sun they receive on sunny days. As the seeds get started, frequent pinching keeps them stocky and producing well.

Choose Pots Carefully
Although there are certainly plenty of attractive specialty herb pots available, I find that simple plastic pots slipped inside decorative terra cotta pots work well and don't cost much. Herbs just seem to look best in terra cotta to me. Whatever you decide to use, just make sure you have saucers to catch the runoff when the plants are watered or you'll stain your windowsill.

Start From Seeds or Cuttings
Some herbs such as basil, parsley and cilantro are easily started from seed, while thyme, rosemary, and bay laurel are best started from cuttings or purchased as plants. A medium-weight sterile potting mix works quite well for starting seeds and rooting cuttings and is inexpensive.

Care of Seedlings
When you start your seeds, you can prevent some disease issues of new seedlings by covering the soil lightly with milled sphagnum moss (not peat moss).This has a natural fungicide in it. Cover the pots with a plastic bag to keep the seeds moist for germination and as soon as the seeds germinate, remove the plastic.

Pinch and Fertilize
Your windowsill herbs won't produce the large, familiar plants of the garden indoors, but the young plants are just as tasty and can be harvested within a couple of weeks from planting. Your windowsill garden will provide plentiful herbs through the rest of the winter and early spring months if you seed heavily every few weeks, fertilize monthly, and keep the herbs pinched.

Harden Woody Herbs for the Garden
When spring finally rolls around and the weather warms, the woody herbs like bay, rosemary, and thyme can be hardened off and put into the garden. For basil, cilantro, and parsley, seed new plants in the garden at the appropriate time. Trying to move out the ones you've grown indoors will only disappoint you because they will be too weak to withstand the rigors of outdoor life.

Next year, why not make plans to divide your garden herbs in the fall and pot up the divisions and bring them indoors for the winter? Sage, oregano, lemon balm, mint, and thyme can be divided about three weeks before the first frost in fall (early to mid-October). Dig entire plants of annual herbs such as rosemary and bay laurel to bring indoors.


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