Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Herbs

Growing Herbs Indoors

by Conrad Richter


Everyone seems to want to grow herbs these days. And why not? Herbs pay triple dividends in good looks, good flavors, and good scents. The magic of freshly chopped chives sprinkled over an omelet or soup; the Mediterranean charms of fresh rosemary, oregano, and thyme; the intoxicating aroma of lemon verbena — all make it difficult not to get passionate about herbs. And these rewards aren't limited to the summer garden. Even just a few pots of herbs indoors can supply you with wonderful flavors and herbal gifts through the rest of the year.

Herbs That Grow Well Indoors

Not every herb likes indoor life. Coriander (cilantro), garden cress, and dill are short-lived annuals that, when cut for harvest, do not regrow. You have to resow these herbs to produce a continuous crop. Three pots of each plant, each at a different stage (seeded, intermediate growth, and ready to cut), are usually enough. Forget trying to grow coriander, dill, or other spice herbs indoors for their seeds: They won't set enough to warrant the effort.

You can grow parsley in pots, but I prefer to bring in established plants from the garden at the end of the season. The older leaves will fall off, but the thick taproot will drive new growth from the center. However, parsley grown indoors from seed never reaches the size and productivity of plants dug from the garden. That's why I dig outdoor plants in fall and bring them inside. Keep the soil around the taproot intact, and be sure to use a pot that's deep enough to accommodate the root.

Unless light is plentiful, growth of most indoor herbs will slow or even stop during the winter, even with enough warmth. When growth slows, reduce harvests and hold back a little on the water. Reducing the indoor temperature to 60° to 65°F, if possible, also helps.

French tarragon and chives in particular benefit from a cool period. When growth flags in winter, place them in an unheated shed or garage (or in the refrigerator) for a month or two; freezing temperatures are fine. When returned to room temperature and good light, they'll put out succulent new growth.

My mother, co-founder of Richters Herbs, grows herbs indoors in window boxes. She "plants" herbs in their pots in a window box filled with soil up to the rim of the pots. This system may seem odd, because the roots can only get at the soil outside through the holes in the pots. But herbs do precisely that, with faster and more lush growth than in stand-alone pots. The extra soil prevents the plants from becoming potbound, humidity and soil moisture remain more even, and the herbs seem to grow better. Also, the roots don't become so intertwined that it's difficult to rearrange or replace plants. A firm yank dislodges them.

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