Indoor Herb Garden Essentials

By: Angelica Frey and Matilda Davies Urban gardening
Photo by Markus Spiske

If you’re itching to start an herb garden but short on space, just bring the farm indoors. All you need is a windowsill or two to start an indoor herb garden. Growing herbs indoors rather than out means you’ll avoid pests and can grow all year, so you can add your own mint to your juleps in May and tarragon to your coq a vin in December.

Drainage for an indoor herb garden

All indoor herb gardens will need to be set up to accommodate water drainage. If you let your plants drain onto your windowsill, you’ll end up damaging the paint and the wood, leading to warping or rotting. On the other hand, planting herbs in a pot without drainage holes will mean root rot, so make sure you have a metal or plastic tray that can hold all of your potted herbs.

Note that individual saucers may not be adequate to prevent spillover and that terracotta or ceramic saucers absorb water and can still damage your windowsill, so go with metal or plastic.

Ensuring the right light for your plants

Most herbs will want as much light as they can get, so find a spot that gets at least five hours of sunlight every day. Choose a window that’s south- or southwest-facing when possible; north-facing windows tend to get the least sunlight.

Watering your herbs

Note that watering requirements vary by plant, and we’ve made note of some below. But generally, indoor herb gardens require regular watering. Water when the top of the soil starts to look and feel dry. Don’t water more frequently than that—your herbs won’t survive overwatering.

Setting the right temperature for your indoor herb garden

Keep your home 65–70°F during the day and 55–60°F at night. Some herbs like humidity as well, so consider a humidity tray to give them the balminess they need.

Fertilizing your herb garden

Most indoor herb gardens won’t require much fertilizer, but if you want to opt for a little juice, apply only when herbs are actively growing. We like this liquid fish emulsion or another liquid organic fertilizer like these from Planet Natural.

Pruning your herbs

Look, herb flowers are lovely, but blooming will reduce the life of the plant, so make sure to prune any blooms. Woody herbs will need to be trimmed back about once a year so they don’t get too woody. For tender, fast-growing plants, like basil and mint, prune them semi-regularly from the top.

7 plants for you indoor herb garden

1. Mint

Mint is one of the most rewarding herbs, due to its active growth, though it can be unruly if not monitored closely. To grow mint indoors, it’s best to give it a wide container all to itself because mint spreads laterally and will likely take over any plant in its vicinity. Given its aggressive nature, mint can thrive in different soil types, as long as the soil remains moist.

Mint can be used in drink recipes from classic mojitos to simple mint water, and it makes a fragrant and eye-catching garnish. One of our favorite uses is adding mint to grilled pears and vanilla ice cream—makes a great backyard summertime treat.

2. Oregano

Originally from the Mediterranean, Italian oregano thrives in drier conditions and well-draining soil: a mixture of potting soil, peat moss, and perlite is preferred. The dark green leaves of Italian oregano are complemented with lovely little white flowers (sadly, you will need to trim these!). Frequent trimmings will keep flower formation at bay. Oregano’s flavor is at its strongest just before the plant blooms.

Due to its rich vitamin-B content, oregano increases energy and vitality—it’s practically an adaptogenic, especially as an oil. Dilute oregano in water to treat an upset stomach.

Photo by Lesly Juarez

3. Basil

Even though basil is known as an entry-level herb, growing it indoors requires extra care as it doesn’t tolerate temperature drops as well as other herbs. It requires at least six hours of sunlight and constantly moist, yet well-draining soil. Basil does not tolerate water stress either, so soil sogginess should be avoided.

Basil is great in Mediterranean-inspired dishes and has more recently become a staple ingredient at bespoke cocktail bars. The herb is also known to be a useful muscle relaxant: just add some basil leaves to a pot of boiling water and and breathe in the vapors.

4. Sage

Sage differs from other garden herbs: as it grows, the flavor of its leaves intensifies, and even after its flowers have bloomed, it remains a delicious treat. What’s more, sage continues to grow as temperatures drop.

The biggest threat to sage is mildew, which can easily be avoided by not overwatering the plant. In fact, you should wait until the soil is completely dry before watering it again. A humidity tray will aid indoor growth.

Sage accompanies fatty meats particularly well, though, due to its strong flavor, it should be used sparingly. Sage is also lovely as an ice cream flavoring.

5. Tarragon

Because tarragon is not the sturdiest of herbs, growing it indoors can protect it from the elements. What’s more, it prefers constant, diffused to direct sunlight, so a south-facing window is not ideal. Like sage, tarragon prefers a thorough watering, with time to dry out between waterings.

Tarragon is featured in French cuisine and is the star ingredient in Béarnaise sauce. It can also help quell insomnia: try sipping some tarragon tea before going to bed.

6. Bay laurel

In order to get the best flavor out of bay laurel, full sun for a portion of the year is required. Though bay laurel is a fairly tolerant plant, opt for a mixture of half potting soil and half cactus mix if you grow it in a container.

Dried bay leaves make a great addition to soups, stews, and braises. Keep in mind that the older the plant, the more flavorful the leaves will be. You can also keep some bay leaves in your pantry: bay laurel is a godsend against pantry pests like moths and roaches.

7. Chervil (French parsley)

The leaves of chervil, or French parsley, resemble carrot tops and for good reason: chervil is a member of the carrot family. However, its leaves have a delicate flavor more reminiscent of parsley and anise.

Chervil is at its best when freshly picked: once it dries, it loses much of its distinctive flavor. Unlike most other culinary herbs, chervil prefers cool, moist, and shaded locations.

While its flavor is more delicate than many other herbs, the freshness and sweetness of chervil pairs very well with eggs, whether in an omelette, a scramble, or eggs en cocotte.


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