by Jill Henderson – Show Me Oz –
No matter how hard the bitter winds blow or how deep the snow gets, the avid gardener can still enjoy the sights, smells, and tastes of fresh home-grown herbs all winter long. All you need is a few pots, some potting soil, and one or two relatively warm and sunny windowsills on which to perch them. And while an indoor herb garden will likely produce less than those summer-grown herbs from the garden, they are still useful, flavorful and oh, so beautiful to look at. In this week’s Show Me Oz we’ll talk about indoor herb gardens and how to grow your own, including special cultivars bred specifically to perform well in pots.
Perennials such as bay tree, lemon verbena, rosemary, tarragon, winter savory, thyme, salad burnet, chervil, oregano, garlic and onion chives, marjoram, sage, and mint all thrive indoors when given the right conditions.
Compact varieties tend to grow better in pots than standard varieties do. Try English mint (M. spicata), Greek oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum), Cuban oregano (Coleus amboinicus), Grolau chives (Allium sativum ‘Grolau’), and creeping savory (Satureja repandra).
Don’t overlook some of the more decorative (and edible) varieties of sage, such as Golden and Berggarten, as well as decorative trailing rosemary and lovely variegated thyme. And while the leaves of ginger, horseradish and turmeric are inedible, all make very pretty houseplants. As a bonus, they can be set out in the garden in spring and harvested in the fall.
True cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) makes a very pretty and flavorful indoor herb. A pinch of this fresh herb goes a long way in salads, sandwiches, roll ups and as a flavorful garnish on Mexican dishes and salsa. And while it is a lovely herb to grow indoors, after being cut, true cilantro is slow to rebound with new leaves. To get around this problem, either use the leaves very sparingly or simply start a new pot every couple of weeks for a continuous harvest. And don’t underestimate the flavor and usefulness of cilantro sprouts! Mmmm-mmm. Pot cilantro (Coriandrum sativum ‘99057’), also known as leaf coriander, is the first true cilantro bred for pot culture and will do very well to replace traditional cilantro indoors. Available at Richter’s Herbs.
If you’re not crazy about cilantro or you’ve had trouble growing it in the past, check out Vietnamese Coriander (Polygonum odoratum), which can be used in similar ways to cilantro. Keep in mind that this herb is in no way related to true cilantro, but can be used in similar ways. It also grows much better indoors than cilantro does.
In fact, of the many types of herb that can be grown indoors, there are often specific cultivars that will be more productive than standard garden varieties. When growing basil, try ‘Spicy Globe’, which is smaller, spicier and has a more compact habit than traditional basil. It also grows at relatively low temperatures of 65-70. For fresh dillweed (which is never tasty dried, no matter how carefully you dry it), try ‘Fernleaf’ dill. This little wonder grows only 18” tall and resists bolting – perfect for winter culture. Most people don’t think of growing celery indoors, but “Zwolsche Krul” leaf celery is an excellent option for the indoor herb garden for its abundance of celery-flavored leaves. You can find this variety at Baker Creek Heirloom Seed Co.
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Remember that members of the parsley family have long delicate taproots that are easily injured when transplanted. Therefore, be sure to sow seeds of parsley, dill, and celery directly into the pot in which they will grow all winter. Also, some herbs don’t rebound well after cutting, so several pots should be sown at two to three week intervals to ensure a constant supply. Basil and dill are prime examples.
Providing warmth, light, and moisture are all crucial to growing good herbs indoors, but many a gardener fails to give enough thought as to the soil they use. Any well-draining potting soil – with or without slow-release fertilizer – is perfect for growing herbs indoors. You may have to water them more often, but you will not have to worry about them suffocating in water-logged soil. And no matter how wonderful your garden soil is, do not use it for growing herbs indoors! Not only is garden soil very heavy in relation to a small container, but it is full of potential diseases and pests just waiting for an opportune moment to strike. If you’re into making your own, try a blend of 70% potting soil or sterile compost, 20% perlite, and 10% sharp sand. This mixture will allow excellent air circulation, drainage, and moisture retention.
When it comes to soil, keep in mind that herbs generally prefer a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Some herbs, such as rosemary, thyme, marjoram, lemon balm and coriander, prefer a pH of around 6.0. For herbs that prefer a higher pH, add 1 tsp. of lime to each 6 in. (15 cm) pot or adjust the amount accordingly depending on the size of the container.
Make sure your herbs get at least four hours of direct sun each day. And keep in mind that even the brightest window may not be bright enough. If your herbs are not growing vigorously, try adding a bit of supplemental light. See my article Garden Time: Starting Seeds Indoors (Part One) or Garden Time: Starting Seeds Indoors (Part Two) for lots more info on growing on herbs indoors.
In addition to starting herbs from seed, why not bring some of that summer sunshine indoors for the winter? Many herbs growing outdoors can be brought indoors for the winter, providing much needed freshness to both the windowsill and the cooking pot. Onions, garlic, chives, French sorrel, parsley, and many other herbs do exceptionally well when brought indoors. Check out my article Moving Herbs Indoors for a ton of useful information on that exact subject.
With real winter still on its way, there is still plenty of time to get your indoor winter herb garden started. Whether you start a few annuals from seed or take cuttings from some of your perennial herbs from the garden, growing herbs indoors couldn’t be easier or more rewarding!
© 2014 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
Learn how to grow and use the world’s oldest, safest, and most medicinal herbs with this easy step-by-step guide! From starting seeds to preparing home remedies, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs is a treasured resource that you will turn to time and time again.
Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.