Winter Herbs Indoors
When annual herbs disappear from garden beds and perennials are cut back for a rest, indoor herb gardens bring freshness and flavor to the kitchen. Making a few adjustments to their care is all it takes to keep favorite herbs at hand for clipping. When the weather warms up again, move pots outdoors or transplant herbs into the garden.
- Many nurseries and seed catalogs sell dwarf or compact varieties of oregano, thyme, rosemary, mint, and sage in small pots.
- Include hardy herbs and some that are not winter-hardy such as basil and cilantro.
- Parsley and chives overwinter outdoors, but a small curly-leafed pot of parsley and clump of chives are attractive and convenient additions to an indoor collection.
- Plan ahead in summer and fall for growing herbs indoors in winter by dividing and potting up herbs such as chives, thyme, and mint. Root cuttings of oregano, sage, rosemary, and basil.
- Clean outdoor-grown cuttings and divisions to remove any insects or eggs on foliage or stems.
- Purchase small pots of herbs from a nursery for a fast-and-easy approach to an indoor garden.
- Most herbs grow best indoors in individual pots rather than mixed together. But clustering small pots closely together in groups with similar water needs makes for easy maintenance.
- Plant small-sized herbs individually in commercial potting soil in 2-4 in. pots on a counter top or in a sunny window. In a sunny enclosed porch, grow larger herbs in larger pots.
- Almost any container with proper drainage can be used. Monitor pots after watering so they do not sit in water. Use a finger to test potting soil for moisture before re-watering.
- Naturally woody-stemmed herbs—oregano, thyme, mint, and sage—do best when soil is allowed to dry out before rewatering.
- Soft-stemmed herbs—chives, cilantro, chervil, basil, and parsley—prefer more frequent watering but will rot in soggy soil.
- Most herbs require fertile potting mix but little or no additional fertilizer.
- Expose herbs to sun at least 6 hours a day or stems will become lax, leggy, and disappointing.
- If a sunny window does not allow ample light, a full-spectrum fluorescent tube or grow light is effective for 8 or more hours a day. An adjustable rack is convenient for keeping lights about 6 in. above foliage.
- Turn potted herbs regularly to expose all sides to strong light. Keep in mind that winter sun is low in the sky and has the potential to burn foliage when plants are in a south-facing window.
- Regular harvesting of potted herbs promotes new growth. Pick individual leaves or use scissors to snip off two or three stems, leaving at least half the growth. In general, do not allow herbs to flower; simply cut back part of stems if flower buds appear. If you are unable to use herb clippings on a regular basis, keep them pruned to maintain vigor.
- Before relocating potted herbs outdoors in spring, slowly acclimate them to the changed conditions before leaving them outside for an entire day and night.
- For details and requirements of specific herbs, refer to individual herb articles on this site: Food Gardening Articles