There’s no doubt that plants enrich our lives — and essentially make it possible for us to survive. Although it would require the planting of 1.2 billion trees to offset 70 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, the practice of land clearing still plays an important part in at least four different commodities (beef, soy, palm oil, and wood production). But while you might personally be surrounded by a lot of trees or even a nearby garden, that doesn’t mean you’ll always get to reap the benefits — especially as winter approaches.
Already, many of us bring plants indoors in an effort to improve both ambiance and air quality. However, if you’re looking for a way to put your green thumb to good use or want to cook more flavorful meals as we head into the colder months, you may want to consider bringing some more aromatic seedlings inside. Starting an indoor herb garden isn’t as difficult as you might think — and the rewards are truly delicious. Here are a few tips to help you grow your own this winter.
Choose a Well-Lit Space
Even though 76% of homeowners change the style of their kitchen during a renovation project, you won’t necessarily need to change anything about your home in order to grow herbs inside. You need only a few basics, but lighting is a big one. Most herbs will thrive if they get six to eight hours of direct sunlight. If your kitchen has large windows or you have a sunroom that gets a lot of natural light, it’s best to position your herbs in these locations. If you don’t have enough natural window light, you can still grow herbs indoors by using fluorescent or LED bulbs. Some herbs can do extremely well without a whole lot of sunlight, as well, which may help to determine which plants you should grow. We’ll cover that next.
Pick the Right Herbs
You’ll want to pick herbs based on the varieties that grow well indoors and with the amount of light you’ll be able to provide. Chives, mint, cilantro, and parsley can actually thrive without a full six hours of sunlight, for example. You may want to take fragrance and flavor into account, as well. It’s a good idea to pick a few herbs to start to ensure the task is manageable. You might consider beginning with the ones you’d use most in your cooking, like rosemary, sage, oregano, or thyme. Although basil can be grown indoors, it may not do well enough inside if temperatures drop. You can also choose whether to grow your herbs from seeds or from seedlings; seedlings may be more manageable for first-time growers and will let you enjoy some herbs right from the start, but growing from seeds may provide you with more longevity, depending on how well you do.
Get Your Pots and Learn How to Plant
Once you’ve decided on the herbs you’ll grow and where to put them, you’ll need to obtain some pots and get planting. You must choose pots with proper drainage. A lot of decorative pots you’ll find in the store don’t have drainage holes, and all that standing water can harm your herbs. You’ll need to use pots with ready-made holes or drill some yourself. You should also place a saucer under every pot you use to catch the excess water. Otherwise, you’ll be dealing with leaks and potential water damage every time you water. Be sure to choose the right sized pot for your herbs. Since some have deeper root systems than others (or will grow with abandon), you may need a larger pot than you’d think. However, keep in mind that larger pots make it harder to keep the soil moist. It’s also important to consider the material of the planter, as ceramic pots will retain moisture more effectively than clay.
After you’ve selected your pots, you can get your hands dirty. If you’re using seedlings, fill the pot about one-third of the way up with potting soil and check the level with the plant’s plastic container. Then, you can simply take the herb out of its plastic container and fill it into the empty spot. Pat it down and water the soil.
Find the Right Temperature and Watering Frequency
After your initial planting and watering, you might feel like the hard part’s over. But now, you need to make sure your herbs survive! That includes watering at the right frequency and setting your indoor temperature properly. Herbs do best in temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit, though many can handle five degrees more or less. Keep in mind that placing herbs next to a window could drastically change the temperature they’re being subjected to; it might either be extremely drafty or overly warm, both of which can cause issues. Basil, in particular, likes to be at around 75 degrees or so. If you’re someone who likes to be extreme with your thermostat, this may be something to consider before planting.
You’ll want to determine when it’s time to water, as well. You should actually let your pots dry out a bit in between watering, which means you won’t usually need to water them every day. Once the dryness gets down to the top two inches of soil, it’s time to water again. Usually, you’ll water two to three times per week. If you find you’re watering every day, you may need to look more closely at the pot, the indoor temperature, or the humidity of your home. It’s a good idea to be slow with your watering, as trying to water a pot too quickly can cause the water to drain out the bottom before anything is absorbed. The golden rule here is “don’t rush.”
Now that you have a good idea of what’s required to grow herbs indoors, you can feel more confident in your selections and your ability to care for your plants. In only a short amount of time, you’ll be enjoying fresh herbs in your home-cooked meals — even in the dead of winter.