Gardening 101: How To Grow Your Own Herbs

It’s time to get gardening! Here’s how to grow your own herbs inside, no green thumb necessary.

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June 10, 2018
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With summer quickly approaching, there’s never been a better time to try your hand at creating your very own indoor herb garden. It turns out there are quite a few herbs that are easy to grow inside, so even those of us who live in teeny-tiny apartments (with no real outdoor garden area to speak of) can get in on the action. Herbs are a great place to start. Not only are many of them easy to grow, but they’re also useful for cooking.

Don’t think you have a green thumb? You don’t need one! We’re outlining exactly how to grow your own herbs indoors, even if you have no prior gardening experience.

Herb Gardening for Beginners: 5 Herbs Anyone Can Grow

“Most herbs are meant to be consumed, so you’re not actually looking to grow them long-term,” says Jon VanZile, master gardener and author of Houseplants for a Healthy Home. Here are five to get you started:

Basil

This Mediterranean herb does best in warm weather, says VanZile. It’s a great addition to lots of foods like pizza, pasta, salads, and sandwiches.

Mint

Mint is super versatile and can be used in sweet and savory dishes, says Jodi Moreno, chef and recipe developer of What’s Cooking Good Looking.

Thyme

Thyme can be used on its own or paired with other herbs like rosemary, says Moreno, making it another versatile option. It’s particularly yummy when used in roasted dishes.  

Parsley

This herb grows all year, can withstand cooler temperatures, and can be added to just about any meal, says Rebecca Lee, registered nurse and founder of the natural home remedy blog Remedies for Me.

Chives

Lee says that chives are hardy, can last through winter, and can be added to just about any dish. Maria Failla, founder and creator of the podcast Bloom and Grow Radio, likes using chives at breakfast time.

Plants you’ll need to get started:

Benefits of Growing Herbs at Home

Growing herbs relieves stress.

For a study published in the Journal of Health Psychology, participants performed a stressful task, then spent 30 minutes either gardening outdoors or reading a book inside. Both activities lowered their cortisol (aka the stress hormone) levels, but gardening had a bigger effect. “I find plants calming and psychologically wonderful to have at home,” says VanZile. “To be keeping a plant alive in a space, it’s a very nurturing activity.”

Growing herbs makes meal prep a bit easier.

“Certain plants have functional purposes,” says VanZile. The fact that you can eat herbs cuts down on having to run to the supermarket for that ingredient you might have forgotten to put in your cart.

Growing herbs teaches you something useful.

VanZile says he finds growing herbs and caring for them to be very grounding. “Here’s something that you need to take care of almost on a daily basis,” he says. “It brings a kind of very positive discipline to your day and to your life.” Growing herbs is also an educational experience for kids. Sara-Chana Silverstein, master herbalist, has seven kids and has gotten them involved in the process of growing herbs in their tiny Brooklyn apartment. “It was important to me for them to understand how things grow,” she says. “Every spring we make a garden on our fire escape.”

Where to Get Your Herbs

Once you decide which herbs you want to grow in your apartment or house, it’s time to go out and buy them. “Herbs are very, very available,” says VanZile. You can buy them at supermarkets, nurseries, or home improvement stores like Home Depot and Lowe’s.

For true beginners, pre-potted, pre-sprouted herbs are your best bet, says VanZile. “Seedlings require a lot of light to do well—more light than a window can give them,” he says. “So you’re probably going to want to invest in a fluorescent light and tray [if you’re growing seedlings], and suddenly you’re not a beginner anymore.” VanZile says the main reason you’d want to start with seeds is if the herb you’re looking for doesn’t come pre-potted.

How to Create an Indoor Herb Garden

Now that you have your herbs, we’ll teach you how to care for them properly.

Place your herbs in the right spot.

All herbs should be placed in a sunny spot with south-, east-, or west-facing windows being the best choices, says VanZile. “Avoid a north-facing window because there’s just not enough sunlight,” he says. Failla, who lives in an apartment in New York City, says it’s ideal for indoor herbs to get six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day. VanZile says as long as you have a window that gets some sunlight, you shouldn’t need to invest in any fancy equipment. If you truly don’t have any space for herbs near a window, you can invest in a fluorescent light setup, although this may be costly. Modernsprout’s Growhouse ($150) was designed for indoor spaces and features full spectrum LED lights.

Know when to water your herbs.

VanZile doesn’t like to give a hard-and-fast rule about how often you should water your herbs because it really depends on where you live. If you’re in Arizona and it’s 110 degrees outside, you may need to water your herbs more frequently than someone who lives in a cooler or more humid climate. The best thing you can do is pay attention to how your herbs and the soil look. “If you need a marker, use the surface of the soil as a gauge,” says VanZile. “If the surface of the soil is dry and starting to contract, your herb probably needs water.” If an herb starts to get droopy, that means it needs more water, says VanZile, while if it starts to get yellow, it’s getting too much water.

Don’t let your herbs sit in water.

“All indoor plants need really good drainage,” says VanZile. Let the water run out of the bottom of the pot (the pot should have drainage holes in it), and then empty the saucer underneath the pot once the soil is drained. “Never let a potted plant sit in water because this will rot the roots and be terrible for the plant,” says VanZile.

Pick the right soil.

VanZile says the right soil will help with water drainage and ensure your herbs have a healthy lifespan. He suggests using a fortified soil like Miracle-Gro, which you can find at nurseries, grocery stores, and Home Depot or Lowe’s.

Get rid of bugs without chemicals.

“There are pests that are going to be attracted to herbs for sure,” says VanZile. If you suspect there are critters on your herbs, lift, look under, and brush the leaves to see if anything flies off. Check for little dots that look like mites, because almost every bug is going to leave behind some trace that it’s living there. Scale insects, mealybugs, spider mites, and whiteflies are the most common pests.

VanZile doesn’t do anything until he actually knows his plants have bugs on them. Then, the rule of thumb would be to start with the least toxic option. Take your herb to the sink, turn on your spray faucet, and spray the bugs off. “Do that several times over the course of a week to blow away any bugs, larvae, or eggs,” says VanZile. If that doesn’t work, try neem oil. “It’s generally non-toxic and is a very gentle product,” says VanZile. “I would never use a strong pesticide on an herb I was going to eat. I would just throw it out and buy another one. They’re cheap, so the margin for error here is tremendous.”

Determine when your herbs are ready to use.

“As soon as your herb has mature leaves on it at all, it’s ready to eat,” says VanZile. “Once flowers start to appear, that means it’s probably near the end of its lifespan and is getting bitter, so it won’t be as tasty.”

If you’re growing herbs from seeds, it’s usually 30 to 45 days before you can harvest the plants, says Failla. When you are harvesting your herbs, be gentle, says Lee, since tugging at the leaves can strain the plant and dislodge the roots.

How to Cook with Your Herbs

“You can mix basil into so many different kinds of pastas,” says Moreno, “and it’s great as a garnish.” She suggests using it as one of the main components in an herby salad. VanZile uses basil a lot, making pizza at least once a week. Failla and her boyfriend make basil-walnut pesto. “Any dish you make is elevated by some fresh basil on top,” says Failla. “It can be something so basic, like tomatoes with basil and a little sea salt.” You can use parsley in pesto or as a garnish as well.

Moreno uses mint in tea and in smoothies. “I also love to throw a little mint in sauces, even if the recipe doesn’t call for mint,” she says. “It adds a pop of brightness that you’re not expecting.” Moreno says that mint is also a great addition to salads when used sparingly. “It can really overpower a dish if you use too much,” she says. Meanwhile, cucumber-mint yogurt is a favorite of Failla’s.

Thyme is a great herb for roasting veggies, meat, chicken, and fish, says Moreno. “I usually pair thyme and rosemary together,” she says, “but if I were to use one on its own, it would be thyme.” Failla says she makes cheesy scrambled eggs with them. Sometimes she’ll shred potatoes, sautee them with a little salt, let them sit and get crispy like hash browns, and add the cheesy eggs on top.

How to Dry Your Herbs

Dry your homegrown herbs by cutting off the stems, tying them, and hanging them upside down in a cool, dark, dry place, says Lee. The flavor of dried herbs takes more time to come out, so you should plan to use them earlier on in the cooking process to let their flavor bloom, while fresh herbs don’t need to be added until later on, says Moreno.

Dried herbs are a great option in the wintertime if you’re making a soup or stew that takes hours to cook, while fresh herbs are a great to add to condiments like salsa that you can whip together in a few minutes, says Moreno.

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