Even in winter we can still grow fresh herbs. In most regions the herb garden is now dormant, but with a little planning you can grow many culinary herbs and greens indoors this winter.
I like starting herbs for indoor use from seeds. That way, they can grow with stocky, healthy stems “from the ground up”.
Here’s some good information gleaned from various sources.
Which Herbs Grow Best Indoors?
Chives, dill, cilantro, parsley, thyme, oregano, dill, cilantro and basil are some of the best to try. I always soak my parsley seeds overnight before planting, since they are slower to germinate and soaking them hurries up the process.
For taller herbs, select dwarf varieties, such as ‘Spicy Globe’ basil or Dukat dill, that will fit on a windowsill or under grow or florescent lights lights. Dwarf varieties tend to stay more compact in growth. As mentioned, Spicy Globe basil is much better to grow than sweet or Genevose basil, which are taller varieties and tend to get real leggy.
Dill and coriander don’t take to plucking a few leaves off. I usually harvest the whole plant. To insure enough of these herbs throughout the winter, make successive plantings every couple of weeks – these seeds germinate quickly.
Lettuces do well indoors. I use larger containers with larger surface area.
I’ll sow the tiny seeds fairly thick. These are “cut & come again” plants. Harvest them at ground level and they’ll continue to grow.
Most culinary herbs are Mediterranean in origin. They need sunshine and well-drained soil to grow best. In winter the days are short, and light intensity is diminished. Even if your plants are growing in a south-facing window and receive six or more hours of sun a day, they still may need supplemental light to keep them short and stout in the dead of winter. I like to place plants under fluorescent or grow lights to provide the right amount and quality of light intensity.
Pots, Soil, and Water
Unless you have a greenhouse or large bay window, chances are you’ll be growing your herbs under grow/florescent lights or on a windowsill. In either case, there will be limited space, so small pots will be a necessity. Sow herb seeds in 4” inch plastic pots with good drainage, filled with moistened soilless potting soil. I usually cover the herbs with a good sprinkling of soil, not too much though. You want them to be covered with soil but not so much that they struggle to sprout.
Group the plants together in a plastic tray to keep the humidity high and to prevent damage. However, if you notice mildew on the leaves, space the plants further apart or use a small fan to provide air circulation and keep the leaves dry.
Most herbs need excellent drainage and grow better when kept on the dry side. Water seedlings by pouring water in the tray and letting it soak into the soil, then draining the tray. As the herbs grow larger, you can start watering from above. Add enough water so it pours out through the drainage holes in the pot.
Feeding and Harvesting
Plants grown indoors need supplemental fertilizer. Once their true leaves form, feed the herbs with a diluted solution of water-soluble fertilizer.
Harvest herb leaves as needed. The flavor is usually most intense in the morning.
Any indoor plant will eventually attract some insect pests. Fortunately, most insects are easy to control with water washes or non-toxic sprays. Aphids, whiteflies, and mealybugs are the main culprits you’ll find eating your herbs. Wash the leaves periodically with water to remove them. For more severe infestations, spray leaves with insecticidal soap. For some timely information on this subject, check out Natorp’s website and click on Ron Wilson’s page.
Transporting Outdoors in Spring
Come spring, you can move the plants outdoors into the garden, cut them back, give them a shot of fertilizer, and they will continue to flourish.