Depending on where in the world you live, your outdoor growing season may be limited to a specific set of months of the year, as winter weather conditions may not be conducive for outdoor gardening. Not all plants (especially herbs) take kindly to plummeting temperatures, frozen soil and icy precipitation.
But, lucky for us, we live in a time when modern technology makes it incredibly easy to successfully maintain an indoor herb garden. So you can enjoy the flavors of fresh herbs, no matter the time of year!
Here is my list of tips that will help you maintain an indoor herb garden in winter.
The sunnier the spot, the better
Herbs thrive where they get plenty of direct sunlight. Ideally, they would receive 6-8 hours of it per day. Placing them near southern facing windows are often the sunniest and best choice.
Strong sunlight encourages their growth, and the strength of the sunlight directly correlates to the herb’s depth of flavor. More sun equals more flavor. Also, make sure you are rotating your plants often to ensure that they are receiving sunlight evenly. When herbs have to grow towards sunlight, they allocate energy to growing their stems, and their leaves won’t grow as large.
Many indoor herb gardeners place their plants on a windowsill or a floating window plant shelf like this one to provide them with adequate sun exposure.
If you are worried that you don’t have a sunny enough space, or that you may need additional lighting, you can add indoor grow lights, like these, to your indoor gardening space. Herbs flourish under full spectrum LED bulbs because they replicate the full solar light spectrum, plus they are energy efficient, economical, and effective. *Check out our article on growing microgreens under LED lights!
Or, an easy, almost effortless, aeroponics kit may bring you peace of mind. An Aerogarden Harvest 360 is a self contained, countertop aeroponic garden with built-in, high performance, full spectrum LED grow lights that facilitate faster, fuller growth.
Warm temperature tolerant
One of the reasons that herbs are fairly easy to grow indoors is that they prefer temperatures of 60-70 degrees. (Which is a fairly common temperature range for people to heat their home to in winter.) With most herbs, lower temperatures will simply slow growth, but others (like basil) strongly prefer temperatures on the warmer end of the spectrum.
Basil will react poorly to even a small amount of cooler temperatures, with its leaves beginning to discolor within 24 hours. Before you place your plants on your windowsill, check to make sure that they aren’t too drafty, and at what temperature the herbs you’ve chosen will have ideal growth.
Picking the perfect pots
The pots you plant your indoor herbs in is extremely important. Picking the proper pots (or containers) affects how successful you can and will be growing herbs indoors.
First, and foremost, your pots need to allow for adequate drainage. Make sure the pots you pick have holes in the bottom, or make sure you put holes in the containers you choose. Without proper drainage, your herbs’ roots could become waterlogged, grow mold or be subject to root rot. (All things you want to avoid.)
Your pots also need to be the proper size for the herbs you are growing. Some herbs, such as basil, have very long roots and herbs such as mint and oregano spread widely. You need to make sure you plant them in pots where they have adequate room to grow. Without sufficient space, roots will become restricted and it will inhibit their growth.
The material your pots are made of make a difference, too. A ceramic pot will better hold water in, whereas clay pots will dry out faster. Choose you pot’s material based on the humidity level in your home. In a drier environment, you will want to pick ceramic pots, whereas in a more humid environment, you will want to opt for clay.
Potting mix does the trick
For growing herbs indoors, you want to choose a potting mix over a potting soil, and you certainly don’t want to bring dirt in from outside. Potting mix is lighter than potting soil, contains an aerator, and is most conducive for growing herbs in pots indoors. Do not bring in dirt from outside. It is far too compact and will ultimately strangle your herbs’ roots. Plus, you don’t want to risk bringing bugs or parasites from your outside soil into your home.
There are multiple different types of potting mixes, and each of them has a particular combination of mediums that are best suited for specific types of plants and whether you will be using it for planting indoors or outdoors. Some even contain compost or fertilizer. On the mix’s label, it will specify whether or not it’s suitable for herbs planted in indoor pots.
Also, potting mix will provide nutrients to your herbs, but you still want to make it a habit to fertilize your herbs once a month in the slower growth periods (winter) to help your herbs have strong, leafy growth.
Another way, besides fertilizing, that will help make sure your herbs are receiving enough nutrients is to make sure you are removing debris, shoots that are failing to thrive, and browning leaves. This will reduce the amount of competition for nutrients.
When to water
The key to properly watering your indoor herbs is to allow your pots to dry a bit between soakings. When indoor herbs fail to thrive, it’s most often due to over watering and root rot.
An easy way to tell if it’s time to water your herbs is to test the soil with your fingers. If the soil is dry for an inch or two below the top, it’s time to give them a drink.
If you are worried that you may not be able to tell when it’s time or that you may overwater, systems like the Click & Grow Smart Garden take the guesswork out of watering. They have a water level indicator that lets you know exactly how much water is left in the self watering tank.
A change in season doesn’t have to determine whether or not you’re able to have access to fresh, homegrown herbs. Believe it or not, it’s actually fairly straightforward to grow herbs indoors in the winter. Simply, pick the proper sized pot, plant them in some potting mix, set them in a sunny spot, keep them nice and warm, and water them when it’s time.
Or, if you’re looking for it to be almost effortless, a self contained, self watering, countertop gardening kit is an easy way to grow herbs indoors.
Either option you choose, if you follow these tips, it won’t be long before you’re enjoying the taste of homegrown, fresh herbs in your favorite dishes.