Start indoor herb garden for winter enjoyment
By Kathy Hatfield
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Lately there has been a chill in the early morning air that warns of fall
approaching. If you're not ready for the gardening season to end, consider
indoor gardening. One of the easiest ways to continue to enjoy the fresh
taste of summer is by growing herbs indoors. In addition to adding to your
culinary creations, most herbs make attractive houseplants.
Many herbs will grow indoors given the proper growing conditions. All require
ample sunlight, good air circulation and fertile, well-drained soil.
As natives of the Mediterranean region, most are sun-worshippers. They
will need at least six hours of sunlight each day. But because light intensity
is much lower in the winter months than in the summertime, unless you have
an unobstructed south-facing window, you will have to supplement the light.
You can purchase a special grow-light unit designed to provide plants with
the proper spectrum of light. A less expensive approach is to use a simple
fluorescent workbench-type light with two tubes, one warm-white and one
Herbs need relatively cool temperatures, in the 60- to 70-degree range,
and even a bit cooler at night. Place plants so that they don't crowd each
other, and use a small fan to provide gentle air circulation. Avoid putting
the plants near a heating vent.
The easiest way to give plants soil that will provide adequate drainage
and soil aeration is to purchase a good mix at one of the local nurseries.
During the winter months, when plants do not grow as vigorously as in the
summer, they should be allowed to dry out slightly between waterings. Fertilize
once every couple of weeks with an organic fertilizer, following the manufacturer's
recommendations. Liquid fertilizers containing seaweed or fish emulsion
are particularly beneficial to plants.
You can buy starter-size plants from the nursery or start herbs from seeds
or cuttings. It's also possible to bring plants indoors to overwinter.
Starting with new plants or seeds avoids the problem of bringing unwelcome
guests into the house that have settled into the soil or leaves of the
Here are a few herbs and some specific varieties that are best suited to
indoor container gardening:
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum): Try the dense, more compact form with smaller
leaves, called 'Spicy Globe.' This one is easy to grow from seed, and needs
bright light and warm temperatures.
- Chives (Allium schoenoprasum): This member of the onion family is best
used fresh. It is difficult to preserve chives that still maintain their
good flavor, so they are a good choice for indoor gardening. 'Grolau' is
an especially good variety for indoors, and can be started from seed. Chives
prefer bright light and cool temperatures.
- Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum): This plant does not grow back after harvesting,
so make successive plantings of cilantro to have a continuous crop for
your favorite Mexican or Asian dishes. Cilantro tends to repel insects,
so it makes a good companion plant for indoors.
- Dill (Anethum graveolens): A dwarf form, called 'Fernleaf,' grows only
18 inches tall, making it more suitable for indoor gardening than the standard
types that often grow to 4 feet tall. Like cilantro, you'll need to make
successive plantings to ensure a continuous crop.
- Lemon Balm (Melissa officinalis): The soothing fragrance of lemon and honey
make this an herb to enjoy fresh in salads and drinks. Its bright green
foliage and prolific growth make lemon balm an attractive houseplant. This
is an easy one to grow from seed.
- Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum): This is the true Greek oregano with
a sharp, pungent flavor, best for Mediterranean cooking. It can be grown
from seed. There is a look-alike called wild, or pot, marjoram with pretty
pink flowers, but almost no flavor.
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): The more compact form called 'Blue Boy'
must be purchased or propagated by cuttings; seeds germinate poorly. The
soil for rosemary must be well drained, but do not let it dry out completely.
- Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): Many varieties of thyme are available that are
useful in cooking and in herbal craft projects. They have similar aromatic
properties and some varieties have unique scents, like lemon or caraway
thymes. If starting the plants from seed, cover the seed only lightly with
soil or not at all. Keep the plants evenly moist until they are well established.
Start these plants indoors now to have plenty of herbs this winter, and
watch for articles in the November and December issues on how to use them
for cooking and homemade gifts.
Send your gardening questions to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.