Growing herbs indoors for the winter

If you enjoy cooking with fresh herbs as much as I do then you probably want to have a steady supply for the winter.  Many herbs can be grown indoors although they will have a much shorter life then if they were grown outside.  Like many other houseplants they need water, nutrients, enough light and good air circulation.  Can anything be better then having a fresh supply of your favorite herbs right there at your fingertips?   Right now would be a good time to start preparing your herbs for indoors.

IMG_1996 herbs

You will need:

  • Clay pots – they allow the herbs to breath better as the pots are porous.
  • good potting soil
  • herb seeds, cutting or plants
  • a south side sunny window or a form of artificial light

When you choose which herbs you want to bring inside keep in mind that not all herbs do well indoors.  Dill for instance is an annual and will die back after summer. Some better choices would be chives, basil, parsley, rosemary, mint, oregano and sage. It can be hard to start herbs from seed in the fall so your best bet is to dig up what you have planted outside, take cuttings from existing plants or buy a small plant that has been sitting outside from a nursery. As a last resort you can purchase the ones that they sell in the grocery store but remember that they are grown in hothouses and those conditions are often hard to imitate at home.  They are known as “cut and chuck” and for good reason.

You want to fill your pot with really good soil.  Choose one that is light, airy and drains well.  You can enhance your potting soil by adding a bit of sand or perlite to the mixture.

IMG_1992 dirt

 Adding sand to my potting soil

This will help the soil to drain properly.  Drainage is really important for herbs because they just will not tolerate wet feet.  Dig up your plant carefully in early fall and place into your pot adding more soil as needed.  Press down lightly with your hands to remove any air pockets while keeping the soil “fluffy” at the same time.  Water well and then set your pot outside in a shady area for about 2 weeks so it can get used to less light before you bring it inside.

If you want you can propagate cuttings from new growth in the early fall.  Just cut off a 3-4 inch section right where the leaves emerge from the stem, strip off any lower leaves and dip into a rooting hormone powder to help them grow, stand them one inch deep into a loose soil or a soilless mix (this can be purchased at most garden centers), and keep them moist.  You can cover them with plastic wrap propped open to allow the air to circulate and that will help them to retain the moisture.  Keep them in a sunny location, but not in direct sunlight, for about 4-6 weeks and then you can transplant them to a bigger pot.  You can also just put them into a glass of water, adding fresh water as needed until they form roots and then plant them into a pot.

Once inside place your herbs in a sunny window, preferably facing south.  Most herbs need at least 6 hours of direct sun and another 6-8 hours of indirect light.  You may find that you need to supplement with artificial light.  Mine do pretty well sitting on my kitchen windowsill for the winter.  Every few days you will want to turn your pot around so each side gets enough light.  Don’t forget to water them!  Every 2-4 days should be enough depending on how humid your house is.  You want the soil damp but not too wet.  Don’t worry about fertilizing them through the winter.  The leaves have more flavor if the plant is “hungry”.  Remove any yellow leaves and pinch back flowers so your plant will continue to set out new leaves.

With just a little bit of planning and care you can enjoy the taste of fresh garden herbs all winter long.

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