One of the most annoying things about me is my inability to use up store-bought herbs before they go bad. On my weekly grocery shopping trip, I throw bundle after bundle of rosemary, parsley, cilantro, and basil into my cart with the best of intentions—if it's green and fragrant, I probably want it—but it's always too much to get through. Even if I were to cook herbs into all of my meals (which I have, believe me!) I'd still probably end up with a bunch of unsalvageable remains.
That's why lately, I've been getting more and more into the idea of planting my own indoor herb garden. I've tried all the other tricks—freezing my herbs in olive oil, hanging them to dry—but haven't had any success with committing to them. I'm lazy when it comes to preservation, and I'm a sucker for fresh herbs—so sue me! With an herb garden, I wouldn't have to worry about preserving my herbs, they'd always be fresh. If I played my cards right, I might never have to buy herbs again.
Thing is, I don't really know how to grow an indoor herb garden because I've never tried to. I've been able to keep the occasional house plant from dying, but my home gardening experience ends there. Instead of wading blindly into the unknown, I sought advice from lifestyle bloggers with the greenest of thumbs. Below, you'll find all the info a beginner needs to successfully plant and maintain a kitchen herb garden, according to experts.
Try to replicate an outdoor environment to the best of your abilities.
"Plants are meant to grow outdoors, so you'll have the most success gardening indoors if you can replicate the outside environment," Stephanie Roe, creator of the blog Garden Therapy, tells SELF. "Planting herbs in a pot and watering them enough is the easy part," she explains, "[but] bright light, soil depth, temperature, and drainage can be difficult to replicate indoors."
It's not impossible, though! Roe says that as long as you find a light-filled spot to house your herbs, and you choose the right kinds of pots and soil, you can totally pull it off.
When it comes to pots, proper drainage is essential.
Roe explains that while it might be cute to plant herbs in Mason jars, the fact that they don't have any drainage can cause the soil to become waterlogged which can damage the plant's roots. "Instead," she says, "look for a plant pot with a drainage hole and set it on a tray to allow the excess water to escape." She sells a window herb garden kit that includes three pots with proper drainage on her site (you can find it here), but she also loves self-watering pots like this one.
If you want to plant your herbs in a chic, wooden box, Julie Blanner, creator of the home and design website Julie Blanner, tells SELF that rather than planting them directly into the box, you should instead use a planter that can easily be transferred in and out—that will make it easy to remove for watering. Alternatively, Roe says you can plant them in several different pots, and place those pots into the wooden box. Whatever you do, don't plant them directly into the box (there's no drainage that way!).
Use indoor potting soil in just the right amount.
Soil from your backyard is often too heavy and compact to allow herbs to flourish, and it can also be full of bugs. That's why Roe recommends using indoor potting soil, which she says you can purchase at most garden centers. "It is specifically formulated for indoor plants," she explains, "and it's sterile so it doesn't bring in a bunch of critters."
Make sure you're using the right amount of soil, too. "Plants need enough soil for their roots, so fill the largest planter or pot you can reasonably fit in your kitchen," says Roe.
Know the different kinds of herbs.
Blanner says that parsley and basil are best for beginners, because they're easiest to grow. But Roe says that because they're annual herbs, they won't usually last through the winter. So don't get discouraged when they die—it's totally normal and definitely doesn't mean you've failed.
Perennial herbs on the other hand—which are herbs that regrow every year like rosemary, sage, thyme, oregano, chives, and mint—are a bit more advanced, because they may be easy to start, but they'll eventually need to move outside to get enough light and space to continue to grow properly, says Roe. If you harvest perennial herbs regularly, you shouldn't have any problems keeping them inside, but they won't live longer than six months. And if you don't harvest them often, they'll eventually outgrow the space and you'll have to move them outside for them to continue to grow. If you'd rather not do that, or you simply don't have the backyard space, either stick with those annual herbs or plan to replant your perennial herbs every six months.
Lots of light is key.
Roe says that herbs thrive in sunlight, so she recommends placing your garden near a window. But keep in mind, not all light is equal. "The best indoor light is bright, indirect light," she explains, "or bright direct light, with the plants farther back from the window." The reason for this is because glass magnifies the heat of the sun, so if your plant is too close to a window where sunlight is pouring in, its leaves may burn.
Water often, but not too often.
"In general, it's best to keep the soil moisture consistently damp, but not soggy," Roe explains. "Indoor plants are already a little confused and perhaps more stressed out than they would be in a garden, and if they dry out completely they may not bounce back very well." On the other hand, she says you definitely don't want them to get soggy, because that can breed bacteria and cause the roots to rot. As long as you're keeping the garden well lit, you should be able to water it once a day without any problems.
Your plants will act differently after you harvest them.
Roe explains that after you harvest the leaves for the first time, they will start to grow back more slowly, and get slower with each harvest. After many harvests, you'll need to replace your plants with new ones.
In general she says the life expectancy of an herb garden with either annual or perennial herbs (or both) will range from a few months to up to six if you're regularly harvesting. And as mentioned before, if you aren't harvesting regularly, you'll need to move perennial herbs outside for them to continue to grow properly.
When you harvest the herbs, Roe says you should cut at the tops of the stems because that will make the plant grow bushier, while cutting the stems at the base near the soil will thin out the plant." Cut the tips off the stems when harvesting and many herbs will grow multiple stems to replace them."
Now that you have all the knowledge to grow the healthiest and most delicious herbs, here are a few herbaceous recipes to get you going—or should I say, growing?
A bit of mint adds freshness to this summer fruit- and veggie-filled dish. Get the recipe here.
What's a caprese salad without basil? Get the recipe here.
These satisfying falafel are way, way better with a few sprigs of dill. Get the recipe here.