While winter can give gardeners a nice break from their usual garden maintenance, they undoubtedly miss the ability to harvest and enjoy the fresh garden bounty. Try growing fresh, flavorful herbs indoors this winter to add some green to your home and zest to your recipes!
Many herbs are native to the Mediterranean and require certain conditions for optimal growth and flavor. Those that can be easily grown indoors include chives, basil, sage, parsley, thyme, oregano, mints, and rosemary.
Herbs grown indoors can be started from seeds or transplants from a garden center. Use well-drained potting soil and at least a 6-inch diameter container with a drainage hole.
High levels of light are necessary to ensure the plants do not get leggy and spindly. Most herbs will need at least six hours of direct sunlight every day. Plants can also be grown under fluorescent lighting for 12 to 14 hours a day, located 6 to 12 inches above the plant.
The temperature and humidity around the plants should be monitored regularly to allow for adequate growth. Optimal growing temperatures should remain 60 to 70°F. Like any plant grown inside a house, avoid growing plants near heat vents that may dry out the plant. One way to increase the humidity around the plants is to place the pots on a shallow tray of pebbles and water. A small fan in the room can provide adequate air circulation to avoid the spread of disease.
Herbs should be watered according to the requirement of the plant—some should never have their soil completely dry out (e.g. rosemary), while others prefer the soil to dry out, but leaves not wilt, before watering again (e.g. sage). Fertilize every two weeks with a liquid fertilizer, following directions on the manufacturer label. But note that over-fertilizing can result in decreased aroma and taste.
Just like herbs grown in the garden, you will want to trim the plants often so plants stay compact and to prevent flowering, which will decrease the flavor of the herb. When cutting the plants to add to a dish or salad, cut a few inches down the stem rather than picking off individual leaves. Parsley and cilantro stalks should be cut at the base of the plant. The general guideline when using fresh instead of dried herbs is to use three times the amount specified.
Growing herbs indoors this winter can be fun for all ages. Gets kids involved in caring and maintaining the plants and experiment with new recipes using some fresh flavors.