Most herbs are easier to care for than houseplants, and they provide fresh foliage to flavor meals. Learn how to grow an indoor windowsill herb garden and enjoy herbs whenever you need them.
A windowsill herb garden is a low-maintenance way to enjoy the benefits of fresh herbs without growing an outdoor garden. Plus, you can grow herbs indoors during the winter months when the garden is covered with snow.
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Tips for Growing Herbs Indoors
Select Your Herbs
Probably the most difficult thing is deciding which herbs to grow. Think about the meals you cook and the herbs you find yourself reaching for time and again. Also consider the herbs you would use more in cooking if you had them easily on hand.
The article below breaks down the easiest herbs to grow indoors and their growing needs to help you decide which herbs to grow in your windowsill garden:
Evaluate Your Indoor Growing Environment
Once you have an idea of which herbs you would like to grow, evaluate your indoor growing environment and narrow down your selection.
Herbs love plenty of light: Most herbs need at least 6 hours of sunlight each day and will grow healthy in a bright, south-facing window. Other herbs can tolerate about 4 hours of sunlight and will grow in an east- or west-facing window.
South-facing windows have the brightest light and most hours of sun, while east- and west-facing windows receive sun for part of the day in the morning or afternoon.
Summer’s sun offers longer hours of intense light. This may be too much for some herbs. Consider growing herbs in an east or west-facing window instead for the summer.
Winter sun isn’t as strong or long. Locate your indoor herb garden in a sunny south-facing window for winter so it can get the most light.
Herbs grow best with warmth: Most herbs thrive at temperatures between 60-75˚F.
Winter night temperatures can be cold and drafty near windows that are not insulated. Herbs that are sensitive to chilly temperatures are basil, lemon balm, and rosemary. If you grow these herbs, consider locating them on a plant stand away from the window, or pull the plants out of the window at night.
These cool weather herbs do well indoors even in winter: chervil, chives, cilantro, dill, lemon balm, oregano, parsley, sage, sweet bay, and thyme. Growth will slow down when the temperatures are cooler.
You will need to experiment to see what works for your indoor environment. Don’t be afraid to try growing your herbs in different areas. A warm sunny window in the middle of summer may be too hot for most herbs, while a cool winter window too cold for some. If your herb plant looks unhappy, move it to a different area and see if it perks up.
Find Attractive Containers
Herbs grow at varied rates and have unique requirements for sun, water, fertilizer, and harvesting. Growing each herb in a separate container makes it easy to care for its individual needs. You may need to move your herbs from one window to another, or water it more than the others. Having each plant in its own container gives you more flexibility.
Your containers should be at least 6-inches diameter and 6-inches inches deep. If you are growing from seeds, you can start out smaller, and then pot up as your plants grow.
Basil and parsley have very deep roots, so a taller container will let them stretch out a bit. Try to aim for at least 12-inches deep.
Drainage is very important. Herbs don’t do well growing in soggy soil. There should be adequate drainage holes in the bottom of your pot so extra water can drain out. Be sure to use a saucer or tray to protect your windowsill from moisture.
Use the Right Potting Mix
Choose a good organic soilless potting mix for your windowsill herb garden. A balance of good drainage and moderate moisture retention is the goal.
A good potting mix for indoor container plants is light, fluffy, and drains well to promote healthy root growth. If the potting mix is too soggy, the herb may struggle.
Avoid using soil from your garden because it will be too dense for containers and may contain pests and disease.
Look for an all-purpose soilless potting mix that contains peat moss (or coconut coir), vermiculite, and perlite. You can mix your own basic soilless potting mix with this simple formula: 4 parts sphagnum peat moss or coconut coir, 1 part finished compost, 1 part perlite, 1 part vermiculite.
Some indoor herbs need a more sandy soil mix. To achieve this, mix equal parts all-purpose potting mix and sharp sand. Or use cactus-potting mix.
Don’t Overcrowd the Herbs
It may be tempting to heavily line your windowsills with multiple pots of herbs, but your plants need full access to sunlight and good air circulation around the foliage to keep them healthy.
Plants do breath in their own way. They absorb oxygen from the air and release carbon dioxide. Plants also give off water vapor in order to keep themselves cool. Good air circulation helps excess moisture evaporate, reducing the danger of fungal diseases.
Ways to Start an Indoor Herb Garden
Purchase herb plants: The easiest and fastest way to start your windowsill herb garden is by purchasing plants and repotting them into your containers. You can find herb starts at your local nursery. I heard that even Trader Joe’s is selling live potted herbs now.
Start herbs from seed: It takes much longer to grow herbs from seed. However, annual herbs, such as basil, cilantro, dill, and parsley can be easily started from seeds indoors. If you enjoy the nurturing process of sowing and cultivating plants, then starting herbs from seeds is a great way to raise a number of plants.
Use an herb garden kit: Herb garden kits come with all the materials you need to start herbs from seeds, including pots, herb seeds, and instructions. These are great way to get started with your windowsill herb garden. The only downside is the kit may contain herbs you don’t want. Also, the containers tend to be small, so you will need to repot into larger containers as the plants grow.
Grow from stem cuttings: If you have an outside herb garden, you can snip sprouts, root them in water, and plant in containers. Try rooting basil, lemon balm, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, sweet bay, and thyme using the same process described in the article below:
Divisions from your garden: You can dig, divide, and pot up some herbs from established garden plants. The best herbs to grow from divisions are chives, lemon balm, mint, oregano, sweet marjoram, and thyme.
How to Grow Herbs on your Windowsill
Step 1: Gather your supplies
- 6- 12-inch pots and saucers – one for each herb
- All-purpose soilless potting mix
- Horticultural sand (optional to help increase aeration and drainage)
- Herb plants or seeds
- Dishpan or other large container for mixing and wetting the potting mix before using
- Liquid organic plant food
- Step 1: Plant or pot up your herbs
If growing from seeds, follow the instructions in the herb kit or on the back of your seed package, and pot up the plants when they are about 4-inches high.
To repot your herbs, add potting mix to a large container and moisten it with water. You want the mix to be damp, but not soggy. Let it soak in for at least 30 minutes.
While the potting mix is soaking, water your herb starts well to reduce stress and help them slip out of their original containers more easily.
Fill the bottom of your new pots with damp potting mix.
Remove the herbs from their containers. Loosen the root ball with your fingers, and place the herb plants into the pots about 1/2-inch deeper than they grew before. Add or remove potting mix if needed to adjust.
Hold the foliage upright, and fill in the sides of the container with the damp potting mix. Use your fingers to work the potting mix down the sides of the pot. Press gently to eliminate air pockets without compacting the soil.
Step 2: Water the repotted herbs well
Water well and let the excess moisture drain out the bottom holes. Keep pots evenly moist until you see signs of new growth, and then water when soil surface feels dry.
Step 3: Locate your herb plants on the windowsill
Place newly re-potted herbs in indirect sunlight until they start showing new growth, and then move them to a bright, south-facing window.
How to Care for Your Windowsill Herb Garden
After setting up your windowsill herb garden, all you need to do is find a sunny spot, water, and snip fresh herbs when needed. Here are tips to care for your herbs:
Water your herbs when the soil feels dry on the surface
Let the soil dry out a bit in between waterings. To test, stick your finger into the soil. Water if the soil is dry one inch below the top.
Place your containers in the sink and water well with room temperature water. Pour the water slowly to allow the soil to absorb the moisture and let the excess water drain out the bottom of the pots.
Return the herb container to the windowsill. Make sure to use a saucer to prevent water damage to your windowsill. Remove extra water if it continues to drain into the saucer.
Herbs slow their growth in the winter, so they may not need to be watered as much as in the summer.
Fertilize to provide nutrients
All-purpose soilless potting mixes are a great growing medium for indoor herb plants, but some may not contain any nutrients, or if they do it will only last for a short period.
Feed your herbs monthly during the summer with a liquid fish emulsion or other organic plant food. Follow the directions on the package for indoor plants.
Rotate your herb containers for even growth
Plants will lean towards the sunlight. Give your plants a quarter turn every time you water so all sides can get some sun.
Harvest and prune your herbs
Wait until your herbs become established before harvesting. Plants use their leaves to absorb light and grow, harvesting too early may stunt your herbs. Herbs should be at least 6 inches tall before snipping foliage.
Also only harvest less than 1/3 of the foliage at a time so you don’t stress the plant. Snip the older leaves from the outside of the plant and let the new growth continue producing fresh foliage.
Prune to keep the plants attractive and compact. Remove any flower buds that form. Once the herbs flower, their foliage takes on a bitter taste.
Repot your herbs when needed
If the roots are growing out of the holes in your container, it is time to repot into a larger container.
That’s it! You are on your way to an abundance of fresh herbs to flavor your meals.
I hope I have encouraged you to try growing your own windowsill herb garden. Begin with one or two of your favorite herbs and see how it goes. Check out this article for tips on the easiest herbs to grow on your windowsill: 14 Culinary Herbs for Your Indoor Herb Garden