By planting herbs in separate pots, you can manage the watering needs of each. The Mediterranean herbs shown here—thyme, rosemary and oregano—benefit from free-draining soil and judicious watering.
By Ann Whitman
KEEP your kitchen supplied with fresh herbs all year with varieties that thrive on a sunny windowsill or
under grow lights. For best results, give each herb its own pot so that you can customize care and give it room to grow.
Perennial herbs, such as
chives, bay laurel and
mint are easiest to grow from young plants that you buy at a garden center. You can also use small plants dug from the garden. Many herbs can be started from cuttings, too. For instance, basil and mint are easy to root in a glass of water. Some herbs, such as basil,
cilantro and chervil, are best started from seed and replanted throughout the year.
A warning: Before buying plants (or bringing them in from the garden), check for pests.
spider mites and
scale are common on many herbs. What to look for? Aphids and scale create sticky droppings around the plant. Spider mites make fine webs on and between the leaves. If you find these pests, you can wash them off temporarily with tepid, soapy water, but it's best to start with a pest-free plant. To prevent problems, avoid crowding the plants. Try to ensure good air flow around each one.
If you don't have a sunny windowsill, most herbs will thrive under a grow light. Don't crowd the plants; giving them plenty of space helps prevent pest problems. Shown here: Micro Grow Light Garden.
Natural light: South-facing windows have the brightest light and most hours of sun during the short, cool winter days. Good choices for these locations are plants that come from tropical and semi-tropical climates, such as rosemary, thyme, basil, bay laurel and oregano.
East- and west-facing windows receive bright sun for about six hours in the morning or afternoon, but east windows remain cooler. Good choices include mint,
parsley, chives and chervil, which thrive with less intense light and prefer the cooler temperatures.
Grow lights: Full-spectrum growlights are ideal for all herbs. Place plants within a foot of the bulbs or follow the instructions provided with your lights. Start by having the lights on for 12 to 16 hours a day for bright-light plants and adjust as necessary.
Many herbs, especially those native to the Mediterranean climate, must have loose, fast-draining soil. Soggy soil, especially in cooler winter temperatures, can be fatal to these plants. Plant rosemary, thyme, oregano and bay laurel in a blend of equal parts of cactus mix and regular potting soil. Let the soil dry a bit before watering. Other herbs grow well in regular potting soil. Keep soil slightly moist, but not soggy. Fertilize once or twice a month with a liquid houseplant fertilizer.
Basil. A critical herb for cuisines around the world and a favorite pairing for tomatoes, basil is easy to grow indoors. Pinch off individual leaves and add to salads, sandwiches and sauce. Make your own pesto. Plant seeds or purchase small plants and pot them in rich, organic potting soil. Basil loves heat and bright light, so give it a southern or western window or use a grow light. Avoid cool, drafty spots, especially in the winter. Basil is not a long-term houseplant. You can expect to keep and use it for several weeks, until the stems start to grow woody. To ensure a steady supply, plant a new batch of seeds every few weeks.
Bay laurel. The thick, flavorful leaves of this Mediterranean shrub are essential ingredients for soups and stews. Pick individual leaves as needed or harvest a few from larger plants and dry them for storage. The oldest leaves have the strongest flavor. Plant in fast-draining soil, and place in a bright east- or west-facing window. Good air circulation helps prevent disease. Watch for shield-like scale insects on leaves and stems. Be ready with neem oil to control outbreaks.
Chervil. One of the four herbs used to make the traditional French fines herbes blend, chervil is an annual with an anise-parsley flavor. It's an essential ingredient in Béarnaise sauce and pairs well with fish, potatoes, steamed carrots and eggs. Snip fresh leaves for salads, steep in white wine vinegar for dressings, or add them at the end of cooking to retain their flavor. Start chervil seeds in moist potting soil in deep pots to give their tap roots room to grow. After sprouting, keep plants cool (60 to 70 degrees F) and give them moderate sun. Replant every few weeks to keep plenty of fresh young leaves on hand.
Chives. The spiky leaves of this onion-flavored herb add a mild kick to eggs, soups, and salads, and make pretty garnishes. Use scissors to snip off individual leaves or give the whole plant a "crew cut" to keep floppy leaves tidy. Leave at least 2" of growth so that plants can resprout. Start with a purchased plant and pot it in rich, organic soil. Chives grow best in bright light, such as a south-facing window.
Mint. With dozens of flavorful varieties available, you could devote an entire garden to mint. Choose from peppermint, spearmint, chocolate, orange, apple, banana and more. Snip leaves and sprigs for tea and mixed drinks, salads and desserts. Mint plants usually grow rambunctiously and their trailing, fragrant stems make them attractive houseplants. Keep the soil moist and give them moderate to strong light. Most are hardy perennials that can tolerate temperatures into the 30s.
Oregano. A must for Italian, Mexican, Central American and Middle Eastern cuisines, oregano is member of the mint family. Strip the leaves from snipped stems and add to tomato sauces, meat, casseroles, soups and stews. The dried leaves are more pungent than fresh. Grow oregano as you would other mints. Water when the surface of the soil is dry, but don't let it dry out. Give the plants moderate to strong light.
Parsley. Choose curly or flat-leaf, but do give one a place in your kitchen garden. More than just a garnish, parsley adds bright color and flavor to soups, salads and fresh sauces. It's essential in tabbouleh, and delicious in pesto, stuffing, chicken, fish and vegetable dishes. Harvest individual leaves by pinching stems off near the base. Grow in a deep pot with rich, organic potting soil and provide strong light.
Rosemary. On a cold, wintry day, the earthy fragrance from a few crushed rosemary leaves can transport you to warmer climes. The needled leaves are among the must-add herbs to chicken, pork, lamb, soups, potatoes and olive oil. It's also delicious in tomato and cream sauces. Snip 1-4" sprigs and toss into soups, or strip the leaves and mince. Rosemary tolerates hot, sunny, dry locations in the summer months, but prefers cooler temperatures (40 to 65 degrees F) in the winter, as long as the light is strong.
Thyme. The versatile flavor of thyme — and its many varieties — make it a key ingredient in nearly every cuisine of the world. Its tiny leaves and trailing stems give it natural houseplant appeal, too. Pot thyme in a fast-draining soil mix and place it in a warm, sunny window. Water when the surface of the soil is dry, but don't let it wilt.
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