Each fall, I’m faced with the same dilemma – what herbs do I want to grow indoors during the winter?
A fresh herb garden is hard to find in the winter, but not impossible. You can grow nearly all herbs indoors during the winter months. All it takes is a few pots, some grow lights, and a good variety of seeds, and soon you’ll have your very own herb garden. But some herbs may be easier to grow than others.
Choosing the best herbs
As we just found out, the majority of herbs used today can easily be grown indoors. However, it’s important to realize that many herbs are actually perennials. Perennial plants tend to have a longer growth period since their life expectancy is longer.
Much of the time, herb gardeners like to grow perennial plants and ‘overwinter’ them indoors in pots. This can be done in a greenhouse, a garage, or even your own living room or kitchen.
Some perennial herbs include:
If you’re simply looking to grow herbs indoors and have something to use over the winter, you could also stick to annual varieties. Some annual herbs include:
As you narrow down your list of options, consider what you like to cook with. Are you big on Italian dishes? Perhaps a few spicy basil varieties would work well for your indoor herb garden. Or, maybe you like to make hearty, flavorful winter dishes. In that case, consider growing an evergreen perennial such as rosemary or thyme.
Basic indoor plant care
Whether you leave the on the window sill or under a grow light, growing herbs indoors takes substantially less effort than a full vegetable garden outside. Just follow these basic rules and you’ll have fresh herbs in no time:
- Keep your herbs well-watered, but don’t drown them! Soil should remain moist to the touch, but not soaked. Since they’re not in the hot sun all day, they’ll only need watering about once or twice a week.
- Prep your soil with a good granular fertilizer prior to planting, and you won’t have to worry about fertilizing indoors after that. The granular fertilizer is a slow release, which means you’ll have steady food for your plants throughout the winter months.
- Invest in a good grow light. From basic fluorescents to full-spectrum LEDs, there are plenty of options out there, and we’ll dive into those in a minute.
- Use good potting soil. While garden soil can work decently, you’ll get a better quality out of your plants when you use actual potting soil.
- Pick your pots carefully. Make sure they drain well and that your pot setup has a good catch basin for draining water. You could also consider self-watering pots such as these.
Grow light options
Grow lights are pretty much what you expect from them. They provide light designed to grow your herbs and other plants. Some are full-spectrum lights full of fancy colored bulbs, while others are more basic. Here are a few options to consider:
High-intensity discharge (HID) lights emit a much brighter light than fluorescent bulbs. Much like fluorescent lamps, they feature a blend of gasses within a glass or ceramic tube through which electricity runs to charge the gas. However, HID bulbs are twice as efficient as fluorescent – a single 400 watt HID bulb can provide the same power as an 800-watt fluorescent.
There are also two main kinds of HID lamps – metal halide (MH) and high-pressure sodium (HPS). Depending on your specific growing needs, either of these options would work well for growing a wide variety of herbs and plants indoors.
Oh, and one last thing – if you do use HIDs, they require a separate fixture with a ballast to fit into. These will not fit into standard light bulb fixtures. Because of the different lighting requirements needed for MH and HPS bulbs, each one will need a different fixture. Metal halide ballasts have an igniter, while high-pressure sodium ones do not. A good way to avoid this issue altogether is to simply use a conversion bulb on a single ballast. This will allow you to switch between the two HID options more easily.
For a slightly less intensive setup, your next option is the high-output fluorescent. These lights are a good fit for anyone with a larger setup than a few pots on the window sill.
High-output fluorescents are nothing more than a basic fluorescent designed to produce higher output of light.They work exactly the same as your standard fluorescent – an electric current heats the gas inside the bulb, emitting ultraviolet light. Then, a phosphorus coating inside the bulb converts the UV light to visible light. The only difference with a HO fluorescent is the ballast – it’s simply been adjusted to make the visible light brighter.
Economically, standard fluorescent lights are the best option. They’re a great lamp for the beginner gardener, and my personal favorite for growing indoor herbs. A small standalone fluorescent will provide you with plenty of light for a couple of small pots on top of a short bookcase or on the back of your kitchen counter.
LED grow lights are typically the best option for indoor farms and large greenhouse setups. Even small basement operations can benefit the most from LEDs. Now, there are a couple of different options within the LED world, and even more options within those.
To avoid going down the LED rabbit hole, consider what you’re trying to grow. Do you need to cover a larger area? Perhaps some LED bars would be most efficient for you. They produce a lot of light perfect for lots of growing, but be warned: LED bars also produce a lot of heat. Contrary to their LED fixture cousin, the LED bar doesn’t have a built-in cooling unit, so you’ll have to manage the heat circulation yourself.
Another thing to consider in LEDs is whether you want a full-spectrum light or more specified light production. They each have their pros and cons. For example, a full-spectrum setup will provide ample light for a wider variety of plants, but for blossoming plants like vegetables, you may need to find something a bit more specific.
When it comes to growing herbs indoors – or anything, really – you should always use a good quality potting soil. Compared to typical garden soil or raised bed soil, potting soil provides extra nutrients and water retention to allow your plants to thrive.
A simple way to make your own potting soil is to follow the “one-third” rule:
- One third compost or worm castings – this will provide the nutrients Nitrogen (N), Phosphorus (P), and Potassium (K) for your plants.
- One third vermiculute – vermiculite is a natural volcanic material that is often used in gardening. It provides water retention, increases drainage, and will also provide extra minerals to your plants.
- One third coconut coir – used as the main substance of most potting soils, coconut coir or “coir peat” is an excellent volumizer and aerator for potting mix. Coconut coir is the processing by-product in the coconut industry. Peat moss is also very common, though I highly recommend coconut coir instead. Peat moss is incredibly damaging to the environment and highly unsustainable.
Growing herbs indoors is a great way to add some summer freshness to your hearty winter meals. And it’s so easy to get started! With the right basic supplies and a few seeds, you can have your favorite herbs growing in your kitchen in no time.