Tips on Starting a Kitchen Herb Garden

Julia Child is known for saying, “You don’t have to cook fancy or complicated—just good food from fresh ingredients.” And fresh herbs are a great way to add flavor and freshness to your home-cooked dishes. The latest trend in herb growing is creating indoor herb gardens. But is that even possible in Northern Michigan? We chatted with Nathaniel J. Walton, Ph.D., Consumer Horticulture Program Instructor at MSU Extension in Suttons Bay, about this healthy home activity.

Are there differences between growing herbs indoors and outdoors?

There are big differences between growing herbs indoors and outdoors. The biggest one is the amount of light. Most herbs are sun-loving plants, so you’ll want to keep them on a windowsill in a south-facing window or provide supplemental lighting if you’re going to grow them indoors in Michigan. Take care in the winter, however, since it may be too cool on your windowsill for many herbs to thrive.

What are other tips for finding the best spot to keep indoor herb gardens?

Every home is different, and herb varieties vary in terms of their preferences for light, temperature, and humidity. Expect some trial-and-error as you find what works best for your home. Generally, herbs will do well in a temperature range of 65 to 75 degrees, 15 to 30 percent humidity, and at least six hours of sunlight. If your windowsill does not meet these conditions, consider choosing an alternate location and growing your herbs under plant lights.

Do you recommend particular pots or layering soil?

The number one thing to look for in a pot for your indoor herbs is drainage holes. Most herbs do not like wet feet, so they need to be in a well-drained potting medium and there must be somewhere for excess water to go when you water them. Pots with several small holes in the bottom will drain better than those with a single hole in the center. Pots with porous walls (e.g., unglazed terra cotta or clay) will also allow moisture to evaporate through the sides, which can be a nice feature if you tend to be a little heavy-handed with the watering can.

What herbs will be the most successful indoors?

You will want to choose herb varieties that stay small and tolerate continuous harvesting. There are dwarf forms of many of your favorite herbs available that will stay compact. Globe basil varieties are an example of a good choice for your indoor herb garden. Examples of herbs to avoid are full-size varieties of cilantro, dill, and garden cress. These plants will outgrow their space and will not produce new growth to replace harvested foliage.