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Indoor Herb Growing

  • c

Thinking ahead a couple of months, and contemplating trying to grow some potted herbs on my windowsill. I have a south-facing window that gets good sun for a portion of the day, but I cannot have a window box outside. I'd prefer to start wih plants from the farmers' market, say, and not from seed.

Any advice? Which herbs will do best under these circumstances, and in small pots? Any particular growing tips, e.g., when is best to pinch back for certain herbs, how damp to keep soil, etc.? Which herbs do not do well indoors? Any and all advice gratefully accepted.

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  1. I have an east facing window in the kitchen where I grow herbs. I have had good luck with basil, parsley, garlic chives, and catnip. I have had poor luck with rosemary, but I keep replenishing it from the farmer's market, since I use a lot of it and the plants are a better deal than the little boxes of fresh stuff from Fairway.

    Pat G.

    1. c
      Caitlin Wheeler

      I've found that because the plants don't get very big, it's best to grow herbs that you use more sparingly -- ie, sage and mint, rather than things like parsley. Luckily, sage and mint has grown best in my window. Chives are good too. I have had problems with rosemary and basil (which is funny for me, being from California, where Rosemary grows in hedges) It also helped when I bought an organic whitefly spray which leaves the herbs edible, but kills the wee beasties sucking the vigor out of my plants.

      4 Replies
      1. re: Caitlin Wheeler

        I have had no trouble growing HUGE amounts of basil -- but I do grow it in a very large pot. In general, I think it is the pot size that determines how big things will get. For example, the parsley I grow on Cape Cod on the sunporch is in a very large pot and I cannot possibly use all that I grow. Ditto the rosemary. In general, the plants you get at a nursery or greenmarket are much too small, and the plants should be repotted asap.

        Rosemary is difficult to understand. On the Cape it flourishes; in the city it dies within the month. My guess is that it is a temperature-humidity problem.

        Bugs, expecially white flies, are a real city problem for me. In addition to a non-toxic spray, I have had good luck with the sticky paper designed to trap the critters. But it is important to put it out early, before you have an infestation.

        Surprisingly, I have never had mealy bug, although I have a chronic problem with it on the plants in the dining room.

        1. re: pat goldberg

          Rosemary is very delicate. It really needs the light and warmth that are so readily available in the Mediterranean and in California but not in the Northeastern US. The only people I know in MA who grow it successfully haul it indoors at the first sign of cool weather and generally coddle it like a baby.

          Basil is a bit hardier, but should not be planted outdoors until after the last frost of the year (that's late April or early May in New England). You can plant it earlier indoors as long as you keep it warm and give it plenty of light and water. Basil needs to be "pinched" regularly in order to keep it bushy and leafy and keep it from going to seed too soon. You can start pinching as soon as the plant starts looking big and healthy.

          Mint will grow anywhere, often pushing out other plants, and actually likes a bit of shade.

          Parsley and cilantro just need to be kept wet until they get going, and damp thereafter. Any available sunlight, unless you put them in a really dark spot, is usually adequate. They should do very well in your south-facing window. They need pinching too.

          I have chives and sage in my garden north of Boston that were there before I moved in 10 years ago and just keep coming back, whether we pay attention to them or not. Likewise, the garlic we planted the summer we moved in keeps producing greens twice a year.

          I also have a small pot of chives which lives indoors from October to April and outdoors May-Sep. It appears dead during the winter, but revives every spring.

          1. re: C. Fox

            I always thought rosemary was delicate- I could never get it to stay alive when I was growing it on a windowsill. But when we moved to a house (also north of Boston) and I planted a supermarket plant in the garden, it caught on like a weed and so far has survived the winter. Maybe it's the soil. In the same area, I have tarragon, chives, thyme and oregano that seem pretty happy, but an attempt with basil failed miserably.

            1. re: C. Fox

              I am trying herbs indoors and my seeds have just sprouted. What do I do now, I thinned them out but do they now just magically turn from sprouts to plants??? I typically by starts but though i would try seeds for this winter. Help.

        2. I actually had a lot of luck with basil and thyme though I seem to remember the rosemary died pretty quickly. I have outside boxes, but face north (though I get a lot of indirect light). I have to agree that bugs got to be a pretty big problem though the real end to my herb boxes was all the dust I got from the WTC. That killed things off faster than anything I have every seen and sort of made me wonder what I was breathing in!

          1. c
            Caitlin McGrath

            Thanks for all the insights. Too bad about the rosemary, but it sounds like basil is a realer possibility than I thought, which is great news. Has anyone grown oregano or marjoram indoors?

            And I have a question about the white flies. I've never had bugs in my indoor houseplants, so I'm not familiar with these. Are they really tiny, like fruit flies? I'm assuming they are, and can therefore easily permeate my fine-mesh window screens. Also, can anyone recommend a specific brand or type of organic pesticide/resistance product for them?

            3 Replies
            1. re: Caitlin McGrath

              The white flies are indeed small and I guess come in through the screens (either that or it's spontaneous generation). They are a hot weather phenomenon and seem to prey on my basil especially when I have not watered enough. One minute there are none; the next they are everywhere.

              Schultz makes an organic non-toxic spray. The trouble is it has to directly hit the flies to kill them. However, in practice this is less of a problem than one might think. Start spraying the plants and the flies will head for the nearest window, where they are sitting ducks -- oops, flies. You need to keep after them every day or at least every other day since, of course, they have been busy laying eggs. But basil is a really hardy plant. If the infestation looks like more than you can handle, prune the plants back severely, and deprive the flies of food. New basil will grow quickly. BTW, I have kept my plants alive all winter by keeping them from flowering. The flavor is not as intense as basil grown outside, but it still makes a good pesto.

              Pat G.

              1. re: Pat Goldberg
                c
                Caitlin McGrath

                Thanks for the info, Pat. Once the weather's sunnie, I'll see how it goes.

                1. re: Caitlin McGrath

                  I live in Minnesota and have had terrific luck with growing rosemary - the one I have now is about 4 years old and I put it out in the spring and bring it back in in the late fall; I find it helps to cut it back when you bring it in to encourage new growth.