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Indoor Herb Gardening — questions answered by an expert

To complement our feature on growing herbs indoors, we want to connect an expert directly to the Chowhound community to answer questions. This is the first time we're including something like this with a CHOW story, so please let us know if it works for you and if it's something you'd like to see more of in the future.

Rose Marie Nichols McGee will be checking in on this thread for the next two weeks to respond to your herb gardening questions and give advice. She's the president of Nichols Garden Nursery, a 60-year-old family-owned seed company and herb nursery located in Albany, OR. She is the author of Basic Herb Cookery and the co-author of The Bountiful Container, a guide to growing herbs, vegetables, fruits, and edible flowers in containers. She is also a fellow of the Garden Writers Association.

The story will be published in a few hours, and I'll add a link to this thread when it's live. Thanks for reading. I hope this will be fun for everyone!

-Roxanne Webber of CHOW

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Nichols Garden Nursery
1190 Old Salem Road NE, Albany, OR

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  1. I have little success growing basil inside from seed, once the plant pops thru the soil it croaks. what am I doing wrong?

    2 Replies
    1. re: cstr

      Sounds like dampoff...a common but avoidable malady. Space seeds an inch or so apart, as soon as you see sprouts remove any bottom heat. If they are in a covered seedling tray set the top aside aside. Improved air circulation is helpful, try a slow moving fan. Chamomile tea is a natural safe fungicide, so use it to gently and lightly water your seedlings.

      1. re: cstr

        I rarely grow from seeds. I grow most from small seedlings. But when I did grow from seed. Moisture, well drained, air flow light but don't over water which most do. I just grew 3 unique basils, oregano and thyme. As Rosa Marie said below, air circulation is very key for me, even a simple fan and good light but not bright sun.

      2. The companion story is now live if you're interested in taking a look. It covers a lot of the basics--light, water, soil etc.

        http://www.chow.com/stories/11580

        Thanks!

        -Roxanne Webber of CHOW

        1. hmm. I didn't have space, so most of my herbs died on the balcony. Even the mint!

          Oh yeah; the mint I had started getting white patches on it? What was that? I cut those leaves off, and it appeared on others. Made me not want to eat it. Sorry, bit OT

          2 Replies
          1. re: Soop

            Those fuzzy white spots were probably powdery mildew, annoying but seldom fatal. An easy non-toxic treatment: mix a spray of 1 tablespoon baking soda, 1/2 tsp liquid soap not detergent and 1tablespoon horticultural oil or mineral oil or even cooking oil in a pinch. Lightly spray this on the leaves and then respray in three to four days. Plants should be well watered before spraying and discard spray within a week. The baking soda is the remedy, the soap spreads it around and the oil helps it stick. It won't destroy existing spots but will prevent new ones.

            1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

              Excellent remidy. I use this with many of my herbs, annuals, perennials and other plans. It is a great simple cure for this. I have found plans without adequate ventilation or air movement causes this. I works in a nursery for years and even a small fan will help to prevent this. Can't always prevent it but does help.

          2. This past year, my Thai basil failed to come up. It's come up from seed every year for the past 3.

            Any ideas?

            (oh, and in case it makes a difference, I am in Melbourne, southern Australia)

            6 Replies
            1. re: purple goddess

              I grew mine in Germany, MI and FL and CO. Very different climates. But all different. 9,000 ft, below sea level and cold and snow in MI and Germany in the mountain 3,000 feet. So, I found that the herbs really don't ask a lot. More seems to be harmful rather than beneficial. I just let them grow. A little light and air and they grow. I water know and then, but basically I don't do much. Seeds are more difficult but I like using the seed trays or pots and start all my seedlings this way. Pretty much it. But just my experience and past trial and errors

              1. re: kchurchill5

                I agree, herbs are less demanding than any other plant category and nothing adds more flavor and variety to our food. Herbs are one step removed from a weed and those varied aromatics protect them from most browsing animals.

              2. re: purple goddess

                Your Thai Basil seeds may have simply lost the ability to germinate. Test this by sprinkling a dampened flat folded paper towel with seeds. Slip this into a clear plastic bag and maintain temperatures between 65-70 degrees. Within a few hours a gel should form around the seeds and a tiny root tip should appear in four to six days. If you have spouts use a pair of tweezers to pick up the seed and gently transfer to grow on in seed starting mix. Barely cover the seeds with moist mix. No sprouts, buy a new packet of seeds!

                1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                  Just reporting in. Did this over the weekend. As of yet, no gel and certainly no root tip. Will leave it the required 4-6 days, but I think you're right and I need a new set of seeds.

                  Thanks so much for your reply!!

                  1. re: purple goddess

                    @purple goddess Basil seeds only hold germination for a year or two so it's not surprising. Using a sterile seed starting mix is particularly important with basil

                    1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                      Started mine Sunday ... already have green. But yes, good soil and fresh seeds are important. Mine were just inside when I started them.

              3. Thank you for this thread and the story. After reading the story my hopes for planting basil in a pot and keeping it outside in the summer but bringing it inside (in my sun room) in the winter are not very high. I always planted it in my garden but I've moved to a new house with a VERY shady yard.

                Also, I'm in Middle Tennessee and have never been able to get cilantro to grow. I've tried it in the garden and in pots. I have a friend from Texas who has tried it as well (she grew it in Texas, of course, quite easily) and she hasn't had any luck so it's not just me. ; ) Any thoughts?

                5 Replies
                1. re: Boudleaux

                  Basil is tricky to truly over winter but with a sun room you can extend your growing season by several weeks or even months. Growth will slow and you'll need to clip away any buds but you will have fresh basil until temperatures in the sun room start dropping into the low 40's.
                  Cilantro quickly goes to seed so resow every three weeks spacing seeds an inch apart. You might like to try Culantro, native to Mexico and S. America. It has a strong cilantro like flavor and thrives in warm shade, and does well in containers. We have seeds at Nichols as does Johnny's.

                    1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                      My basil thrives in the winter, although we are much warmer. But one year I did nothing more than my window sill and it flourished.

                      1. re: kchurchill5

                        I've had success planting several basil flavors together in one 15"-18" diameter pot. A larger one will be even better. Regarding last years planting with the mixed herbs, I would dig in there in and remove the mint so it has it's own container. It will be take over the second season and out compete the other plants. However, I love to mix everything else together and except for the mint nary a problem.

                        1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                          Agreed Mint grows crazy :)

                          My basil was in a window box inside, then I moved to a larger pot outside on the lanai, but I usually grow inside during winter when I didn't have a lawn. Basil is one of the easiest for me.

                          Maybe the right window, who knows. My friend grows collards and I have tried and can't this year. Don't know why.