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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

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.



        -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.

                  1. Basil is tricky for me, too. My DH had a good small batch this year, with little effort, when he planted 4 plants in a big pot, with a thyme plant and a mint plant. I didn't think it would work, and yes, it was crowded, but everything was just huge. I see the mint (no surprise) coming up in that same pot, already this season.

                    So my question is, was this dumb luck? The pot is pretty good size, maybe 24 inches across. It was on our front porch with only a couple hours of sun each day. It gets really hot here (VA) - up to 100 for days in a row. I'd be willing to try another big pot, with maybe some lemon or thai basil, if you think it would work. Everything tends to burn up by July when I plant in the ground.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: jeanmarieok

                      My basil, mint, oregano, thyme, rosemary, marjarom, lavenders or other grow in the ground year round in south FL. Not full sun but 1/2 days worth and they do great. Dill no, cilantro prefer spring and early summer. I have grown from seed, but primarily use small plants.I have mulch around mine and then do very well. I can't keep up with them all. And FL 100+ but we do get afternoon rains. I also tend to just check and water lightly if necessary. Seeds are more difficult in warm weather. I always grown in small pots inside first and then move to a larger pot on the lanai and then the ground. I have mine year round in the ground. They survived when it got in the 20's this year. Just a light blanket and they were fine.

                    2. Another basil question, please?

                      When I grow basil in the house it gets leggy and eventually bitter-tasting. I keep the buds pinched but this happens regardless of pinching. I live in AZ so my growing season does not follow the typical zone chart.

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: Sherri

                        I found if not enough light it stretches to get more light. I moved mine to a different area and I couldn't keep up with it.

                        1. re: Sherri

                          I think your basil needs more light. There are some interesting new fluorescent bulbs available with full spectrum light, mine were $20.00 and I'm also going to experiment with the fluorescent bulbs labeled daylight which I'm told are full spectrum to a degree. You can screw these into a reflector with a clamp and I think you'll notice a big improvement in growing your herbs indoors.
                          When basil starts elongating or moving into a flowering phase the flavor does change.

                        2. Roxanne, Any tips for end of the season plants successfully becoming dried herbs. At what point is the plant ready to go from fresh use to dry, if you wish to dry herbs yourself? Tips for properly drying herbs? And don'ts?

                          13 Replies
                          1. re: HillJ

                            I dry some of the more moisture leaf herbs in my food dehydrator and others I just hang and dry in a well ventilated area.



                            This is only one sight. Many others available. I have been growing mine drying for over 30 years. I give jars of basil and oregano away, thyme and cilantro I don't get as much so I save those. Rosemary the plant never dies so I have a bush for that. Lots of lavender too. I love to make potpourri from that. Marjarom is also good and parsley I use daily so I just use my fresh plants although I do have one dried jar.

                            1. re: kchurchill5

                              hi kchurchill, are you our resident expert too? You sure know alot about herbs. Thanks for your tips and links. I don't have a drying machine, I usually use screens.

                              I hope to hear from Rose Marie as well, since she has volunteered her time to offer expert advice.

                              1. re: HillJ

                                No No nooo, but I have experience with general knowledge is all. Just my view.
                                (FYI, I lived a few places so I have grown inside, window sill, porch, sunroom, etc. FL is much easier, but I did have great success other places as well)

                                When I was in college I worked in a nursery ever since I was 16 actually. I took many hoticulture classes and thought about going into it. I worked part time when I was at the restaurant in a nursery a few days when I had time. I have kept up at home and actually had a plant business for 3 years. I still grow herbs, many staghorns, at my home before I moved many fruits, avacado, mango a couple of varieties, guava I tried, 2 limes, 3 lemons and 2 orange. 3 Herb and vegetables gardens. I still grow tomatoes, peppers and some okra in pots with all my herbs outside. Expert ..... naaa, but have lots of experience is all. I just enjoy growing them and try to make it easy and enjoyable. I use mine inside or out year round I can't grow nearly what I did when I had a garden, but still help a friend who has one and he grows okra, collards, beans, peas, tomatoes, peppers, onions, strawberries and I like helping. I do grow some cucumbers too and squash in a small portable greenhouse. I love it. Herbs is my favorite along with the tomatoes and peppers use them all the time.

                                I made a spinach, orichette (sp?) pasta, yellow pear tomato, and red pepper pasta dish. I did add some scallions also grown and finished with cream, white wine, basil and some fresh parsley and topped with pecorino romano. All out of my yard for the most part. The pasta was bought and my collards and spinach is not ready yet, so 1/2 and 1/2. Love the fresh stuff when I have time to cook. I was home all day which is RARE and loved it.

                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                  kc, you are a wealth of information. That pasta dish sounds delicious! Thank you for the inspiration!

                                    1. re: kchurchill5

                                      she helps ME because we're in the same zone...south Florida...very tricky...am hoping to succeed with the cilantro tips she's given. Rosemary, forget about it...you can't kill it (not that I want to) but darn! That plant has been through: heavy rains, outrageous summer heat...and drought...still thrives like there's no tomorrow! A survivor herb for sure! I am baking some brown rice with mushrooms and rosemary right now.

                                      1. re: Val

                                        I think my rosemary is 4' high. INDESTRUCTIBLE!! Ever make a creamy rosemary sauce for over grilled veggies.

                                        I make pretty much a standard bechemel but I add a little white wine just to thin it and lighten up the taste a bit. Then add lemon zest and fine ground (mini food processor) pepper ground, just a few and rosemary. Add to the sauce. Very rosy flavor but sooooo good over fresh grilled squash, mushrooms, new potato planks, onions, etc. I just grill with olive oil, s/p and then top with this creamy sauce. Great for a party serving. I love to serve it with a couple of steaks or a pork tenderloin. You don't need much sauce but really good. It would be great over pork loins or chops too.

                              2. re: kchurchill5

                                @kchurchill, I agree, dried herbs and teas make small gifts that are always appreciated.

                              3. re: HillJ

                                Oh my, I just realized I called Rose Marie, Roxanne. Scatter-brain that I am. Sorry about that.

                                1. re: HillJ

                                  That may be why she's avoiding us ;)
                                  I wouldn't think she'd find sidebar discussion off-putting as long as it's basically on topic and coherent.
                                  Her most recent post was yesterday. She probably has had a busy Saturday. The poor woman can't be expected to be chained to CH 24/7, as some of us are :)

                                  1. re: choco_lab38

                                    "chained," LOL!
                                    However an expert recruited to cover a 24/7 community might anticipate putting in a few hours writing :) or at least lurking until ready to respond. Least I could do was get her name correct. Awful.

                                    1. re: HillJ

                                      @choco_lab No I was just unavailable. I’m writing off line and then will post at a little min-mart with open access. Downloaded what I could last night. I think the questions and sharing of experience makes for a lively discussion. Thanks.

                                2. re: HillJ

                                  @Hillj, Saturday I gave two talks on container & small space edible gardens at a Master Gardener Conference in Coos Bay. No internet connection and travel time put me out of touch with all of you. Nevertheless, you’ve all been carrying on an informative lively discussion. There have been several good comments on drying herbs. Right now I’m using a little wi-fi mini mart and will head back over the mountains this afternnon.
                                  When to pick for drying? Herbs are usually at their most aromatic and flavorful before they flower. Let’s take oregano as an example, I cut it when buds are developed and sometimes, I only harvest the buds for drying by laying them on a screen. Once they’re crisp and dry I pack in spice jars. When I cut herbs to hand and dry I always tightly wrap with a rubber band and hang them away from direct light. The band will remain tight around the shrinking stems. My favorites for drying are oregano, mints, anise hyssop and when I had cats, catnip.

                                3. I am really excited to see this thread, as gardening is as much a passion of mine as cooking (the two go hand in hand)! I have a copy of "The Bountiful Container" and am a great fan of the book. I do a lot of container gardening, in addition to having what I'd call a "potager" in my yard.
                                  I am hoping to to gain some pearls from Rose Marie. Spring is just beginning to arrive in NJ and I'm itching to get my hands into the soil!

                                  12 Replies
                                  1. re: choco_lab38

                                    NJ gal here too choc, I feel the same way! Just a hint of Spring and I'm ready to get the garden going. This year I'm experimenting with edible flowers and greens. But my herb section is always a surprise.

                                    1. re: HillJ

                                      Did edible flowers once, lots of fun. I grew them specifically for a friend getting married. I did a frisee and spinach salad with fresh edible flowers and sauteed shallots, pretty enoki mushrooms and some purple and orange mushrooms all stacked. The flowers looked gorgeous, they were orange and white. Then we did a desert with a white creamy flan over ginger cookies and roasted coconut with raspberries and purple edible flowers Again, pretty, Well a lot more to the dish but you get the idea. They are fun in drinks too.

                                      Greens, anything for me, love them all and herbs. Looking forward to my lavender being done and the cats ... catnip of course. Lemon basil for lemon basil chicken OMG the best! Thai Basil with a spicy pesto and red chili sauce for grilled chicken. You name it... Then then honey, lemon and basil and not much else said. Classic!

                                    2. re: choco_lab38

                                      Oh me too! I want to start the spring (although I tend to think differently mid-August!). The tomato and pepper seeds are planted and near the windows already. Next weekend, I'll clean up my inner-city garden. I also grow more vegetables on the decks in containers with varying success (I think I don't feed them enough). I'm still debating on what else to plant - beets, carrots, lettuce (WAY too much of that last year).

                                      I yearn for the first tomato . . .

                                      1. re: alwayscooking

                                        I'm lucky with FL, but lived, MI and CO growing up too. I've done the seedlings, pots and now pretty much buy small little seedlings already 3" high. But still do seeds. I love doing the herbs and tomatoes and wish I had a big garden. I help my friend because he has NO clue and I do, so I basically take care of it and harvest everything. He doesn't use much so I take everything but cook him dinners. I made a great roasted squash and mushrooms and kale recipe with heirloom tomatoes with a gruyere cheese sauce and toasted thick slices of baguettes. It was great. Mostly from the garden a few market ingredients but the market was this am so easy pick. He could believe it. Then I fished today and cooked him fresh grilled mangrove snapper in a lemon and caper sauce. OK, capers. Grocery store, lemons fresh, fish caught today ... In return he gets me deals around town and contacts for catering in Tampa and all the fresh veggies ... No complaints here and a good friend.

                                        Gardens are a great way to get fresh veggies and enjoy the harvest. Even in a small apt you can grow them

                                        1. re: alwayscooking

                                          alwayscooking, you're way ahead of me! I do have some Padron pepper seeds germinating (I hope!)--that is this year's experiment for me. I live for the first garden-grown tomato...with just a sprinkle of sea salt...It's such a ceremony for me, I bought myself a Shun tomato knife for the occasion :)
                                          Brandywine tomatoes are my favorite, although they are slow growers and my patience isn't rewarded until late summer.
                                          I share your feelings about mid-August! The heat and the Japanese beetles usually take their toll on me by then! You are in Boston, aren't you? (My favorite city in the world--I went to BU and wished I could have stayed on)
                                          The weather has been so up and down in NJ, hasn't it HillJ?? I can't wait to be able to get the stuff I'm overwintering out of my tiny, cramped sunroom and into the yard! I have meyer lemons, blood oranges, limes, an arbequina olive tree, fig trees and a dwarf pomegranite that I've kept in containers successfully for a number of years (No small feat in NJ LOL) Unfortunately, this year is the first I haven't been blessed with any citrus fruits (the olive never fruits for me, but is very attractive). Perhaps Rose Marie has some tips for me?
                                          My favorite edible flower is nasturtium--I grow them every year. Of course zucchini flowers are also delicious, but I can rarely bring myself to nip them in the bud :) What other edible flowers are you growing?

                                          I was never a huge fan of Jamie Oliver's, but love his "Jamie At Home" show and book. That is exactly how I'd love to live--with a gorgeous brick oven in my yard, and an antique clockwork rotisserie...Nothing beats the joy of feasting on the fruits of your labor! Does it get any better??

                                          1. re: choco_lab38

                                            I am still celebrating my brandy wines, but understand the climate. I had about 20. beef stakes, several heirlooms and plums, a couple varities. Wish I could grow later in season I miss that.

                                            Also choco, some olives don't always produce every year, not uncommon. Same with oranges and some mangos and avacados. An avacado can take up to five years before it produceds. Mine 3 years, Moms 2, neighbors 4. So don't worry oranges, not uncommon either. 5-6 years before producing is not uncommon. Citrus in pots is uncommon save with olives or anything else that I have had. My pomegranate is great but it is young. Olive no different especially when they have been moved from a pot to the ground. Can take 2-3 years to produce.

                                            Mango or avacado, don't fertilize in winter ... let it set and let the blooms develops. Fertilize and all you get it leaves. Fertilize once flowers develop. Otherwise you will have a great tree and no fruit. There is a long blog I could attach to this but basically winter is not when to fertilize. but replanting is a big setback and moving from a pot to the ground and many other factors. Let me know more. I am sure Rose Marie will also have her thought. These are mine from FL and not much different then trees I grew in FL. Same result.

                                            1. re: kchurchill5

                                              Thanks kchurchill5. I envy your growing season. I often wish I could move down to FL with my plants --but I think they'd enjoy the climate a lot more than I would ;)
                                              Actually, I've had my citrus in containers and fruiting for about 5 years straight (I'm amazed each year they survive...and quite proud of myself! LOL) This is the first year they were fruitless--the tiny fruits that were trying to set fell off in a heavy rain storm we had last summer. I've been doing well overwintering them in my sunroom. The room is cool and I don't water too often and never feed them until new growth starts to appear in the spring. Then, I use Miracid to feed them.
                                              I'm not too upset about the olive tree not fruiting--the fruit wouldn't be edible right off the tree (don't they need to be cured somehow in lye or brined?) but it would be neat to see it in fruit.

                                            2. re: choco_lab38

                                              choco l, this is my catalog for edible flowers. I just go by our growing climate and grow what I can. I love how they accent the garden. Some are very tasty and other flowers are more for "show" than anything.

                                              I hope we haven't prevented the expert from returning with our sidebar discussions. I was very interested in hearing what she had to share.

                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                @HillJ Edible flowers add beauty and a festive air to our food. Be cautious about what you use, I’ve seen some big mistakes! A visually lovely cookbook on edible flowers was withdrawn from the shelves because the cover photo showed a cake decorated with poisonous narcissus. A fashionable restaurant offering cake decorated with poisonous delphinium blossoms and three of us garden writers making a scene, grocery store edible flowers including dubious snap dragons. Three reliable sources are Cathy Wilkinson Barash, Rosalind Creasy and me. As a rule of thumb flowers of “culinary” herbs are safe, as are nasturtiums, pansies, violets and unsprayed roses. There are more but double check, there are major errors on the net.

                                                1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                  Thank you, excellent point re: selecting the correct edibles. I also appreciate the detailed advice on drying herbs. Interesting tips!

                                            3. re: alwayscooking

                                              @alwayscooking keeping up the fertilizing is important in container gardening with vegetables. Herbs are more forgiving and don’t need lush growth to be good for cooking. A stunted, wizened lettuce is another story. Container plants depend on their owner for nutrients and water since they can’t send out foraging roots when under stress. You might consider sprinkling a few time release granules on top of the soil for your plants. There are formulations for leafy greens and fruiting/flowering plants and I’ve seen some newer organic products.

                                            4. re: choco_lab38

                                              @choco_lab Wonderful to learn you have The Bountiful Container and like it, thanks. There is transformation from ornamental gardening to food gardening this year that is staggering. Indoor herb gardening is partly about understanding nothing offers more flavor in less space than fresh herbs. An advantage of container growing is you can bring plants indoors and extend the growing season well into fall and even early winter.

                                            5. My specific question, for Ms. McGee, is when should I start my planting (and I'm not starting from seed, rather from seedlings) and would like to start with basil and rosemary), I'm in Northern VA. Thank you.

                                              3 Replies
                                              1. re: mjhals

                                                @mjhals You ask when to start your plants and I would say now, but selectively. Since you are using transplants you can safely plant rosemary now. Hold off on transplanting basil until temps are staying above 42 degrees and transplant on a nice mild day. Harden basil plants off for a few days if they’re going outdoors. This means putting the plants outdoors, first in a slightly shaded spot and bringing indoors at night. Repeat for three or four days, each day expose the plants to more direct sun so the leaves don’t suddenly burn from over exposure to ultra violet rays. Each evening protect by bringing indoors. Basil grows better and larger when you avoid unnecessary stress. When growing basil indoors, if your light source is a hot sunny window gradually expose it to intense light. If the leaves look bronzed they may be getting too much direct sun. I’m glad to see so much gardening enthusiasm and look forward to more questions about indoor herb growing.

                                                1. re: mjhals

                                                  Mjhals, I garden in the Washington DC area - slightly warmer than where you are in Northern VA - and find it pretty useless to set basil out before late May or early June.
                                                  It just sits there doing nothing and even gets leggy. If we have a wet Spring, it even damps off.
                                                  Basil is a hot-weather annual.
                                                  If I wait, it takes off like a rocket when the nighttime temperatures are dependably warm about Memorial Day and I get strong bushy plants that keep going until frost as long as I keep whacking them back and never, ever let them flower.

                                                  This is a very useful chart for average daytime and night temperatures for our area. Pay attention to the night temps. It's one of the reasons why we can't grow some things here. It doesn't cool off enough at night.
                                                  This chart can be changed by zip codes to your exact location in the US.

                                                  1. re: MakingSense

                                                    @MakingSense Nice resource, thank you. I have bookmarked this national weather chart. It seems your planting date for basil is much like ours but we fluctuate from year to year and go by nighttime lows staying above 42 degrees. Zonal denial is a temptation especially when the soil is nice and warm. If temps drop cover with polyspun fabric or even an old sheet. Those growing basil indoors rarely need to worry about cold.

                                                2. Thanks for posting this - I had some luck several years ago here in Manhattan growing herbs that I bought in pots on a bay window roof outside a window, facing southwest. I'm wondering if there are any herbs that would be less than happy with that much sun - or which would thrive in it. I think I had basil, thai basil, rosemary and thyme.

                                                  Thank you.

                                                  10 Replies
                                                  1. re: MMRuth

                                                    @MMRuth, The more shade tolerant herbs would include mint, chives, Kaffir lime, true Bay, Laurus nobilis, chervil would all do well in somewhat less light.

                                                    1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                      Thanks - I must have phrased my question awkwardly, as what I meant really meant was what plants can tolerate a lot of sun, with little shade.

                                                      1. re: MMRuth

                                                        @MMRuth Most plants tolerate full sun if introduced to it gradually. Over the space of several days move them closer to the window. The basic favorites, thyme, rosemary, sage, basil etc. should be fine with regular watering a slow introduction that toughens the plant tissues. If you see damage apply UV barrier film to your window. I think it would be unusual to need this but it is a solution.

                                                    2. re: MMRuth

                                                      @MMRuth Common herbs needing less sun would bem chives, parsley, chervil and mint. Of course Culantro which I mentioned earlier, does not tolerate direct sun. If anyone has a questions about specific herbs Please post.

                                                      1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                        RM, how about watering conditions? Are their heat tolerant herbs?
                                                        How about garden pest treatment, and all natural approaches?
                                                        Those pesky moles, rabbits & squirrels that like tasting new growth?
                                                        What are your recommendations for a "natural approach" to thwart these pesky critters?

                                                        1. re: HillJ

                                                          @HillJ Most of our herbs originate in a Mediterranean climate, warm and fairly dry. Haven't had too many moles, rabbits or squirrels in the house. However, if we are talking out door gardening, there is a new blood based product "I'm trialing, Plantskyyd granules, that seems an effective repellent for squirrels and rabbits. It's still early in the season so not yet conclusive. I don't really know an effective method of ridding an area of moles other than trapping. If you're squeamish like me hire a trapper.

                                                          1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                            delphinium, foxglove, primrose for slugs and snails and grubs in FL

                                                            A few sprinkles of cayenne or garlic bulbs around the plants no near the roots but around where planted 10-12 " away works wonders. Most critters and pest hate them, especially squirrels. Also mothballs, not in the ground just around the perimiter. It all works, garlic is completely natural, also onions cut in half and sprinkle talcom powder on the plants, but in FL with all the rain I don't recommend that. But the garlic, mothballs and other items work great and don't affect the plants them selves. This will keep out most squirrels, rodents, dogs, cats, insects and most critters and rabbits

                                                            1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                              RM, we have a modest greenhouse in the backyard adjacent to the larger landscape and garden area. Pesky critters get under the ground cover we have in the greenhouse. A real bother some seasons. My kids have rabbits :)
                                                              Thank you for the resource, I need to do offline reading.

                                                              1. re: HillJ

                                                                @HillJ Consider visiting your local state/county extension office for suggestions. If you can identify the critters and the type of damage they cause, extension experts or your local Master Gardeners can offer advice and perhaps some literature on what to do. It may be as simple as another method of securing the groundcloth. Good luck.

                                                            2. re: HillJ

                                                              There is heat tolerant and sun tolerant. Cilantro is heat tolerant but not all day sun tolerant. Dill is not heat tolerant. Rosemary, we all decided you cant kill it :)

                                                              Tropical oregano is very heat tolerant as is Mexican tarragon. Similar to the more common but it is different but still very good. If planted in the right area, many will survive the summer here with a little care. I rely on rain, however I check every night when I get home or early am on all my plants. They don't like to get soaked but they do well. I wrote my bone meal, blood meal combo for a fertilizer. I do use some miracle grow now and then but lots of natural choices Below I listed natural ways to get rid of critters and they work. 30 years worth of getting rid of them.

                                                        2. You mentioned culantro as a substitute for cilantro, which might work better in containers. Do you have any suggestions for herbs less likely to bolt? My parsley seems to grow for about 10 minutes without flowering.

                                                          Also, it would be great to keep this thread on-topic: a q&a about indoor herb gardening, with advice by Rose Marie Nichols McGee. Perhaps the discussions about growing mangoes in Florida, etc., could be moved to a more general gardening thread.

                                                          4 Replies
                                                          1. re: small h

                                                            @small_h Plants that do not have a taproot are least likely to bolt. Tap rooted herbs include, chervil, cilantro, parsley, and dill. With these you may have more success from seed. Parsley is slow to get going so select transplants carefull, avoid plants wiht roots growing out the bottom of the pot or yellowing leaves. Also plants,that, upon inspection, are actually a cluster of many plants growing together are likely bolt. Chives are the exception.

                                                            1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                              Thanks so much! I'll try starting my dill & cilantro from seed. Very helpful.

                                                            2. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                              Just curious on the cilantro, why seeds. Here in FL, the seeds have a very hard time. I use small plants for the most. Also my parsley grows so quick I can't keep up with it it seems. Always cutting, and you mentioned slow growing. Just curious. My cilantro grows best in heat but again, half and half sun, direct sun it struggles with as you mentioned. Am I just lucky with cilantro :)? I've tried and wouldn't mind a better method. Been successful with other seeds but not cilantro or culantro.

                                                              1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                @kchurchill5 When a gardener plants cilantro either from direct seeding or a transplant it started from a seed. It's quick to germinate and grow and less likely to bold if transplanting is avoided. My experience is home seeded parsley takes it's own sweet time to size up.

                                                            3. Great info., Rose Marie!
                                                              One of the peskiest things about growing indoors, for me, has been fungus gnats, or whatever they are called--those little flies that seem to emerge from the soil. Do you know of any way to prevent or control these little pests? Obviously I don't want to use pesticides on edible herbs...

                                                              2 Replies
                                                              1. re: choco_lab38

                                                                choco_lab38 Fungus gnats are an annoying nuisance that thrive in moist organic soil. In our greenhouse we control with yellow sticky traps and spraying with beneficial nematodes. Sometimes we use gnatrol another biological control. For the indoor home gardener, first avoid over watering. Many gardeners say they are successful placing a few slices of raw potato on top of the soil, the larvae burrow in and you discard the potato and repeat. The actual gnats only live about three days so repeated attention is necessary to stop the cycle.
                                                                Peppermint tea for watering is another popular home remedy but I haven't tried it but peppermint is noted for repelling some insects.

                                                                1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                  Peppermint tea does work for inside. Actually I put 4-5 tic tacs on the soil around the plant. Works great and cheap and easy. I have 4 large plants inside right now. Ran out of room outside. 1 purple basil from seed. 1 lavender and 1 cilantro. All thriving. 1/2 day bright sun through the window. Water when needed. Let them dry. Don't over water. Some simple fertilizer and not much else. I don't baby mine at all. I every couple of days I mist them just with the sink faucet. nothing special. Needs air movement and light. and NOT too much water.

                                                              2. This has been incredibly helpful! Thanks all.

                                                                1 Reply
                                                                1. re: HillJ

                                                                  @HillJ I think it has been helpful to all of us. As for me I always enjoy another window onto what gardeners are interested and concerned about. There is more of a trend towards indoor gardening now. I think it may have begun with orchids and now, like gardening overall, is moving towards edible plants.

                                                                2. Hi,

                                                                  The little quake we had today tipped my precariously positioned bay tree over. I then noticed that the roots were extending out from beneath the bot. Should I clip them off or is there a solution that would be more beneficial to the plant?


                                                                  5 Replies
                                                                  1. re: oed

                                                                    @oed Your bay plant may be pot bound. Inspect the roots by laying the pot on a sheet of newspaper and gently sliding it out. If you see a mat of brown roots growing in a circular pattern it's time for action. If you want the plant to grown larger then prepare to move it to a bigger container and add more potting soil. First clip away about half the brown roots.
                                                                    If you want it to keep it in this container then root prune. With a sharp knife cut off 1/2 inch all the way around and the bottom and then place it back in the container with a little more soil. Now, prune off the same percentage of top growth that you've removed from the roots and you're set.
                                                                    Those brown roots do little to provide water or nutrients, we could call them "foraging roots". The white, slightly fuzzy roots are what sustains a healthy plant and this treatment stimulates their growth.
                                                                    Take this same approach with any of your container grown perennial plants for healthier plants. The amount your prune will vary with size of the plant but always keep the ratio of what you remove in roots and top growth the same.

                                                                    1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                      I see my pot of chives is just starting to send up flower buds. Chive blossoms are a seasonal delicacy not to be missed. Let the flowers fully open. They are a cluster of tiny flowers that you can release with a sharp twist off the stem. I scatter these over omelets, cheese dishes, sauces, fish, even a simple cottage cheese salad. Cut the "too tough to eat" stem off at the base.

                                                                        1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                          I hope you do give it a try. Seems like it might fit in well with your food stying and catering.

                                                                          1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                            Definitely like to. Never have, not sure why. There is some local I sometimes will get edibles from but I have only done it a few times, but yes, sounds like a lot of fun. Thx. I hate to think of all the flowers I cut off and threw away. Shame on me.

                                                                  2. I am growing 2 varieties of eggplant in containers for the first time this year. I already transplanted them to large pots (a bit early i know, but i have been covering them when the night time temp goes below 60). I am headed out of town for a week and nighttime temps are forecasted to drop back into the high 30s....and i don't trust my roomie to cover the plants at night, he doesnt love them like I do. :) ANYWAY, my question is: would it be OK to move the plants inside to a sunny window for the week?

                                                                    I also planted a bell pepper plant and tomato plant....should I bring these in as well?

                                                                    Thank you!!

                                                                    24 Replies
                                                                    1. re: EmBrooks

                                                                      Do you have a secluded porch area that gets some sun but semi protected? 30's and 40's would be tough. For one week I would think ok, but honestly, never did that before. My tomatoes took 40 'just fine so did my peppers. My eggplants I already have harvest one so I can't help with that.

                                                                      1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                        The porch gets about 7 hours of sun and is fairly protected from wind - this is where they live. I was going to bring them inside to a window that faces the same direction, but probably only gets about 4 hours of sun. I am just worried about zapping the little guys, i just planted them a couple of weeks ago.

                                                                      2. re: EmBrooks

                                                                        Definitely bring in eggplants, peppers and tomatoes indoors when you are having such a big dip in temperatures. Give them a good watering before you go. Even if they don't have bright light that's less of a problem than a deep chill. Same is true for basil.

                                                                        1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                          Great, I will bring everything inside including the basil!

                                                                          Thank you!

                                                                          1. re: EmBrooks

                                                                            A comment for those growing thyme in containers, indoors or out. About now plants are often straggly and lanky. Shape them up with an easy trim. Gather all the stems firmly together in one hand and cut straight across the top with shears or clippers. When released, the plant forms an attractive dome. A light 1/2 strength fertilizing gets them off to a good spring start. Save those trimmings for chowders, roasted veggies, potatoes, onions, fish, poultry and meat. Start with a light touch, mid- cooking process, only adding more if needed.

                                                                            1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                              Sometimes successful gardening is simply heading off problems before they become established. If you are seeing ants around your indoor herb plants observe closely. They may be setting up a farming operation by moving aphids or scale onto plants. Both produce a sweet nectar ants love. Try rinsing aphids off the plant, if that doesn't do the job spray with insecticidal soap. Small bay plants are easily cleaned with an alcohol soaked gauze bandage. Large indoor trees can be sprayed with neem oil. I usually do this with music playing and a glass of wine beside me and meticulously wipe every branch and leaf. Next get the ants under control with the various borax based commercial products. If you spray with neem move plants away from direct light for 3-4 days to prevent burning of foliage.

                                                                              1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                Ever use ultra fine oil and a mix of 1 tsp joy detergent, just regular joy, 1 tablespoon baking soda and 1 teaspoon ultra fine to 1 gallon water. Just for indoor plants. I don't use this on herbs. Just curious. I use this for everything outside and it works great. Haven't had insects in probably 15 years using this. Different climates use different methods I suppose.

                                                                                1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                  @kchrchill5 This sounds like an effective remedy for most garden problems. I might use a true soap like Ivory, but if it's working for you that's what is most important.

                                                                                  1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                    Dear Blog Readers: I'll be away from early Saturday morning until late Saturday night. I'll start answering questions Sunday morning asap. Our dialogue has been a bit sleepy for a few days, so may not be an issue. Would love to answer your questions today or I can hope our little conversations have helped you all become confident and savvy indoor herb gardeners which is the outcome we want.

                                                                                      1. re: jeanmarieok

                                                                                        @jeanmarieok I appreciate your comment and hope to hear from more over you. When harvesting chives cut all the way down to the base of the plant. This stimulates the growth of new leaves. If only part of the leaves are cut the tips turn brown and it all starts taking on a choppy appearance. If your chives look lanky and leaves aren't standing up it's either a lack of water or inadequate light. Move it to a brighter window or get one of those nifty new full spectrum fluorescent bulbs to get your indoor herb growing to take off. Chives lend a spring like air to eggs, potatoes, salads and much more.

                                                                                        1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                          Quick question, I was always taught from those I worked with in the nursery who sold us and grew the herbs told us never to cut down to the base but to cut 2" at a time, otherwise it can go into shock. Also, well you said leaves and I know what you meant but some don't. There are no leaves but flat tubes which are their leaves but not all chives are edible. Many varieties and most of them do very well in bright light with a lot of sun especially up north. I'm in south florida and mine do fine. Just curious. I do window herbs in the dead of winter, but usually spring even up north herbs can do great outside. Over 40 degrees

                                                                                          1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                            @kchurchill5 Chives, Allium schoenoprasm are all edible. There may be other plants with a superficial resemblance but upon inspection you will note differences and a lack of the delicate onion-like aroma. If you are in doubt take it to your nearest extension office for identification. Garlic chives, Allium tuberosum and Allium odorum are also edible and used primarily in Asian cookery. Regarding cutting to the base chives are the exception which is why I'm making special note of it. If you need two tablespoons chopped chives, cut to the base, don't hack it off at the top. As a rule of thumb whether pruning a lilac bush or a rosemary remove no more than a third of the plant at one time. Your point about over cutting is well taken.

                                                                                            1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                              Thank you, I was always told the 1/3 or never to the base. Honestly I forgot to mention 1/3, thx for the reminder. I have across many varieities and heard many things about all being edible but Allium schoenoprasm is what I have I believe and does very very well. I had 2 other varieties which also did well but wasn't as fond. Thanks for the clarification. I love chives and think they are underused. People don't realize how good they are.

                                                                                              When I was in Montreal I had an omlette ... I ended up talking to the waiter who worked in the back and said the guy used whole eggs, a little herbed cheese just a few spoons they made there, chopped chives, 1 tablespoon heavy cream and topped with sun dried tomatoes and sauteed onions. He said the chef sauteed the onions and tomatoes for just a few minutes to get them warm. The tomatoes organically grown and then dried. I also dry my own which are great. Then served it on a bed of sauteed spinach in a very light cream sauce. I wish I could grown my own, not enough room. But I was impressed that most was done in house from the herbs, onions, tomatoes and spinach. It was to die for. A croissant with a strawberry honey butter and a bloddy mary of course. I'm sure they were not from scratch, but it was cool to see all the fresh ingredients and herbs used.

                                                                                              Chives are wonderful and way underused.

                                                                                              1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                                @kchurchill5 I'm sure you are growing the true chives. They're easily available as seeds or plants from nurseries and even super markets. Roxanne, in her aticle on indoor herb growing, mentioned "Grolau" as a good indoor variety since they produce strong foliage even when light is reduced.
                                                                                                Like fashions, foods and plants come in and out of style. Chives were thought of as old fashioned and 1950s for too long and now we're noticing a much deserved increase in sales. I like everything about them, flavor, attractive appearance and easy to care for.

                                                                                                1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                                  Last night I was looking at an exquisite old book plate of caraway which reminded me to share a recent discovery.
                                                                                                  Microgreens have been a trendy little food item for the last few years. They are grown to about an inch tall. I test grow different types of vegetable and herb seeds for flavor and potential.
                                                                                                  Recently I discovered 1" caraway microgreens have a delicious lively essence of caraway flavor that I've never encountered any other way. I've sprouted both culinary caraway seed and seed from our seed packet supply. Culinary seeds need to be quite fresh, are inexpensive, and I suggest you give it a try. Simply take a sheet or two paper of toweling, place on a rimmed dish and soak it. Sprinkle on a few pinches of seed. If they sprout it will be within 14 days at 70 degrees. I find germination is usually much faster from our garden seed supply. Keep the paper towel blotter wet and if conditions are dry loosely cover with plastic wrap. They're delicious on sandwiches.

                                                                                                  1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                                    Nice info, I would love to try them. I often start my seeds that way too which always works great. I would love to try them. Thx

                                                                                                    1. re: kchurchill5

                                                                                                      I should remind readers this dialogue on Indoor Herb Gardening began March 25th and only goes for two weeks. This means comments will close either tomorrow or Wednesday depending on how the days are calculated. This has been fun for me and I will answer your questions on this topic until it closes. Happy gardening.

                                                                                                        1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                                          I enjoyed your advice and gardening tips, thank you Rose Marie.

                                                                                                          1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                                            I've really enjoyed reading all of your posts. Thank you for your advice!

                                                                                                        2. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                                          What a fantastic idea! My mouth is watering at the prospect!

                                                                              2. re: EmBrooks

                                                                                @EmBrooks Just wanted to note that while eggplants are not herbs and a little off topic, I find my container grown eggplants are far more productive than those grown in the soil. Their soil warms quickly and there is no troublesome verticillium in potting soil.

                                                                                1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                  That is exciting, I can't wait for them to produce. I moved everything indoors last week when i was on vacation and they all shot up! I am now wondering if I can grow cilantro indoors? A couple of warm days here (Charleston, SC) and it goes to seed. If it lives in a sunny window, do you think it would be OK?

                                                                              3. One of my kitchen-gardening bibles is a tattered copy of Rosalind Creasy's "Cooking From The Garden". I've had it and used it for years.

                                                                                After this informative and gracious indoor herb growing exchange with you, the photo and article about Rose Marie Nichols McGee now take on much more meaning. Thank you for sharing your time and expertise. I look forward to more food-garden postings.

                                                                                4 Replies
                                                                                1. re: Sherri

                                                                                  You may be interested to know Ros is finishing a total rewrite of "The Complete Book of Edible Landscaping. This one has a photo on my home herb garben taken here in
                                                                                  We make a huge pot pf Vicky Sebastiani's chili every New Years Day open house. and mine has also had a lot of use.

                                                                                  You may be interested to know she has nearly completed and entire update of the original
                                                                                  "Complete Book of Edible Landscaping". A photo of my home herb garden is in the book.
                                                                                  For years I 've made a huge pot of Vicky Sebastianis Chili for our NY's Day open house, It;s great recipe but prefer it with less wine.
                                                                                  You'll be know Ros Creasey's Complete Edble Landscaping Book

                                                                                  1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                    Tarragon grows better for me in a container than in the ground. By December the leaves yellow and die back and I remove all the old foliage. In early January I bring the container indoors and soon the cutest little shoots begin appearing. This fresh green anise-like flavor is just the right herb to spark salads, fish and chicken. If you make pear sorbet add a touch of fresh tarragon. Come late spring the pot goes outside and we continue harvesting. Tarragon is one plant that is invigorated by dividing every two years, pot some up and share with a friend then you always know where to go if something goes wrong with yours. These are heavy feeders so don't fail to fertilize.
                                                                                    Never start from seed, that is always flavorless Russian tarragon. When shopping for a plant take the tiniest bit to taste, you should sense anise and a mild little sizzle on the tongue. No real taste, it's probably seed grown, buy elseware.

                                                                                    1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee

                                                                                      Roxanne will officially close this discussion Wednesday morning. Send remaining questions/comments today. I hope our dialog has built confidence. Some of you may be like my daughter, who lives in a San Francisco apartment with no outdoor growing space. We've been setting up her little herb garden with plants, pots, lights, and a metal bakers rack that I found on Craig's list. An indoor garden providing fresh herbs within reach is such a useful pleasure.

                                                                                      1. re: Rose Marie Nichols McGee


                                                                                        Today's the end of Rose Marie's two weeks so I have to officially let her off the hook! I hope that this thread was a fun companion to the feature story. I've started another thread on the CHOW Feedback board here: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/610524 if you'd like to comment on how this worked out. Would you like to see us do this again when we publish stories? Any types of experts that would be nice to chat with?

                                                                                        Thanks for making this such a great conversation, and a big thanks to Rose Marie for taking the time to share all her great information with us.

                                                                                        Roxanne Webber, Associate Editor, CHOW

                                                                                2. Roxanne,

                                                                                  I recently moved to Silverton, OR. Can you offer advice on growing vegetables outdoors?