Life Times Newsletter

Winter 2008
Vol. 10, No. 1

Growing herbs indoors

Kathryn Keeley, MS
Former Horticulture Specialist

In 1652, Nicholas Culpeper wrote The English Physician, which combined the folklore and traditional medicine that surrounded herbal usage during that time. Colonists in North America consulted this book as a medical reference. Herbs served a variety of functions in the pioneer home, including curing illness and disease, dyeing fabric and repelling insects.

Today, consumers are turning to herbs for increased health and vitality, as well as for more domesticated duties such as decorating and cooking. A perfect way to get the taste of summer is by growing herbs indoors during the cold months. Here are a few tips if you’d like to grow your own herb supply:

·      Light source. Perhaps the greatest challenge when growing herbs indoors is providing them with sufficient sunlight. Herbs do best when grown in a very sunny window that receives between six and eight hours of direct sunlight each day (typically a southern or southwestern exposure). When growing herbs under natural light, be certain to rotate the pot every three to four days to ensure uniform growth of the plant.

If your most convenient window location does not have enough sunlight, you can supplement natural lighting with fluorescent light. In general, for every hour of required sunlight, expose the plants to two hours of fluorescent light. Herbs grown entirely under fluorescent lights will require between 14 to 16 hours of artificial lighting. Place herb plants no closer than five or six inches and no farther than 15 inches from the light source.

·      Drainage. Herbs demand good drainage for healthy growth. A potting mix of equal parts sand, commercial potting mix, peat moss and perlite will provide an excellent medium for growing herbs indoors. When potting your herbs, choose clay pots. They are more porous than plastic pots, allowing for better soil drainage.

·      Temperature. Be certain not to locate your indoor herb garden near a heat source, such as a radiator or heat vent. Herbs prefer temperatures below 70 degrees. If the air is dry in your home, place the herb pots in a tray of stones and keep the tray filled with water just up to the bottom of the pot. Providing ample humidity will promote good herbal growth while keeping the foliage succulent and tasty.

·      Fertilizer. When grown in containers, most herbs will benefit from occasional feeding with a liquid fertilizer, such as fish emulsion, seaweed or a general-purpose, water-soluble fertilizer. In general, feed herbs every two weeks according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Be certain not to overfeed your herbs. Too much fertilizer is far more likely to damage your herbs than too little.

·      Herb types and use. Chives, Thyme, Basil, Parsley, Rosemary, Sage, Oregano and Mints all do well indoors. Use them regularly to keep them trimmed back and prevent flowering, which will reduce the plant’s longevity.

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University of Missouri Extension Editor: Roxanne T. Miller