Indoor Gardening Tips for Raising Herbs

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By Richard Godke

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Photo by: Bob Hochmuth, University of Florida Extension

Make your home more beautiful, meals more flavorful and improve your home environment by raising your own herbs with these indoor gardening tips. Raising your own herbs is easy, fun and can yield tasty rewards. Picking fresh herbs in your kitchen for cooking can lead to a sense of accomplishment. Use the winter months as a great time to experiment with raising herbs.  I will share some simple tips to help make your indoor herb garden a big success.  The most important topics include: selecting herbs, soil, planting containers and controlling the light, water, and, environment.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Selecting Herb Plants

The beginner’s list of herbs that grow well indoors includes: chives, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, and tarragon.  Avoid sun loving herbs such as: basil, coriander (cilantro), dill, lavender, rosemary, sage, and thyme.  Here is a great website that will give you some ideas and help you get started http://www.gardenista.com/posts/urban-gardening-diy-shade-tolerant-windowsill-herbs-to-grow-in-your-apartment. Purchase the herb plants from a local garden store or nursery. Experienced gardeners may want to consider starting your herbs from seeds.  It takes more time and your success rate will not be as high as purchasing established plants. As winter approaches, transplant the herbs into individual pots. Move these plants to a partially shaded location outside for several weeks.  This will adjust the plants to the decreased amount of sunlight that they will encounter inside for the winter. Then you can move the herbs growing inside your house during winter to your outside garden in the spring.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Choosing the Soil for Herbs

Beginners should always start with commercially prepared potting soil.  These soils have all the correct nutrients, organic matter, and adjustments for the proper pH.  In most cases potting soil will have a higher concentration of organic matter which causes it to be a lighter soil with less chance of compaction.  The downside to this porous potting soil is it tends to dry out more quickly.  Soils with a high amount of organic matter provide an ideal environment for microorganism activity. This activity provides a slow usable release rate of required plant nutrition.  This great indoor gardening tip came from a greenhouse operator — these light potting soil mixes should always be pressed firmly into the containers.  Pressing the mix tightly will aid in water retention and stimulate root growth.  I recommend using a layer of fabric (old t-shirt or towel) in the bottom of the planting container.  This holds in the soil and allows water to wick up into the pot from the bottom.  I like this method better than using stones in the bottom of the pot. If you choose to make your own potting soil, use sterilized materials, and at least one-third of the mix should be organic matter (peat moss or compost).  Herbs grow relatively slowly indoors during the winter. Fertilizer should be used sparingly.  If your herbs do not have a deep green appearance apply a liquid fertilizer using 50% the recommended rate on the label.  If the plant then shows a deeper green color, continue the applications at the half rate.  It is always better to under fertilize plants that are being grown indoors.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Choosing Herb Growing Containers

Containers for growing herbs can be as simple as a cut down two-liter bottle, an exquisite handcrafted art pottery, or a commercial plastic pot.  University research has shown that plants benefit from being re-potted. Begin with a smaller pot working up to larger pots as the plant roots grown to fill the container.  I experimented by planting seeds in a very large pot.  Then I planted seeds in a small pot and the plants were transplanted into a series of larger pots.  The results showed that re-potted plants grew faster and more vigorously than the seeds that were planted in a large pot and not transplanted.  So to increase the production of your indoor herb garden plants increase the pot size as the plant roots circle around the edge the pot. Containers with more soil have a larger margin of error when it comes to watering.  Most containers will function as long as they’re clean and have drainage hole(s) in the bottom.  I’ve not found a lot of functional differences between plastic, terra-cotta, wood, metal, or fiberglass containers. In most cases your choice of container will depend on your individual preferences.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Choosing Light Sources for Herbs

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Light is the herb’s best friend! Most herbs love lots of high quality direct sunlight.  A minimum of 5 to 8 hours of direct sunlight daily should be the goal to raise herbs indoors.  Less light may keep the plants alive but the plants will not thrive.  A south facing window will provide the best light with west and or east being your next best choices.  My indoor gardening tips include: maximizing production by grow growing herbs in a south window with the addition of artificial light.  Two practical choices of grow lights are fluorescent or high-intensity discharge (HID).  The light can be a fluorescent shop light that is positioned within an inch or two of the growing plants for up to 16 hours a day.  I have experimented with artificial lights at different distances from the plants.  My results show that the lights that are 2 inches away from the plants will quadruple the growth, compared to lights that are 2 feet away from the plants.  Fluorescent lights or specific grow lights are highly recommended over incandescent light bulbs.  Old style light bulbs are not as efficient and will produce more heat, which tends to dry out the soil quickly.  If your plant has long spaces between leaf nodes and is tall and lanky, your plant is not getting enough light.  Tall is not always better.  Learn how to build a low-cost, simple to make, artificial lighting system for your indoor herb garden at this website http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xy5fzPlsXK0.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Proper Watering of Herbs

Over watering is the biggest mistake made by beginning indoor herb gardeners.  Place your herbs in a location that you will visit on a regular basis (example kitchen window). If you see the herbs many times a day, you can keep a close watch on the soil’s moisture level.  The best way to determine the moisture level of the soil is to stick your finger into the pot about half an inch.  If you can feel the moisture the plant can go another day without being watered.  After repeated daily moisture samplings you will be able to estimate how often the plant needs to be watered.  In most cases a heavy watering once a week will provide enough moisture for your plant.  My indoor gardening tips include: checking the soil’s moisture level often and watering your plants from the bottom.  To water from the bottom, put the pot on a saucer or water reservoir tray designed specifically for potted plants.  Adding water to the saucer or tray allows the plant to wick up the water into the soil.  Remember, most herbs prefer to be on the dry side rather than the wet side.  If your plant turns yellow, you are watering your plant too much.

Indoor Gardening Tips: Proper Environmental Conditions for Herbs

When raising herbs indoors it is important to consider temperature, air movement, pests, and humidity.  Most herb plants prefer a temperature in the 70°- 80° F. range.  A quick temperature change may be detrimental to the plant when moving it in or out of the home.  If the plant is outdoors and the temperatures have cooled off, moving the plant back into a warm interior temperature may cause the plant to go into shock.  I have seen the leaves completely fall off of plants after being moved into a warm home.  It is important not to have your plants sitting near air ducts or doors.  The direct contact with extreme temperature and moisture changes may kill the plants.  My indoor gardening tips include: examining your plants on a weekly basis for pests.  If possible remove bugs by hand or use an insecticidal soapy spray at the first sign of any insect problems.  Most heated winter homes have a very low humidity level.  Having potted plants in this environment will help add moisture to the air.  Be aware when the artificial heat is on in your home, it will be using up moisture that is stored in your plant’s soil.  So additional water will be needed by your plants during these periods.

 

I hope my herb indoor gardening tips have helped you discover how simple and easy can be to grow herbs.  With a small amount of time and money you will have quick access to herbs that will add some new flavors to your cooking.  The beautiful green plants growing in your home helps to bring nature indoors.  This touch of nature also helps increase the amount of humidity in your home’s dry winter air. Plants help clean the air, and the photosynthesis converts carbon dioxide into oxygen. You can be successful growing herbs by remembering these herb indoor gardening tips: select the correct herbs to plant, purchase high-quality potting soil, and select a container that can be well drained.  Light is important and you must provide a minimum of 5 to 8 hours of direct sunlight or substitute with 16 hours of fluorescent light daily.  Indoor herb gardeners must be aware of the plant’s total environment including: temperature, drafts and air movement, pests, and indoor humidity.  You can easily enjoy growing herbs indoors and add flavor to your cooking by growing flavorful herbs in your own home.

You can learn more about gardening at:General Web Directory

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rgodke

Rick Godke is a lifelong gardener since age 8. He studied agriculture and taught high school horticulture. He spent almost 20 years working as a County Extension Agent in three states where he educated farmers, home owners, and youth in the areas of production agriculture and home horticulture. Godke has trained adult Master Gardeners and school-age 4-H members in every aspect of gardening, as well as establishing community gardens. He has introduced two daylily varieties with the American Hermerocallis Society and has served as a national certified national daylily exhibition judge. https://plus.google.com/104974890596183747499?rel=author

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