How to grow herbs indoors

Credit: istock / Hermi

Q: I have had no luck growing herbs indoors, though things flourish in the garden in season. Do you have some tips for indoor herbs? —Dawn

Growing herbs indoors is a bit of a tricky task. I tried my hands recently at growing basil. I was pretty optimistic at first, when the seeds started to sprout. But because of the recent inclement weather here in Vancouver, my plant never went past the sprout stage and died.

Not all herbs can be grown well indoors. Herbs, like basil, do need lots of natural sunlight, which many indoor light sources can’t properly duplicate. Other types, like cilantro and dill, are short-lived annuals that don’t regrow after full harvest.

I’m not sure where you’re from, but in the Lower Mainland herbs can grow outdoors year-round. If you get the plants going by late summer, they will be strong enough to survive through the winter and will continue to grow the next spring. For example, our editor, Carol Pope, has chives, parsley, rosemary, thyme, fennel and lovage growing in her garden pretty much year-round (the fennel, chives and lovage die back a bit in the coldest months but return the following spring).

Growing indoor herbs, however, is not entirely impossible if you follow some basic rules.

Herbs are sun-worshippers, so make sure your plant gets enough light. Don’t put them on windows that get less than four hours of direct sunlight a day. If that is an issue, use a standard fluorescent grow light. These lamps are available through major retailers, like Rona and Canadian Tire, and online. You can also find them in hydroponics shops.

Also, make sure you use proper soil and fertilizer for the type of herb you’re growing. Water your plant only when the soil is absolutely dry, and use pots or trays that drain well.

Buying an herb-growing kit from a specialty or gardening store is also a foolproof way of creating a successful indoor herb garden. These kits usually come with the proper soil, seeds, fertilizer, container and instructions to get the best results.

Finally, be patient. Herbs generally slow or stop growing during the winter months, so don’t fret if you don’t get much yield from your plants until springtime.