How to grow herbs indoors for the winter

November 7, 2021

If You Liked Them In Summer, You Will Love Them In Winter!

To enjoy fresh herbs in your kitchen all winter, try this. Grow your own herbs indoors for winter. Whatever you like to cook in the winter will be enhanced by their crisp flavors. Think of fresh herb bread, soups, stews, and roasts. Winter salads, including fruit salads, will all be enhanced by your window gardens, Those bouncing tomatoes, taste like they have their own frequent flyer miles but they will be almost transformed by fresh basil.

What Herbs To Grow Indoors This Winter

Here is a list of herbs most recommended for indoor growing. A little effort will improve all the flavors you eat.

  • Basil-Keep a steady temperature of about 70 degrees.
  • Chive
  • Lemon Balm
  • Marjoram-Use a shallow wide container and 6 hours of sun.
  • Mint
  • Oregano-also Cuban Oregano
  • Parsley
  • Rosemary-Keep in sunny but dry location.
  • Sage
  • Thyme

There is some difference of opinion, which may reflect the climate and personal experience. The above list comes from the plant developer, Bonnie Plants. Here is their article. Our own experience is similar.

Where to Get The Plants

Buying Plants

If you need to buy the plants late in the season, start with your local garden center. You should still find plants. If not try your grocery store. The choices will be basic, but you will find small plants at good prices. The cost will be far less than the single-use packages of cut herbs in the store. Choose healthy, bright plants with soil attached.

Bringing Plants Indoors From Your Garden

If you have transportable plants in pots you can bring them in. Follow these four steps. Before bringing any new plants indoors always check your existing houseplants for pests or diseases.

  1. Trim and check the outdoor plants for any pests or diseases. Remove any dead or leggy plant material, search for insects and discoloration. Do not bring inside any material with bugs or diseases; these can damage existing house plants and any other plants you are adding.
  2. Transplant any that are ready for larger or different pots.
  3. If not transplanting, refresh your potting soil, do this by removing the top one or two inches of soil. Replace this with fresh potting soil. This will remove any bugs in the soil.
  4. You can wash your incoming plants in a sink; this will help you remove insects and water the plants.

Taking Cuttings From Your Outdoor Plants

To make healthy cuttings from plants in the ground or in pots too large to bring inside; do the following seven steps.

Gardeners tend to be sharing people, I find. You might swap some plants with the neighbors. On my street, we have swapped so many plants that we don’t know where some of our vegetation originated!

  1. Cut plant sections at least 4-6″ in length. Terminal (top) stems are the easiest to grow. Cut the stem bottom just below a node (the slightly bulging place where leaves attach to the stem). It is a good idea to leave more than one node on the stem if you can because the nodes are the places with the most growth hormone, increasing your speed and success. You can successfully cut more than one root cutting from a long stem. The intermediate pieces will root; the terminal end is just a little quicker.
  2. Remove all leaf material from the lower part of the stem. At the top of the stem, retain about two leaves, and you can cut large leaves in half.
  3. Your plant requires leaves to provide food and air for the plant to grow. Too much leaf material will remove energy from your new growing stem. So, include some leaves but not a lot.
  4. Root the new plants in one of two ways.
  5. You can place the stems in water until they grow white roots of about 1″ in length. Transplant these to high quality, sterile potting soil. Thyme, mint, basil, oregano, and lemon balm root easily in water. I use a lot of basil but rarely buy it because new plants are easy to grow.
  6. Plant directly in sterile potting soil. Use a pencil to poke the perfect size hole in the damp soil and use a dusting of rooting hormone. Most herbs will root well this way.
  7. Start these new plants in bright but indirect light until established.

Starting From Seeds

If this really interests you and you have room, go for it. If you are growing to cook this winter, start with small plants. I bought a small rosemary plant at the garden center for under $4.00. In a very few weeks, I will cook with some of it. Winter would be long over before seeds would be useful.

What Your New Indoor Plants Need

Light

This is the most important issue in your indoor herb garden success. Think about how herbs live. They are mostly sun-loving plants and a large percentage have Mediterranean origins.

The best location in most homes is a south or southwest-facing window. Most herbs prefer 6-8 hours of sun per day. Some (Parsley and Chive) will be happy with 4-5 hours. Remember also that, based on your climate, the window areas will be cold at night. Cold tender herbs such as basil will be damaged next to a window on a cold night.

Do you have glass sliding or folding doors? Large pots are attractive (and encouraging). They will remind you of spring) on cold winter days.

Rotate the plants on a regular schedule, this will ensure straight and balanced plants. If you are following a weekly feeding schedule, this is a good time to give the plant pots a quarter turn each week so that the plants turn fully each month.

Light Alternatives

Reasonably priced lighting alternatives are available if your house lacks sufficient sunny windows (particularly the kitchen). These choices include inexpensive clip-on lights and small light kits which will hold 4-5 smaller pots. Place the herbs between 5-15″ from the light. An hour in bright sunlight is equal to two hours under a grow light.

Choosing Pots

Use pots you like in your house. Ensure that every herb is in a pot with good drainage. There are advantages and disadvantages to each planter material. Here they are.

Combining Herbs In The Same Pot

This can be convenient and attractive. Pant together only those herbs with the same growing requirements.

  • Basil and Parsley-These require moist soil. Parsley is a biennial plant which grows a taproot. It requires a pot at least 12″ deep.
  • Rosemary, Thyme, and Sage- require drier conditions.
  • Mint- spreads vigorously and requires its own pot.

Porous Terra Cotta Pots

Terra Cotta Pot with plants

Terra Cotta pots have an organic look and are perhaps the most cost-effective of the natural-looking choices. Remember that the unglazed saucers will permit water damage if they are on a delicate surface.

Plastic Pots

We have garden-loving neighbors who turned 80 recently. Their new rule is only plastic pots-they can lift them! That’s an advantage, you can put them in larger pots or baskets if you want to change the look. Plants in plastic pots require less water than plants in porous pots.

Glazed Ceramic Pots

plant in ceramic pot in window

Ceramic planters will come in styles for any decor. They require less frequent watering than porous pots.

What To Put The Pots On

Use planter saucers under each plant and adding stones to the saucer will prevent the plants from constantly taking up water.

Use A Large Tray Below Your Plants

Leaks will happen. Use a plastic liner or tray under the plants.

Humidity

Our homes in winter can be dry. (We are now Floridians-we have the reverse of the problem; summer is when our air conditioners make the houses dry.)

Be prepared to mist plants as needed.

Soil And Soil Drainage

Use only sterile, high-quality potting mix. To see what components and certifications to look for try this article, Choosing Potting Soil. It discusses the features I have learned to value. Quality potting soil is designed to have appropriate drainage.

Water

If sufficient light is the single most significant measure of success with indoor plants, water ranks second!

Water decisions are compounded by the fact that every house is different. Your climate and method of heating will affect the speed at which your plants require water. Be observant when plants come into the house. If you are an indoor plant lover and you are new to indoor herb gardens be guided by what you have learned from other house plants. You will find that plants in some rooms use more or less water than others. Trust what you have already learned.

Some Good Tests Of Water Needs

  • Use the “finger test.” Learn the habit of sticking a finger one inch or two into the soil. Your manicurist won’t love it, but she’ll get over it! If the soil feels wet, don’t water that plant.
  • Check the sunlight, plants in bright light use more water. Look for signs of sunburned leaves; some spots can be too sunny for certain plants.
  • Check the humidity; plants in a dry house will require more water.
  • Look for yellowing leaves; this usually indicates too much water.
  • Look for signs of fungal diseases, fuzzy white or gray areas on stems and foliage. This will indicate too much water. Any badly damaged plants will spread disease and must be destroyed.

Food

  • Use a general-purpose liquid fertilizer according to its directions for container plants. If your fertilizer offers only directions for the plant in the ground, mix the fertilizer in the water at one fourth the normal strength. You should find good choices of organic, general-purpose fertilizer at your garden centers. Do not use Bloom feeders; your goal with edible herbs is foliage, not flowers.
  • Too much fertilizer is more damaging than too little.
  • Feeding weekly is efficient and easy to remember.

Temperature

This should not be a problem unless you live an unusually austere lifestyle. Anything between 50 and 75 degrees will make your plants happy. Basil prefers warmer temperatures, avoid cold windows at night.

Harvesting And Pruning Your Plants

Well, this is your whole objective, isn’t it! Follow the best practices you know in harvesting your plants. If you have not grown herbs successfully outdoors here are a few basic rules.

  • Start harvesting small amounts when your plants are at least 8″ tall. The leaves are most useful to you, but in many cases, you will enjoy the stems. For example, the stems of Parsley are excellent in soups and sauces. They seem to have even more flavor than the leaves.
  • Aim to keep your plants in a rounded, mound-like shape. This is the most productive and healthy shape for your edible herbs.
  • Never remove more than one-third of the plant at one time.
  • Trim plants that become woody on a regular basis. The tastiest leaves grow on new, young stems.
  • If you need to trim for shape, preserve the trimmings for later use. Put your trimmings in a glass of water. Basil, for example, will quickly become limp if left outside of water. Wash the trimmings and wrap in a damp paper towel in the refrigerator. They should last about a week. You can put most herbs in water, in ice cube trays to freeze. These are great for soups, stocks, and sauces.

Use Long Days When Bad Weather Keeps You Indoors

This is the time to invent something with herbs. Try these ideas.

  • Make Butter– soften a stick of butter, chop your favorite herbs, and possibly garlic, pepper, or even sweet flavorings. Mix them and form them into a log shape. Wrap this in parchment and freeze. Use these on busy nights, on steaks, chops, pasta, whatever you like.
  • Infused vinegar,
  • Herbal sea salt. Here is my favorite Rosemary sea salt to use as a model.

Resources You Can Use

Garden Resource Page– Check back often, I keep this updated.

Acclimating Plants from the Garden and Indoors

Culinary Herbs, Choosing, growing, and cooking with them.

Choosing Potting Soil

What To Do With The Herb Garden In Fall