Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
February, 2010
Regional Report

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It is crucial to provide a bright and sunny location to grow healthy herbs indoors.

Growing Herbs Indoors

Have you ever wanted a fresh sprig of rosemary to garnish a roasting chicken? Maybe some fresh mint leaves to top off your tea or garnish a dessert? It is possible to have fresh herbs after a trip to the market, but wouldn't it be nice to go to the kitchen window and harvest from your own plants? Growing herbs at home is possible, but you must be up to the challenges.

When trying to grow herbs indoors one of the greatest challenges is our dry indoor air. The next consideration is light. So before you set out to buy starter herbs and all the necessities, consider how much time you want to invest. It is worth the time if you can provide the right conditions.

The ideal location in my house is the south-facing kitchen window. Most herbs need at least five to six hours of direct sunlight daily, which they can receive from a south exposure if there are not evergreen trees or other obstructions blocking the light from getting into the window. If you don't have the right kind of light exposure on the south or west side of the house, additional lighting will be necessary to supplement natural light. A plant light fixture or two-tube cool white fluorescent light can be used. The light source should be placed six inches above the plants to provide optimal light. Set the light on a timer so it comes on for a period of 14 to 16 hours daily.

Just as in the outdoor garden, herbs prefer relatively cool temperatures at night. The daytime regimen can be around 65 to 70 degrees F. while the night can drop to around 55 to 60 degrees F. Make sure the plants are spaced adequately for good air circulation and to offset any problems with leaf diseases. Set the pots or containers far enough from each other to allow the air to circulate and maintain more uniform temperatures. Avoid crowding the plants together.

If the air in your home is dry, make a few pebble trays to raise humidity. I use waterproof plastic saucers that are deep enough to hold a few inches of round pebbles. Keep the pebble layer filled with water so it will evaporate around the herbs. Just don't overfill the tray to allow the pots or containers to stand in water as this will lead to root rot.

Potting Soil
Don't skimp on the potting soil or use the least expensive brand. Herbs do best in moist, yet well-drained, soil mixes. Never use soil from the outdoor garden as this is too heavy and doesn't drain well. Select a potting soil or mixture that contains the proper combination of compost, sphagnum peat moss, perlite, or sharp sand. If the soil is too dry when removed from the package, lightly moisten it before planting your herbs. As a rule, herbs don't like to be fertilized often as this builds up soluble salts in the pot. If you must, dilute the plant food to half strength and apply once a month.

The best way to water herbs is to allow the potting mix to dry out slightly between watering. This will vary in your house depending upon temperature, humidity, light, and type of container. My best suggestion is to discover the correct watering pattern by poking a finger into the potting soil to check moisture. It sure beats guessing!

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