How to grow herbs indoors – A beginners guide

Growing herbs indoors is an everyday luxury that will add many benefits to your home and kitchen. Herbs look and smell great, do not require much space, are fantastic to use in your cooking and growing them indoors means you have fresh herbs year-round.

And as many herbs are perennials, by taking good care of your herbs in pots, the same plants can provide you with a good supply of culinary herbs year after year.

There are several different ways to approach growing herbs indoors. Simply put, you can make it easy or complicated and as cheap or expensive as you like.

Here we will introduce you to 3 different ways of growing herbs indoors. The good news is that they all work, but they may have different yields when it is time to harvest.

3 methods to grow herbs indoors:

But before we look at the specific growing methods, let’s look at how to grow indoor herbs and the best herbs for your indoor herb garden.

How to grow fresh herbs indoors

Herbs can be grown successfully indoors as long as you follow some basic rules.

Herbs need light to grow

All herbs need light to grow indoors. Ideally you place your herbs in a window with the most hours of sunlight during the shorter, cooler fall and winter days.

Most herbs need about 6 hours of direct natural light. Depending on your location you may need to use an artificial light source during the darker periods of the year.

You can use purpose built horticultural LED grow lights or a standard 40 watt bulb with cool white fluorescent light.

2 foot , 2 tube T5 fluorescent grow light is a good budget option
One of the grow lights I use for herbs indoors year-round

When using supplemental lighting from an artificial light source you need to provide 14-16 hours of light per day to achieve the best reults.

You want to place your light source close to your plants but you also need to be aware of the amount of heat the light source generates. Start with a distance of 15 – 30 cm (6 – 12 inches) and adjust as needed.

Potting mix and pot to use for indoor herbs

You want a neutral to slightly acidic and well drained potting mix with a pH of around 6,5 (7 is neutral). If you buy a ready made potting mix you will find that it will be a good potting mix for planting herbs.

Potting soil, compost, perlite, vermiculite and peat moss for the ideal mix
Peat moss, compost, potting soil, perlite and vermiculite in search of the perfect mix

If you start your herbs from seeds you should use a lean potting mix as all the nutrition needed for germination is contained in the herb seeds.

As the seedlings develop and mature you can transplant the young plants into clay pots with drainage holes and a richer potting mix.

You can use any type of pots or containers as long as there are adequate drainage holes to help you keep the soil moist. Herbs need moisture but will not grow well if planted in wet soil.

I recommend using terra cotta or clay pots with drainage holes as the material breathes. Make sure you place the pot on a saucer as excess water will drain out from the drain holes and prevent soggy soil sitting in the bottom of the pot.

Temperature and humidity growing herbs indoors

Your herbs will grow and thrive in a comfortable indoor climate of 18-24 degrees Celsius (65-75 deg F).

Air circulation is important and try to avoid extremes. Do not group plants too close together as it can hinder air from circulating and invite problems with pests and diseases.

By the same logic you do not want to place your herbs by a circulation vent or on top of a hot radiator as you want your herbs to have a stable environment.

Watering your indoor herb plant

Water your herbs regularly using room temperature water. Tap water works fine but make sure it is room temperature to avoid shocking the plants. Test the temperature using your elbow if you are unsure.

Bottom watering is the best way to water your indoor herbs without risking wet leaves and compressed soil.

Some herbs like sage, oregano and thyme like to dry out slightly between watering. Read our guides on how growing herbs from seeds if you are unsure.

Fertilizing indoor herbs

If you are growing your herbs in a rich and fertilized potting mix you will not need to add any fertilizer for your first harvest cycle.

Herbs that grow back will however benefit from a boost of fertilizer every 2-4 weeks as they mature. Start gently with half the recommended dosage and find a balance that works for you. You can always add more fertilizer if needed and herbs respond quickly.

Adding too much fertilizer can kill rather than make your plants grow. Perennials may be worth saving if you over fertilize, but with annual herbs it is usually better to simply start over with a new plant if you over fertilize.

Three methods for all budgets

The most popular method is of course to place our pots with herbs on the window sill. During the darkest periods of the year we need to use LED or grow lights to help the herbs grow and develop.

Dill likes full sun
Dill is a sun loving herb

Also, if you use a plant lamp you will be able to place your herb garden inside the kitchen. This not only looks great, the smells remind us of summer year round too.

There is of course also the option to invest in an indoor herb garden kit if you want a turn-key solution.  

Indoor herb garden kits can be pricey but there are also budget options that work well. 

Herb garden kits often come with plant holders and nutrient solutions but you are of course limited by the number of allotted spots where you can place plants, thus limiting the number of plants you can grow.

Hydroponic herb gardens are another popular method for growing and cultivating herbs indoors. Popular as they do not require a lot of space and do not require green fingers.

Another bonus is of course that we do not need potting mix in our indoor hydroponic herb garden.

The 8 best beginner indoor herb plants

All 8 herbs listed can be grown using indoor herb garden kits, hydroponic herb gardens as well as indoors on the window sill using LED lights during the darker times of year. 

Your main challenge when growing herbs indoors is always going to be light. Your herbs need 6-8 hours of natural light per day. This does call for ingenuity as it means a minimum of 10-14 hours of artificial light for herbs to grow indoors during the darker times of the year. 

1. Basil

Basil prefers a bright and warm spot and is an ideal herb to grow when you are using a LED or grow lamp. 

Harvest the tops continually for use in delicious dishes, salads and pestos. Doing this will also ensure that your basil plant grows bushier.

And there are so many different varieties to choose from. Apart from the common or great basil my favorites are Thai basil and Cinnamon basil.

My favorite is to use the basil tops to make a delicious Caprese Salad. 

Slice the juiciest tomato you can find. Put creamy mozzarella and a fresh basil leaf on top. Now drizzle with a good olive oil and balsamic vinegar and finally sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste.

2. Curly or flat leafed parsley

Parsley grows quickly when the plant gets established. 

Much like coriander, the parsley plant will not grow new shoots once harvested and therefore needs to be planted and grown in batches. 

The curly parsley varieties are milder in flavor and are used for cooking as well as garnish and decoration. The flat leafed parsley is more intense in taste. 

3. Chives and chinese chives

Chives are one of the most useful herbs in the kitchen. I also recommend trying Chinese chives that are more like a vegetable than a herb and offer a slight garlic flavor. 

We harvest chives by cutting off the leaves, leaving only about five centimeters (1,5 inches) to allow for re-growth. 

4. Lemongrass

A perfect herb for Asian cuisine in combination with coconut milk. Harvest the new shoots as they grow and watch them re-grow. The golden rule to harvest little and often truly applies for lemongrass. Lemongrass needs nutritious potting soil to thrive.

5. Thyme

Thyme is well suited for growing indoors but needs light to thrive. Thyme is not a fast grower but offers a great flavor to savory dishes like roasted meat, vegetables and fish. 

Thyme wants a leaner well drained soil to thrive. 

6. Oregano

Oregano is a must for all Mediterranen tomato based dishes and sauces. Oregano needs a lot of light to thrive and much like thyme prefers a lean well drained soil. 

7. Mint

Mint is easy to grow indoors and comes in several exciting varieties that all offer a slightly different taste profile.

Mint is popular to use in Middle Eastern cooking and is a must in one of my favorites, tabbouleh.

Mint can be an expensive herb to buy and therefore is ideal to grow indoors for year- round supply.

Curious about tabbouleh? This Arab salad mixes bulgur, fresh parsley, fresh mint, green onion, tomato and garlic for a delicious, fresh feast. Eat cold or at room temperature to release all the flavours. Seasoned with olive oil and lemon juice to taste.

8. Coriander (Cilantro)

Feel free to skip this part if you belong to the part of the population that thinks coriander tastes like soap.

But for the rest of us coriander is a must-have herb for Asian food and cuisine. 

We need to grow coriander in batches as the plant will not produce new shoots after harvesting. Coriander is a fast-growing and relatively hassle-free herb to grow indoors.

Also, when the coriander plant blooms the plant will stop growing completely. If this happens, this is a great opportunity to let the flowers bloom out to harvest new seeds for planting. 

The coriander seeds will be ready for harvesting after about 3 weeks of flowering. Cut the stems and hang them upside down in a brown paper bag. When the seeds ripen they will fall into the bag. 

Budget: Growing herbs on sunny window sill

Most people start by planting a few seeds or buying plants at a local garden center or grocery store.

We then place the pots in the kitchen and hope to snip fresh herbs from our new indoor plants the entire year.

Rosemary requires patience from seed
Rosemary first leaves – also try to grow rosemary from cuttings

This is of course the easiest way to get started with an indoor garden. And with a few adjustments this method can yield good results with both annual and perennial herbs.

Ideally we can place our little herb garden in a sunny windowsill in the kitchen. It looks great and the smells are wonderful.

But truth to be told the kitchen is not always the best place for your herbs. Herbs need light, a stable temperature and good air circulation to grow and unfortunately care less about the atmosphere they create.

To stay on budget we use a regular LED light to give the herbs a minimum of 10-12 hours of light per 24 hour period.

Most herbs will grow well with a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day. But when we use artificial light indoors we need to double the hours. We have to increase the hours as we cannot replicate the bright light from the sun that we sometimes take for granted. 

I always place my LED lights on a timer to run overnight. Electricity prices are lower and all of a sudden the natural light during the day becomes a welcome bonus for my herbs.

I do not recommend using regular light bulbs as they emit too much heat if they are placed close to the herbs. And if you place them at a distance you may not get enough light. So stick to energy efficient LED lights or splurge for a specialized horticultural LED grow light if your budget allows.

I recommend re-potting herbs bought from local garden centers or grocery stores in new pots with fresh potting mix.

Easy: Using indoor herb garden kits

When you buy an indoor herb garden kit you get a turnkey solution. You will have all you need from day one. At least if you pay attention and choose the right kit.

We have already established that herbs need light to thrive. Make sure that the indoor herb garden kit you buy includes grow lights.

If not, you will be back to square one looking for an additional light source.

Many indoor herb garden kits will include fancy plant markers, guaranteed-to-germinate seeds and custom indoor pots. But no proper lighting.

A sunny window sill works great for spring and summer but will not give sufficient light during the darker periods of the year.

I am currently comparing a couple of different kits. I will post my findings when I have finished evaluating.

But I will say one thing already now. If you are in the market for an indoor herb garden kit you most likely want a turnkey solution. 

I recommend you spend a little bit more and get a kit with proper lighting.

Fun: Buy or build a hydroponic herb garden

Hydroponics is a fun and smart way of growing herbs indoors.

With hydroponics we use water instead of soil. And it may seem confusing but it is actually quite simple when we break it down.

Hydroponic net pot to germinate seeds
Net pot with germinating arugula seeds

Every now and then we have to add nutrients or fertilizers to our pots and vegetable gardens. In our controlled environments there is not enough input of organic matter for the system to be self-sufficient. 

And plants do need nutrients to thrive. But plants do not care if we use soil or water to provide these necessary nutrients.

Hydroponics is simply a growing environment where we use water as the transporter of nutrients to our growing plants.

Much like with our soil based pots and gardens we need to add nutrients to our hydroponic system.

For our plants to thrive in our hydroponic garden they need water, nutrients, light and oxygen. That’s it.

Hydroponics – the essentials

And to deliver these essentials our hydroponic herb garden needs the following to work.

  • A container to hold the water
  • Growing plugs or sponges to plant seeds or seedlings
  • Net pots that fit holes in container for our grow plugs or sponges
  • Liquid nutrient to add to water
  • LED light source

Hydroponics is an ideal solution for indoor growing where space is an issue. We get a much better yield and it is all about following the instructions. No green fingers needed.

Hydroponics is ideal for growing herbs, leaf vegetables, chilis, peppers and tomatoes.

It is a fantastic feeling to harvest fresh homegrown herbs all year round. We grow year round and always preserve anything that we do not use up fresh.

Mistakes to avoid when growing herbs indoors

Forgetting to change the placement of the plants

Light is critical if we want our herbs to thrive. And the light changes quite drastically depending on the season we are in. 

For the herbs to thrive in a windowsill herb garden we may need to change from a south facing window to a west facing window depending on the time of the year and the herb.

Mediterranean herbs like rosemary and oregano want as much sun as possible whereas a herb like Chervil does not tolerate too much direct sunlight. A good rule of thumb is to protect herbs with delicate leaves from direct sunlight. Parsley is another example of a popular herb and will tolerate full sun but also thrive in half shade.

During colder times of year you should also make sure that there is not too much cold air around the plants. Windows do insulate but can still give off a draft or a cooler temperature.

Choosing the wrong window

Many herbs like rosemary and coriander (cilantro) will not thrive in dark spots. Herbs do need a lot of light to grow and develop. 

But direct sunlight can also be harmful where the warmest rays will burn the plants.

Choose a window with enough light but where it does not get too hot. 

And if it is a hot place, you can try to move the plants away from the window or hang a translucent sheet that lets in light but dampens the heat from the rays.

Three methods for any budget to grow herbs indoors
A selection of Mediterranean as well as moisture loving herbs grown indoors
Sources:
https://www.uvm.edu/sites/default/files/Extension-Master-Gardener/Growing_Herbs_Indoors.pdf

https://extension.psu.edu/growing-herbs-indoors

Meet the author: Mattias is an experienced gardener spending most of his free time on his knees among herbs, plants and garden vegetables. For the past two years he has been sharing gardening projects and how-to tutorials on the NordicLavender website and YouTube channel.