Indoor Herb Garden

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Indoor Herb Garden

In my quest to find an optimal indoor herb garden setup, I tried to optimize for these factors:

  • Nice design
  • Not too expensive (under 40 USD)
  • Enough space for herbs to grow healthily, not take up too much counter-top space
  • Soil based
  • Easy to grow & maintain for beginners

See my findings below. I have spent multiple hours researching this article from reputable sources [1,2,3] so that you don’t need to. Read below to find out more!

Table of Contents

Which herbs do you want to grow?

Buying herbs or growing from seed?

Optimal Growth Conditions for Most Herbs

Sunlight/Light

Temperature

Soil

Pots to use & spacing

Watering & Fertilizer

My indoor herb garden setup

Which herbs do you want to grow?

Standard Mediterranean herbs include thyme, rosemary, oregano, bay laurel and basil. Perennial plants (i.e. can last multiple years) include rosemary, oregano, thyme, chives, bay laurel and mint. Other popular herbs include dill, sage, parsley, cilantro/coriander and tarragon.

Various herbs
From left to right: parsley, rosemary, thyme and bay laurel

Thyme, rosemary and oregano are one of the main components of herbs de provence (Provence is a region in the south of France) [4]. They work great with grilled foods and stews. 

Basil is one of the most popular herbs to grow. Most basil varieties are annuals and may only last a few weeks. Some varieties grown in tropical conditions are perennials [5]. It is one of the key ingredients in Italian pesto and can even be used in cocktails such as Basil Smash. Even though basil plants often do not last so long, you can easily use cuttings to keep your stock plentiful!

Chives can be used in omelettes, fish, potatoes, soups and other dishes [6].

Bay laurel is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine. They are often used in Italian pasta sauces and can be added to stews and removed before serving to provide additional flavor [7].

Dill is commonly used in soups, as toppings with boiled potatoes and butter and in dressings [8].

Parsley is often used as a garnish on potato or rice dishes, fish, different types of meat and in meat or vegetable stews [9].

Cilantro/coriander leaves are often used in chutneys, salad, salsa, guacamole and used as a garnish in soups, meat and fish [10].

Although each of the herbs have their own set of ideal growing conditions, I will generalize the process to keep things simple.

Buying herbs or growing from seed?

It is easiest to grow young herb plants bought at a local gardening store. Make sure to check for pests, such as aphids and spider mites [11,12] before buying.

Some plants can be easily grown from seed. These include dill, oregano, parsley, cilantro/coriander and basil. Other plants such as thyme, oregano, basil, mint and rosemary can easily be grown from cuttings [3]. I will not go into the details of how to grow from seed or cuttings in this article.

Optimal Growth Conditions for Most Herbs

Some key elements that all herbs require are the following:

  • At least 3-4 hours of direct sunlight per day, ideally 6-8 hours
  • Temperature between 60-70 degrees F (15-21 degrees C)
  • High quality soil
  • Enough space for roots to grow
  • Watering at frequent intervals every 2-3 days

Sunlight/Light

Indoor herbs should ideally be placed close to a south or west facing window (in Northern Hemisphere) to get the most amount of direct sunlight. Rosemary, thyme, basil, bay laurel and oregano really thrive with 6-8 hours of direct sunlight. 

East facing windows tend to be cooler than west facing windows. Herbs such as mint, parsley, chives and chervil prefer slightly cooler temperatures and less light.

If you do not have any window space or want to grow during winter, I would suggest a good full spectrum grow light (i.e. mimics sunlight) and a wall timer. You can experiment with different settings, such as 12-16 hours on and 8-12 hours off. More suggestions can be found at the end of the article.

Temperature

Try to keep the temperature around 70 degrees F (21 degrees C) if possible. If your window is not insulated properly the temperature could sink too low. In that case, you could either:

  • use winter hardy herbs
  • move the herbs further away from the window
  • use a different window
  • insulate the window

Some plants such as thyme, sage, parsley, tarragon and rosemary are more winter hardy and will tolerate temperatures as low as 10-15 degrees F (-12 to -10 degrees C)! Basil, on the other hand, does not like cold weather.

Soil

Most herbs prefer light free-draining soil (i.e. water drains through soil easily). The important thing is to use high quality soil, such as herb soil. Herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano and bay laurel can be planted in a 50% cactus mix, 50% potting soil. Basil prefers rich, organic potting soil. Regular potting soil or herb soil can be used for other herbs [1]. Read my plant nutrients article to learn more!

Pots to use & spacing

Store bought herbs are often placed in very small pots, leaving the roots no space to grow. You can easily check this by taking the plant out of the plastic pot by squeezing the plastic slightly and turning the herb sideways. When buying herbs in a store, place them in separate pots with some high quality soil. The pot should not be too big or small. Giving the pots space also improves airflow, which can help avoid disease [1].

Plant Spacing
Plant Spacing to Prevent Disease (HowToCulinaryHerbGarden.com)

It is super important that the pots have a drainage whole at the bottom and a saucer underneath the pot. Herbs, like a lot of other plants, do not like standing water, which can lead to root rot.

Watering & Fertilizer

Most herbs like the soil to dry out between watering. An easy rule of thumb is to put your finger in the soil. If the top 2 inches (5 cm) are dry, then it is time to water. The soil beneath will still be damp, motivating the roots to grow deeper into the pot [2].

Watering should be done at frequent intervals every 2 or 3 days. If you need to water more frequently, your pot is probably too small. Water the herbs slowly to let the soil absorb the water. A moisture meter can also help if you over- or under water [2]. If basil leaves start drooping, it is most likely a sign that they need more water.

You may want to fertilize every once or twice per month with liquid houseplant fertilizer. Read the instructions on the fertilizer and make sure to not use too much!

My indoor herb garden setup

I live in Norway, where it can get quite cold during winter. Luckily, there is plenty of sunlight during the summer! I have a south-facing window in my kitchen, where I plant my herbs. I wanted a pot with these features:

  • nice design
  • does not take up too much countertop space
  • gives enough space for herbs to grow healthily
  • Soil based
  • Easy to maintain
  • Not too expensive (< 40 USD)

I found a self watering container called the Lechuza Cube Color (not an affiliate link) in black. It uses wick irrigation, which lets the roots wick up the water they require. It also has a water indicator, making it easy to know when to water. Even though the watering happens inversely from normal, the topsoil actually gets moist!

Indoor Herb Garden
Growing herbs in my self-watering pot in my kitchen!

If you don’t have access to free sunlight, I would recommend an Aerogarden Sprout (not an affiliate link). It is not too expensive (70 USD on sale), includes a full spectrum grow light, has space for three herbs and uses hydroponics. This enables plants to grow quicker than in soil based systems. I have done hours of research on hydroponics systems and this is the best one I have found for beginners. I would recommend starting with the Gourmet Herbs Seed Pot Kit. If you want an easy set and forget system, this is the one I recommend. Getting refill pods can get expensive long term, but they do have a 21 day germination guarantee if your pod seeds do not germinate.

Aerogarden Sprout

Another option to consider is the Bamboo Mini LED Grow Light Garden (not an affiliate link) from Gardener’s Supply Company. It is more expensive (160 USD + 25 USD shipping), uses more space, but also provides more space for plants to grow. 

Bamboo Mini LED Grow Light Garden

The plants and pots must be bought separately. It can be wall mounted and includes more premium LEDs than the Aerogarden Sprout. (This can easily be checked by looking at the technical specs. The Bamboo Grow Light Garden gives the following values: 6400K; 1980 lm; 640 fc; 5W PAR; 25 μmol/s PPF; 108 μmol/(m2-s) PPFD). The Aerogarden Sprout, on the other hand, only mentions the LED’s power output.)

 The Bamboo Mini LED Garden will require more upkeep including watering, but also lets you experiment more than the Aerogarden. It is also easier to specialize watering and fertilizer usage with the Bamboo Mini LED Garden. It also includes integrated light shading so that you don’t stare directly in the bright grow lights.

Bamboo Mini LED Grow Light Garden

I have not tried the Aerogarden Sprout or Bamboo Grow Light Garden myself yet because of expensive shipping costs to Norway.

To summarize, choose what herbs you want to grow first. Then, buy some young herb plants at your local gardening store or grow from seed, get some high quality soil, some pots and start growing! Growing by a south or west facing window is ideal. Make sure the herb roots have enough space to grow and that the herbs are spaced apart to increase airflow. Water the herbs every two-three days. Use the finger test to figure out when to water.

If you don’t have access to a window and/or want to grow fresh herbs during winter, consider buying either the Aerogarden Sprout or a Bamboo Mini LED garden. Read my post about growing vegetables in pots here!

Photo of author

AUTHOR

Every since studying engineering, Bjorn has been interested in how technology can help grow plants quicker.

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