Even though it is 75 degrees and sunny here in Arizona (after the summer I endured, I think I earned the right to gloat), I realized last week that it is winter in most of the country. During an extended layover in Salt Lake City, I found myself in a blizzard. I was disappointed I couldn’t see the mountains though the snowfall, but I enjoyed the festive change of season. Winter is beautiful and I love the excitement of the coming holidays; but with the snow and ice marks the end of the fall harvest and the garden-fresh produce.
With this simple trick, however, we don’t have to say good-bye to all the fresh greenery. Growing herbs indoors can be uplifting, rewarding, and delicious. I have done this with basil and it worked so well, I can’t wait to try it with other herbs.
How to grow herbs indoors from store-bought herb cuttings:
You can use either stems cut from your own garden or some bought in a bunch from your local farmers market. Even the fresh herbs you buy in the produce section of the supermarket can be fresh enough to thrive and grow for weeks or months in a jar of water. Go organic for this. (This technique is also good for turning many types of outdoor plants into instant houseplants to perk up your winter digs.)
Basil, mints, pineapple sage, oregano, sage, stevia, thyme, lemon balm, and many other herb cuttings will thrive in a jar of water on your windowsill for months. The only herbs that don’t grow well in water are annual herbs, such as dill and cilantro, which live just long enough to flower and then go to seed.
1. Get your “cuttings” To grow herb cuttings in water, select young, healthy, actively growing herbs with stems about six inches long. Cut them off the plant with a very sharp pair of scissors or pruners (for purchased herbs, cut off the bottom of the stem to leave a fresh, clean cut). Strip off all of the leaves from the lower two-thirds of the stem (saving them for cooking, too).
2. “Plant” your herbs Fill a clean jar that is deep enough to cover the stripped portion of the cuttings with water. Avoid distilled water, as it doesn’t have the traces of minerals your growing plants will need. Add water as needed to keep the water level in the jar up. Once roots form, the water will usually stay pretty clean. Put the jar in a sunny, warm place, keeping an eye out for roots. Once roots appear, you’ll start to see new growth on the shoots. Harvest individual leaves, or cut off the shoot tips as needed (they will regrow below the cut). If you don’t see any roots within a couple of weeks, toss out any cuttings that are rotting. Hey, it happens to the best of us sometimes. SOURCE
OR, to go the more traditional route and actually grow herbs from plants and dirt:
1. Find your container. Unglazed terra cotta pots, like in the photo above, are great because they are porous and help prevent your plants from getting water-logged, but any sort of container should work, just make sure it has good drainage. Plant your little starts in organic potting soil and water well.
2. Give your plants plenty of light. Most herbs need at least 6 hours of direct sun every day. Put them in a sunny window, sunroom or greenhouse. If your herbs get light from only one side, turn them once in a while so that all sides get the light they need for even growth.
3. Drench and dry. Water your herb plants until you see it flow from the drainage hole. Then, empty the saucer so that the soil doesn’t continue to soak up water. Allow the top inch of soil to dry between waterings. Check your herbs often in the heat of summer — they may need watered more often than usual. Herbs kept outdoors are thirstier, so if you shift your plants outdoors for the summer, check on them every day. SOURCE
Wondering which herbs to grow?
Thanks to this article for the breakdown:
Bay Tree: A very slow grower. Be sure you pick up a Laurus nobilis, it is best for cooking with. Bay tree can become infested with scale if it gets too dry—use dishwashing detergent to wash off the leaves, then rinse them thoroughly.
Chive: Doesn’t require as much light as some other herbs. The Grolau variety was bred for growing indoors.
Kaffir Lime Tree: Kaffir lime leaves are often used in Thai cooking. Be sure you give this plant special citrus food.
Lemongrass: A good way to cheat, because it requires no soil; you can just use a stalk you get at the market. Make sure it has a good amount of stem and the bottom is intact; trim the top and put it in a container with a couple of inches of water. It will send out roots and new sprouts and many, many new stalks from the bottom, and you can just cut those off and use them.
Mint: Very invasive, so it needs its own pot. Peppermint is great for teas, and you’ll only need a little of it. You usually need a lot of spearmint for recipes, so it may not be worth growing in a container.
Parsley: It doesn’t need much sun, but it’s a slow grower so may not yield a whole lot.
Vietnamese Coriander: Almost identical in taste to cilantro and very, very reliable.
Oregano: Try the Greek variety. Needs a lot of light.
Rosemary: Keep it on the dry side and look for an upright variety like Tuscan Blue or Blue Spire. It needs a very sunny window and probably supplemental light. Since you don’t need a lot of it for cooking, it’s a good herb to grow. It’s very sensitive to overwatering.
Thyme: It will likely need supplemental light. Look for lemon thyme, which has a unique flavor and can’t easily be purchased in markets.
Basil: It’s a favorite to cook with, but it’s a tough one to grow. Your best shot is to grow it during the warm, bright summer months. Try the Spicy Globe or African Blue variety, the latter of which is more like Thai basil and does well indoors.
Cilantro: Cilantro is the name for the stems and leaves of the coriander plant. It often bolts, meaning it starts growing flowers and seeds instead of leaves. Try sowing coriander seeds in a shallow flat (a plastic tray), then eat them as sprouts, root and all. Sow the coriander seeds quite thickly, like almost paving but not quite. Only let seedlings get about four to five inches tall, then pull them up, roots and all, and wash them. To make this economica just pick up coriander seeds in bulk at a health food store.
Sage: Sage is more susceptible to mildew and is very sensitive to overwatering. If you want to try it, though, go for the dwarf sage, which is more compact than regular sage.
To find more of my favorite articles on winter gardening, visit me on pinterest.com/maryjolley