You can grow herbs indoors this winter and add that just-picked taste to your meals, even when snow is drifting up against the kitchen window. You don't even need special lights—herbs fare just fine in a bright window. Here are the best herbs for growing on windowsills and the smart techniques you need to keep them happy and healthy until you can plant outside again.
Smart Techniques for Growing Herbs Indoors
Rooting a cutting
Many herbs—including oregano, thyme, rosemary, and sage—are best propagated for indoor growing by taking a cutting from an existing outdoor plant. To do it, snip off a 4-inch section, measured back from the tip. Strip off the lower leaves and stick the stem into moist, soilless mix, such as perlite and/or vermiculite. To ensure good humidity, cover with glass or clear plastic, and keep the growing medium-moist.
Transition to indoors
Before the first fall frost (while the weather is still on the mild side), start moving your potted herb plants toward their winter home. Instead of bringing them directly inside, put them in a bright, cool "transitional zone," such as a garage, entryway, or enclosed porch, for a few weeks.
Once they've acclimated, move them to an area with lots of sun (south-facing windows are brightest, followed by east or west views). But protect them from heat and dryness. Most herbs prefer daytime temperatures of about 65 to 70 degrees F, although they can withstand climbs into the 70s. It's especially important that night temperatures drop at least 10 degrees—down into the 50s would be better—to simulate outdoor conditions.
With the exception of basil, they'll even do well with occasional dips into the 40s. (So turn that thermostat down when you go to bed.) Place them outside on mild days, and give them regular baths to wash off dust.
Water, light, and temperature
Most herbs like to be well watered but don't like wet feet. That's why good drainage is important. Water when the top of the container feels dry, or learn to judge the moisture in the soil by the weight of the pot. Add sand or vermiculite to the potting soil to ensure good drainage.
Learn to juggle water, light, and temperature. An herb in a clay pot in a south-facing window will need more water than one in a plastic pot in an east, or west, facing window. If the light is low, keep the temperature low.