A Guide to Growing Kitchen Windowsill Herbs

You don't need a backyard to grow lush basil, parsley, and other tasty herbs.

herbs in pots
Photo: YinYang / Getty

A kitchen windowsill herb garden brings nature indoors while also bringing fresh flavors to anything you cook. You can start your garden either with seeds or small plants, but keep in mind that seeds, though more affordable, involve more work and take longer to grow than a young plant. While a windowsill in the kitchen is most convenient for its proximity to meal prep, any window in your home will work. Ready to start planting? Check out a few tips to get you started.

Follow these basic steps.

If you plan to start your kitchen herb garden from seeds, make sure to read your seed packets carefully for detailed planting instructions. Generally, you'll need to start the seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost. Fill each of your containers with fresh potting soil up to one inch from the rim. Sprinkle a few seeds on top of the soil or, for larger seeds, bury them; cover with a bit of soil and pat down. Cover with a plastic wrap or dome to keep moist and promote germination. When seedlings start to show, remove the plastic.

If you want to start your window herb garden from a plant, put two to three inches of potting soil into a new, larger pot than the one your seedlings originally came in. Transfer the plants to a new container, gently teasing, or loosening, the roots so they flare out; otherwise, the roots stand a chance of strangling themselves. Add potting soil up to about an inch from the top of the container. Water thoroughly and immediately.

Decide on seeds or a plant.

Starting herbs from seeds is possible and rewarding, says Toby Adams, Director of the Edible Academy at the New York Botanical Garden, in Bronx, New York, but will take significantly more time to grow to the size necessary to begin harvesting. He recommends sourcing herbs from seedlings, which are young plants that grew from seed rather than a cutting.

Take a sunny position.

"Culinary herbs like full and direct sun, so it is important to locate a windowsill with this in mind," Adams explains. Be sure to read the tag that comes with each plant-it'll say how many hours of sun it needs to thrive. A south-facing window with six to eight hours of sun is best; if the sill gets only partial sun, you could install grow lights, often fluorescent bulbs, though they tend to be pricey.

Plant the herbs you cook with most often.

Mint, rosemary, basil, oregano, chives, parsley, and thyme all grow especially well on a windowsill, and you'll likely use these most in the kitchen. If there's another herb you love and cook with regularly, you should feel free to try planting it.

Give them space.

If you crowd a plant in a too-small planter, don't expect it to thrive. Its root system needs space to grow and if it doesn't have it, it won't be able to support the plant. For good growth, remove the herb from its original three- or four-inch pot and replant it in a container that's at least six inches wide with drainage holes and a waterproof saucer.

Put some herbs in solitary confinement.

Some herbs, such as mint and coriander, should never be planted with other herbs since they grow quickly and tend to take over the rest of the garden. If you intend to plant anything that may impact the growth of other herbs, you should put these in their own pots.

Mix it up.

"Many herbs are relatively compact and can be combined into one pot," says Adams. "Consider which herbs your favorite recipes call for and put together a pot or two such as basil, parsley, and thyme or rosemary, tarragon, and chives." If you want one container to hold a few different plants, make sure they all have the same sun, temperature, and water needs.

Don't forget these add-ins.

Once a month, fortify your plants with organic fertilizer or compost.

Water plants just enough.

As your garden grows, don't overwater plants until they get soggy. That'll cause root damage. For a healthy garden, water when the soil looks and feels dry.

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