Lots of indoor plants are only for looking at - but if you want something more productive, in a sunny indoor spot, it is also possible to grow edible plants such as herbs. Here are my top 10 tips to get your indoor herb garden started.
Tip 1: Lots of bright light.
Herbs need to grow with lots of light. Sunshine is vital for herbs to thrive and taste good. To grow herbs indoors or on a balcony, there must be plenty of bright light – a north-facing aspect is ideal. Find a sunny windowsill, or position a plant stand beside a sunny window so that the plant receives maximum light. If necessary, supplement natural light with artificial grow lights.
Tip 2: Be ruthless.
Plants that aren’t getting enough sunlight will be lanky, flavourless and may be subject to pest and disease problems. If you suspect your herbs are suffering from these ailments, discard them and return to growing ornamental indoor plants. If plants are growing towards the light, rotate the pot a little each week so all of the plant is exposed to good light.
Tip 3: Make the right choices.
The easiest herbs to grow indoors are basil, mint, chives and parsley. Some trailing herbs such as thyme and oregano may also grow. Also try aloe vera, along with herbs for pets such as catnip and cat grass. If there’s plenty of sunlight, you may even have success with a bay tree.
Tip 4: Container choice matters.
Use a broad but shallow container in a plant stand or a series of small pots (at least 150mm across) that can be positioned comfortably on a windowsill. The growing container must have drainage holes in its base and should not sit in water (regularly empty the saucer or cover pot as water accumulates).
Tip 5: The ideal potting mix.
Fill the containers with a specialist herb and vegetable mix, like Supersoil Professional Herb & Vegie Potting & Planting Mix, for best results. Top with fine gravel mulch.
Tip 6: Be sparing with plant food.
A liquid feed every three to four weeks will be enough to encourage steady new growth in most herbs growing indoors.
Tip 7: Water works.
Water herbs when the potting mix is beginning to dry out (the pot will feel light when it is lifted or the mix will feel barely moist when poked). If the growing area is hot and sunny and the plants are in small pots they will need frequent watering. Always allow water to drain from the container and empty pot saucers.
Tip 8: Look out for pests.
Pest problems usually indicate that growing conditions are unsuitable. Don’t just reach for a plant spray. Most pesticides (products used to treat insect or disease problems) are not registered for use on edible plants including herbs. Always read the label before applying any pesticides to herbs. Instead try physical controls for example, if there are caterpillars feeding on the plants, remove them by hand. Prune away any growth affected by scale.
Tip 9: Harvesting and pruning.
Herbs do best with constant picking to encourage new growth. Snip off tips or pluck individual leaves as needed. From time to time snip out twiggy growth or prune lanky or woody growth to encourage new shoots. Also groom plants to remove any damaged or diseased leaves.
Tip 10: Restock regularly.
Herbs grown indoors are not going to last forever. Rapid growers such as basil and parsley should be replanted regularly through the warmer months of the year. As the herb plants become tall and woody, harvest all the usable leaves then start again with fresh seedlings or small, leafy plants. Excess herbs can be dried or frozen in ice-cube trays to prevent wastage.