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Published July 25, 2022 by Nicole Burke

How to Start an Herb Garden Indoors

Filed Under:
herbs
beginner garden
garden tips
indoor gardening
herb garden indoor planter

Indoor Herb Gardening Is for Everyone

Looking for a way to grow a little something green during the long, dark winters? Start an indoor herb garden.

Want to grow a bit of your own food and feel the joy of harvesting something fresh for dinner even though you don't have any outdoor space? Start an indoor herb garden.

Ready to try your hand at growing plants but not ready to commit to a full kitchen garden? Start an indoor herb garden.

Fallen in love with microgreens and looking for more delicious leaves to grow indoors? Okay, you get the idea! Basically, if you're looking to grow low-maintenance and edible plants indoors, herbs are your gals.

The first time I experienced winter in zone 5, I had to do everything I could to stay warm and happy. For me, that meant surrounding myself with as much green as possible and starting an indoor herb garden in winter in a sunny, south-facing picture window. I packed my little planter with herbs from my local nursery, and those herbs not only survived winter, they thrived throughout the following summer after I moved them outdoors (see picture below).

Herbs are ideal to grow inside because you don't need a ton of space, sunlight, or gardening experience to keep them happy. Growing your favorite herbs for cooking means they're always at your fingertips for easy harvests. Another major bonus about growing your herb garden indoors: no weeding!

fully grown herb garden

5 Quick Tips to Start an Herb Garden Indoors

  1. Make sure your pots have good drainage holes. Herbs hate to have their roots sitting in water.
  2. Use a weed barrier cloth or something similar to keep soil from running out of your pot and making a mess every time you water.
  3. Use a soil blend that drains well and includes compost for nutrients.
  4. Give your plants plenty of space to spread out and grow to their full potential.
  5. Cross your fingers. If at first you don’t succeed, keep trying!
indoor herb garden

How to Start an Herb Garden Indoors

Follow these simple steps to create your own indoor herb garden on a windowsill or in another sunny location.

how to grow herb garden indoors

Step One: Select Your Container

The planter, pot, or container that you select should be big enough to fit the root ball of the herb you'd like to grow. The herbs I recommend growing indoors have shallow roots, which means your pot or container only needs to be 6 inches deep to contain them. Don't size up too much or the soil might stay wet too long and cause the roots to rot.

When selecting your container, choose natural materials. My favorites are cedar, steel, and terra cotta clay. Look for words like "food grade" and "untreated" to ensure you're using the most natural of materials for your organic herbs. I like terra cotta pots because they help regulate the moisture level and come with a nice, big drainage hole. They're also a great budget option but still quite attractive.

Step Two: Add Drainage Holes

Drainage is extremely important for growing herbs. I'd go so far as to say the surest way to kill an herb is to overwater it in a container with poor drainage.

If your planter, pot, or container doesn't already have good drainage holes in the bottom, make sure to add some with a drill. Space holes every 3 to 4 inches. You can test the drainage by pouring water in the container before planting up your herbs and making sure water can run out easily. Some gardeners have asked me about placing rocks in the bottom of pots instead of adding drainage holes; it might work if you're very sparing with water, but having clear drainage holes is the best way to keep your plants happy.

how to start herb garden indoors

Step Three: Prevent Messes

Before filling your container with soil, cut a small piece of landscape cloth, weed barrier cloth, or a coffee filter to fit inside the bottom of your container to keep the soil from leaving the container every time you water. Your future self will thank you for taking this extra step. As long as you use a porous material like weed barrier cloth, water will still be able to drain out of the bottom.

add weed barrier cloth to prevent indoor plant messes

Step Four: Fill Your Container with Soil

Fill your container with a well-draining, organic soil. I give you my recipe for the perfect soil blend for growing herbs in the Herb Garden Guidebook. Add 2 to 3 inches of compost to the top of your container to give your herbs a great start. I really like the organic mushroom compost from Espoma.

Step Five: Plant Herbs

Select your favorite herbs from the list of the best indoor herbs below.

If your container is larger than 6 inches in diameter, you could potentially grow several different herbs in the same space. Keep in mind that if you plant mint or lemon balm with other herbs, they will need to be kept in check or they'll try to take over the space.

Overall, herbs grow more vertically than they do horizontally, which means you can pack more plants together. If you do so, though, make sure you're prepared to harvest leaves often. This will ensure each herb plant has access to the sunlight and air circulation it needs.

(See our complete supply list for herb gardening on Amazon here. These are Amazon affiliate links, which means I receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you click on the link and purchase the item. All opinions remain my own.)

herbs for indoor garden

Create Your Own Indoor Herb Garden Planter

If you've got perhaps an extra-wide window ledge, an available table to scoot next to a window, or a little sunroom, consider creating an herb garden planter to grow several types of herbs (or different varieties of your favorite herb) together. Growing herbs in a larger container is a little easier than individual pots because the soil won't dry out as quickly.

Here are three options for easy herb garden planters on Amazon. If you're shopping around on your own, I recommend picking something at least a foot wide so that you can grow several different types of herbs in one container.

Place draping herbs near the sides so that they can cascade over the edges. Again, the closer together you plant your herbs, the more you'll need to come in and harvest to maintain plant health.

To see your future in full color, watch the video below to see what you could be able to harvest just a couple months after planting your own little container.

The Best Herbs for Indoor Growing

To grow well indoors, herbs should have shallow roots that make them ideal for pots only six inches deep and narrow enough to fit on a windowsill. They should also be able to handle different light situations, including receiving mostly indirect light. Woody herbs that we use a lot in our cooking like sage, thyme, and oregano tend to do well in a container.

Overall, the best herbs to grow indoors are herbs from the mint family, which includes:

  • basil
  • lavender
  • lemon balm
  • marjoram
  • oregano
  • rosemary
  • sage
  • thyme
  • summer savory
  • winter savory
  • mint

Chives and other greens from the onion family are also incredibly easy to grow indoors. It was a small pot of chives—a gift from my mom—that actually taught me the simple pleasure of cutting something green to toss on our food before meals.

While lemon balm and mint do well in containers, I recommend growing them in their own pot so you don't have to worry about them overtaking the roots of any neighboring herbs. The other herbs listed can be grown together or in their own small container.

herb seeds

Where to Source Herbs for Your Indoor Herb Garden Space

If you're going to buy mature herbs, the leaves will be ready for harvesting that very same day. I recommend buying organically grown plants from a local nursery rather than from a big box store (those guys often don't do well once you bring them home).

Many of the herbs you buy from the store come more than one to the pot (to make them look fuller). It's actually best to separate them before planting them in your herb garden so that each little plant has space to grow to its full potential. Gently tug the roots apart to avoid damaging them. Plant separated herbs immediately because they're super fragile. Give them a nice watering in.

You can also start your own herbs from seed. Try these five herbs you can easily plant from seed first. Basil in particular does really well planted from seed. My favorite sources for herb seeds are Baker Creek and Botanical Interests.

Master the art of growing your own herb garden and grow enough for a year round supply

Based on Gardenary's Introductory Gardening Online Course, Herb Garden Guide, this comprehensive guidebook will lead you through the step by step so that you know exactly how to grow all the culinary herbs you love right in your very own space. 

More Indoor Herb Garden Ideas

You might not consider garlic and onions herbs in the traditional sense, but they're great to grow indoors in pots. You won't be able to grow entire bulbs like you would outdoors, but you'll end up with lots of greens to snip and toss on soups and other dishes.

Unlike the woody herbs, garlic and onion bulbs can be grown in straight compost.

How to grow garlic indoors

Buy garlic bulbs from your local nursery or a seed supplier. These are more likely to thrive than store-bought varieties, though you can try to grow garlic from a bulb purchased at your grocery store.

Pull apart the garlic bulb, leave the papery outer skins intact, and plant each little clove a couple of inches apart in your pot or container (picture a mature bulb and make sure you leave at least that much space in between each clove and the edge of the pot). Push each clove about an inch into the soil, the pointy ends facing up.

Water your garlic bulbs in well, and then keep the soil moist after. Place your container in a windowsill and wait for shoots to grow from the tops of the cloves. You can continue cutting from the shoots and toss these flavorful little greens on salads, baked potatoes, omelettes, soups, and more—anything you'd like a lighter seasoning of fresh garlic added to. These shoots will keep coming back and coming back for months, until the garlic bulb is finished.

You can do the same with little onion bulbs grown from sets and harvest the onion sprouts.

UNLOCK VIDEO LESSONS TO GROW YOUR OWN HERBS

Learn the step by step to building, planting, and growing your own delicious herb garden for a year-found supply of herbs. Your Gardenary 365 membership includes access to the Herb Garden Guide, plus our entire content library.

How to Care for Your Indoor Herb Garden

5 Tips for How to Grow an Herb Garden Indoors

Follow these tips to keep your herbs happy and healthy once they're established:

  1. Make sure to monitor the soil's moisture often. Allow the top 1 to 2 inches of the soil to dry out before watering.
  2. Consider watering your herbs from the bottom. Place a saucer or flat-bottomed container underneath the herb pot and fill it with water. Allow the roots of the plant to soak up the moisture it needs for about 15 minutes. Discard any water that was not soaked up. Bottom watering is ideal to prevent fungus gnats on indoor plants. If you prefer to water from above, discard any remaining water in the plant's saucer after 15 minutes, or water your plants in your kitchen sink to allow excess water to drain away.
  3. Make sure your container is consistently getting 4 to 6 hours of sunlight.
  4. Rotate your plants every couple of days so that the leaves receive light evenly. Supplement with artificial light if needed (more on that below).
  5. Harvest frequently to encourage your herbs to produce more leaves for you.
herb garden indoor ideas

Herb Garden Indoor Light

Light is necessary for herbs to produce their distinctive flavors. That being said, most herbs only need 4 to 6 hours of sunlight to grow tasty leaves for you, though they'll produce even more if they're given their ideal hours of light.

You'll know your herbs are not getting enough light if they start getting leggy (tall and spindly) and/or the new leaves seem stunted compared to older ones. It's unlikely your herbs will received too much light indoors, especially during winter, but if they are, you'll notice that the leaves look bleached or scorched by the sun or the plant wilts midday despite the soil being moist.

Let's break down the best plants to grow based on the window space you have available:

South- or west-facing windows

South windows receive direct light all day long, while west-facing windows get direct light during the middle hours, making either situation ideal for plants that need full sun. Herbs that prefer more than six hours of natural light a day include rosemary, sage, thyme, marjoram, basil, and oregano.

North- or east-facing windows

This type of indirect light or direct light only in the early morning is best for herbs that can tolerate partial sun or shade. These herbs include mint, chives, and lemon balm.

Indoor herb garden with grow light

During the short days of winter, it might not be possible to give your herbs the natural light they need in a windowsill. An artificial source of light can help you maintain healthy herbs indoors when sunlight is lacking.

Look for a full spectrum light. I like these clip-on LED lights from Amazon, or similar versions that can easily attach to a shelf or ledge and be maneuvered over your herbs. There are also floor lamp versions for sale.

Look for lights with a timer or remote to simplify your life. You'll need these lights to stay on for 12 to 14 hours a day because artificial light is not the same as natural light.

herb cuttings for propagation

How to Harvest Your Indoor Herbs

Herbs can and should be harvested often once they're established in their new home. It's important to regularly prune the outer and lower leaves of your herbs to encourage more leaf production (and to have delicious leaves to eat).

When harvesting, use a clean pair of pruners or scissors to cut from the outermost branches of a mature plant (one that's about 4 to 5 inches in diameter), almost to the base of the plant. This will encourage your plant to branch out. You could also pinch the plant right above a leaf node to encourage the plant to form two branches from just one stem.

Follow the golden rule of harvesting and never cut more than a third of a plant at a time. Give your herb time to bounce back so that you can return for more harvests in the future. 

This simple harvesting method will tell your indoor plants to produce lots of lovely, lush leaves for you to eat all year long.

herbs for indoor herb planter

Time to Start Your Own Indoor Herbs

Starting your own small herb garden is the perfect introduction to kitchen gardening. You can fill it with herbs you plant from seed or healthy plants purchased from the store. Herb gardens work in any small space, even the windowsill of a high rise apartment.

Herbs don't take up much space, and they're easy to tend and harvest from. Cut some leaves and come back in a couple days for some more. Once you get a feel for caring for something so easy, you'll want to try your hand at more and more—and maybe you'll even make some more indoor herb planters for friends and family to inspire them to start developing their own green thumb, too.

Thanks for helping me bring back the kitchen garden, one small pot of herbs at a time!

UNLOCK VIDEO LESSONS TO GROW YOUR OWN HERBS

Learn the step by step to building, planting, and growing your own delicious herb garden for a year-found supply of herbs. Your Gardenary 365 membership includes access to the Herb Garden Guide, plus our entire content library.

How to Start an Herb Garden Indoors