As much as we love a good houseplant, sometimes you want to put your green thumb to work in a more rewarding—and tasty—way. Enter the kitchen herb garden. An herb garden in your kitchen allows for easy access to fresh flavors, and it provides a nice pop of green in an otherwise utilitarian space.
These low-cost gardens are easy to start and maintain, and they'll soon become one of your favorite parts of your kitchen. Here's how to make your own.
Step 1: Pick Your Place
Before you even head to your local garden center, determine where your herbs will be planted. Use the brightest spot you can find in your kitchen, as herbs love sunshine. If your kitchen is dim, consider buying a growing lamp to provide extra 'sunlight.'
When thinking about placement, consider other factors too, like your pets. Many herbs are toxic to dogs and cats, so place your garden somewhere your furry friends can't easily reach, such as a high windowsill or shelf.
If your kitchen doesn't have a great spot for your herb garden, but it has a window, place your garden outside with a window box. Your herbs will be happier, and they'll still be easily accessible from your space.
What Are the Best Growing Conditions for My Herb Garden?
Your herbs will need 4 to 8 hours of direct sunlight each day. This is often best achieved by placing your garden near a sunny window. It can also come about with the help of some growing lights with a timer. However, there are a few shade-loving herbs you can plant in a darker space—try out lemon balm or dill.
Moisture levels are another important consideration. Herbs like rosemary, thyme, basil, and oregano don't mind drier soil, so don't plant them in the same pot as a moisture-loving herb like mint. Use a self-watering pot for an herb that likes consistent moisture levels.
Step 2: Decide What to Grow
There's no use growing what you won't eat. Your counter space is precious as is, so be picky about what you choose to grow.
Additionally, pick herbs that you use often, but not ones that you use all the time—there's no use growing cilantro if you'll use it all each week, as the herb will never have a chance to grow back. Instead, choose plants that are used regularly, but in small amounts; think rosemary or thyme.
Which Herbs Grow Best Inside?
Not all herbs grow well inside. Herbs that are tall and lanky, like cilantro or parsley, have a hard time growing well in small pots. It's better to use herbs that are bushy and sturdy.
Here are a few of our favorites:
- Basil: Basil is an herb garden classic, and for a good reason. Its smaller, wider shape means it works well in pots, and it's easy to pinch off leaves as you need them. But, like most herbs, basil won't last forever. Expect to get several weeks out of the herb before it starts to fade away.
- Chives: Chives make the perfect garnish, and they're the perfect kitchen herb, too. As long as chives aren't trimmed too short, they'll continue to re-sprout.
- Mint: Mint will fill your kitchen with a refreshing smell, and it's easy to take care of. But, low maintenance doesn't mean no maintenance—left to its own devices, mint will grow and grow, so keep it trimmed or place it in its own pot.
- Oregano: Oregano is part of the mint family, and it grows just as well. Plant oregano and use it in one of the many cuisines where it's a featured flavor, like in Central American and Middle Eastern cooking.
- Rosemary: Rosemary is one of those herbs that you never need that much of and end up wasting the other sprigs in those little plastic grocery store packs. Create less waste by growing rosemary yourself. It's hardy, sturdy, and can provide some height contrast next to more bushy herbs.
Step 3: Gather Supplies
You'll need a few pots for your herb garden: look for ones that are at least 6 inches deep and around 6 inches wide. You'll need one 6-inch pot per herb, but you can buy a larger or longer pot and place multiple herbs in it. Make sure your pots have saucers to catch excess moisture, or you risk damaging the counter or windowsill they sit upon.
Your soil is important, too. Look for a potting mix as it is formulated to help with moisture and drainage—a big issue in container gardening. Pick up some fertilizer too, as you'll need to fertilize your herbs regularly.
Step 4: Don't Start From Seed
Unless you consider yourself a master gardener, don't start your herbs from seed. Though it's cheaper, it requires a lot more time, attention, and care. Instead, shell out a few more bucks for herb seedlings. You can find them at your local nursery or big-box garden center, or at grocery stores like Whole Foods or Trader Joe's.
If the space for your herbs is tight, try to find dwarf or miniature varieties of herbs. A dwarf variety will ensure your plant doesn't get too big and bushy.
Step 5: Plant Your Herbs
Break out the potting soil and the miniature mint—it's time to plant. Take your herbs out of their small pots and transplant them into their new homes. Plant each herb according to the grower's instructions, taking care to transplant them deep enough and far enough away from other herbs. Loosen their root balls as they're transplanted, and finish by watering each herb to allow it to settle.
Step 6: Maintain Your Indoor Garden
Once everything has been planned and planted, turn your focus to maintaining your kitchen herb garden. Water your herbs sparingly—they only need water if the soil is dry an inch or two below the surface.
Fertilize your herbs every other month with a fruit, vegetable, or herb fertilizer. Start out by adding less fertilizer to your garden and only increase if your herbs seem to be growing especially slowly. As a general rule, your garden will grow slowly in the winter and faster in the summer.
Another rule of thumb is to not let your herb garden flower—snip off buds as you see them, and trim your herbs regularly to encourage bushy growth. One herb may need to be trimmed differently than the next, so do some research before your start snipping.
But, once you're ready to use your herbs, don't chop them all off at once. Instead, only trim off one-third at a time. Any more than that, and you risk stressing your herbs and causing them to die.