Fresh herbs are a must in any cook’s arsenal. But let’s be real: you probably don’t keep them in your kitchen. Store-bought herbs often wilt in a matter of days, garden-planted herbs are tough to grab at a moment’s notice, and dried herbs just don’t taste the same as fresh ones.
The solution? Grow an herb garden on your kitchen windowsill. Sure, your windowsill may seem like an unlikely place for a garden. But since windows get plenty of sun, they’re ideal for growing plants.
“A kitchen windowsill is the perfect place to grow herbs indoors because of the convenience of snipping off some herbs while you are cooking,” gardening expert Marc Thoma says. “The windowsill will also allow your herbs to get lots of natural sunlight.”
DIYing a kitchen windowsill herb garden may sound intimidating, but it’s actually pretty easy. With the right tools and a little time, you can get your garden up and running—and ready to be harvested.
Meet the Expert
- Marc Thoma has been growing vegetables, fruit, and herbs for over 15 years on the West coast of Canada. He teaches families how to grow their own food on his blog, Tranquil Urban Homestead, and has written two books.
- Melinda Myers is a gardening expert with over 30 years of horticulture experience. She has written more than 20 gardening books, hosts the nationally syndicated gardening program “Melinda’s Garden Moment,” and is a tenured professor with a master’s degree in horticulture.
- Working time: 1 hour
- Total time: 2 hours
- Skill level: Beginner
- Material cost: $60
When to Grow Herbs in Your Windowsill
You can grow herbs on your kitchen windowsill all year long, and you can plant your windowsill herb garden during any time of year. But if you decide to plant your garden during a cold month or season, there are a few things to be aware of:
- During cold seasons, some herbs may be out of stock at your local garden center. So you may not be able to buy the herbs you want to plant.
- Cold months often mean darker, shorter days. Your herbs may not get much natural light, and you may want to consider a grow light.
- On very cold nights, you may need to move your herbs away from the window to avoid cold damage.
If you don’t mind a little extra work, feel free to start your windowsill herb garden any season. But if you want to make things as easy as possible, consider planting your herb garden when it’s warm outside.
Tools and Supplies You Will Need
Before you begin, gather the following materials:
- Wood board (optional)
- Hammer (optional)
- Nails (optional)
- Grow light (optional)
- Seeds or seedlings
- Watering can
- Pruning shears
Step 1: Pick the Perfect Windowsill
Choosing the right windowsill is the first step in growing a successful kitchen windowsill herb garden. But how can you tell which windowsill is best? Experts recommend finding a south-facing window. Because of the way the sun rises and sets, south-facing windows let in the most bright light throughout the day.
“Most herbs need 6 to 8 hours of bright direct light a day,” Melinda Myers, gardening expert, says. She and Thoma agree: south-facing windows are best. East-facing and west-facing windows can work. And north-facing windows are unlikely to provide enough light.
Once you’ve landed on a potential window, peek through it to check for obstructions. Are there any nearby buildings or trees reducing the amount of light your herbs will get? Then, double-check the size of the windowsill. According to Thoma, you want a windowsill that’s at least 6 inches deep to give your herbs enough room to grow.
“If your windowsills are not that deep, you can nail or screw on a wood board to extend their size,” he says.
If your herbs are growing extra-long stems, developing pale leaves, or bending toward the window, they may not be receiving enough light. Consider moving them to a new windowsill or supplementing your natural light with a grow light.
Step 2: Choose Your Herbs Thoughtfully
Once you have your garden set up, it’s time to decide which herbs to grow. There’s an easy way to do this: make a list of herbs you like to cook with (or that you would like to cook with). Then, you have two options. You can plant everything on your list and see how it goes, or you can make things easy on yourself by looking up which of those herbs are easiest to grow indoors.
“Start with those, and expand as you gain experience and confidence,” Myers says. “Or just grow what you want, take notes, and see how it goes—the worst thing that can happen is you lose some plants.”
If you’re still not sure where to begin, Myers has a few starter herb recommendations:
- Basil: This herb loves bright light, needs well-drained soil, and hates the cold.
- Parsley: This easy-to-grow herb does best with a deep pot, moist well-drained soil, and lots of bright light.
- Sage: This herb needs bright light and well-drained soil, but it can tolerate cool temperatures once it’s established.
- Oregano: This herb thrives with bright light and well-drained soil, and it can handle cooler temperatures once it’s established.
- Thyme: This herb loves bright light and well-drained soil. And it can deal with cooler temperatures once it’s established.
- Chives: This hardy herb loves bright light, is “fairly” drought-tolerant, and can tolerate cool temperatures once it’s established.
Step 3: Plant Your Herbs in Pots
It’s time for the fun part—planting your herbs. And once again, you have a choice to make: Do you want to plant seedlings, seeds, or both?
Seedlings are young plants that have already started growing, so they’re typically pretty easy to care for. Seeds require a little more effort, but they’re often budget-friendlier than seedlings and tend to be available year-round, whereas some seedlings may not be available during colder seasons.
“For woodier herbs, such as rosemary or oregano, it is better to purchase a seedling plant from a nursery, as these can be harder to grow from seed,” Thoma says. “For leafier herbs, such as basil, starting them from seed is quite easy. Plus there’s the added satisfaction of having grown it yourself.”
If you opt for seedlings, your work is nearly done. Simply keep the plants in their current pots, and arrange them in your windowsill garden. Or move them to new pots, and arrange them in your windowsill garden.
If you choose to buy seeds, snag a few pots to plant your herbs in. Fill the pots with soil. And plant a few seeds in each pot. (Each seed packet should come with instructions that tell you how deep to plant each seed and how much space to leave between your seeds.)
Step 4: Water Your Herbs Periodically
Your herbs will need to be watered like any other plant, but figuring out the right watering schedule can be tough. Some of your herbs will need more water than others. And other factors—like how warm your home is, how humid your home is, and what pots you planted your herbs in—will also affect how much water your herbs need.
“Watering once a week may be enough,” Thoma says. But approach this rule of thumb with flexibility. Check on your plants each week, but make sure they actually need water before whipping out your watering can.
There are two ways to check whether your plant needs water. You can stick your finger in the soil to see how dry it is. “Stick your finger in the top inch of potting soil for plants that like moisture, and water when the soil is starting to dry,” Myers says. “For those that tolerate drier soil, check the top 2 inches of soil.” Or you can lift the potted plant. “It feels light, it needs water,” Thoma says.
If your plants are starting to wilt or drop leaves, they’re likely underwatered or overwatered. If the plant’s soil is dry when it’s wilting—and the plant stops wilting after you water it—it was probably underwatered. (You need to water it more often.) If the plant’s soil is wet when it’s wilting—and watering the plant only makes the wilting worse—it’s probably overwatered. (You need to water it less.)
Keep adjusting your watering schedule until all your herbs are thriving. It may take some trial and error, but that’s part of the fun of gardening.
When you water a plant, water will drain out of its pot. To keep that water from spilling all over your windowsill, keep a saucer underneath each pot. Make sure to empty that saucer every time it’s full, and consider filling it with pebbles to create more distance between your plant and the pooled water.
Step 5: Harvest Your Herbs
Harvesting your herbs isn’t just fun for you—it’s also good for your plants. “The more you harvest, the more new growth you encourage for future harvests,” Myers says, so don’t hold back. Cut off a few herbs every time you feel like using them.
Be sure to use a pair of gardening shears and trim your herbs strategically. “Make your cuts above a set of healthy leaves to keep plants looking good and [help] the wounds close quickly,” Myers says. These steps will keep your herbs in tip-top shape, encouraging your garden to thrive.