Grow Your Own Herbs
You don’t need a full garden to reap the benefits of growing herbs (hint: it’s easy!)
Herbs can lend zest to any dish, sandwich, or soup, including Panera Bread® favorites like Thai Chicken Salad, with its sprinkle of cilantro. But buying herbs at the grocery store can get pricey. Luckily, you don’t need much of a green thumb to grow your own. In fact, you don’t even need a garden plot—a sunny windowsill will do just fine. Patty Hicks, a Portland, Oregon, nursery worker and propagator who gives demonstrations on how to grow herbs, offers her best tips to help you get started at home.
Find a sunny spot
If you don’t have one, hang fluorescent shop lights or place the lights on a shelf long enough to accommodate them. The lights should be about 2 inches from the tops of the plants. Locate the garden in a room that’s 65° to 70°F and has good air circulation.
Gather your supplies
You’ll need clean potting containers, a seed-starting soil mix, trays to hold the pots, and plant heating pads (available at nurseries and garden centers). “For a pot, you can use any container that has holes in the bottom for drainage—even an egg carton,” Hicks says. “A cookie sheet can be your tray.”
Choose the right herbs
Some are easier to grow than others. Among Hicks’ favorites are basil, chives, oregano, and parsley. Ask your local nursery for helpful advice.
Start the plants
Fill small pots with seed-starting mix and sow seeds just under the surface of the soil, which is shallower than typically recommended, Hicks says. Avoid mounding soil over the seeds.
Give them plenty of water
Place newly planted pots in a tray filled a couple of inches deep with water. When the soil darkens, lift the pots out of the tray and drain well. Place the pots back on the tray, and place the tray on the heating pad in direct sunlight. Mist regularly so that the soil at the top is moist, but do not overwater. When the plants sprout, water from the bottom, but don’t let pots sit in standing water.
Some herbs need more attention than others, so check seed packets for helpful information, which may include when to pinch off new growth for enhanced production. If no guidelines are listed, Hicks says herbs that branch should be pinched after three sets of leaves have formed (pinch just above the second set). Others, like parsley, chives, and cilantro, can be cut to 1 inch above the soil line once they’ve matured.
If you go outdoors, choose a good location
Select a site that gets at least six hours of sun and has well-drained soil and easy access to irrigation. If you are transplanting seedlings into pots, make sure the containers are large enough to accommodate roots. Do not transfer or place plants outdoors if frost, hard rain, or wind is expected. On cold nights, bring pots indoors.
Don’t give up
If your herbs aren’t growing as you’d imagined, check in with your favorite nursery to see what tricks they’d recommend. Chances are a small fix or two is all you need to nurture your flavorful window bed.