Friday, May 21, 2010

Easily Grow Your Own Herbs Indoors

Have you always wished that you could have a few pots of home grown herbs that could get cut and thrown in your favorite dish, rather than using the dried herbs? Perhaps the spring has been getting to you and making you wish that your apartment had land to start a garden. Well, do you have a sunny windowsill and a few pots? Growing your favorite herbs at home in Wisconsin can be simple, fun, and year-round, providing you with seasonings, teas, and even potpourri fixings all year. This would also be a great experience to involve your children in, if you have any.

Place: First, select a spot that gets at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. Keep the herbs from direct drafts and great temperature fluctuations. Small kitchens are usually not conducive to the environment herbs need because of the cooking fumes and fluctuating heat. In addition, be careful of the hot, dry air directly above a radiator. Think about what kind of planters would look good in that area. What kind of style, color, height, and width of pots will you need? This may also determine how many herbs you can realistically grow in your home.

Herbs: You will then want to select the herbs you want to grow. Grab a book that will give you an overview about the basics of indoor herb gardens to help you cater to each kind of plant. And from there you can expand your library to specifics. You also need to identify what purpose you want each herb to serve. Will you be eating them, making potpourri, simply smelling and looking at them? Just a word from the wise: Bushy perennial herbs such as rosemary, thyme, oregano, sage and sinter savory grow better indoors than those with soft stems such as mint and tarragon. Perhaps you are looking more for the scented herbs such as geraniums, lemon verbena, basil, coriander, and some lavender.

Pots: Select a container that will hold several plants and provide adequate drainage, in other words, make sure there is a whole or two at the bottom of the planter. Usually clay, word, or ceramic pots work well. Make sure the containers are at least 8 inches deep and 6 to 8 inches across for each plant. If you are planting multiple plants in a large container, simply allow 6 to 8 inches between each kind of plant. Then lay either screen mesh, a few large rocks, or a few pieces of broken pottery over the planters’ drainage holes and then add a premium-quality, well draining potting soil mixed with coarse sand and mushroom compost (all of which is sold in small bags at nurseries).

Purchase time: Try to buy your herbs from a nursery that specializes in herbs. Your selection will be much bigger than it will at a general nursery, and the staff will likely be knowledgeable and enthusiastic about your idea.

Transplanting: First, wiggle the herb out of the container from which you bought it. Try not to break roots. Lay the herb on its side with all foliage laying the same direction. Check to see how deep of a whole the plant had been living. The rule of thumb is transplant plants at the same depth they were growing in the nursery pots. So, dig a paralleling hole in your new pot and place the herb in its new home. Push soil in around the plant.

Water: Once the herb is in its new home and soil is pushed around. Give the herb hearty water. Stand each pot in an inch of lukewarm water until the soil is moist but not saturated. From here on out, the herb probably only needs to be amply watered once or twice a week. Be careful not to over-water. When the plants are actively growing, feed them once a week using a seaweed extract or fish emulsion.

Care: Make sure to clip outer leaves or springs as you need them, but always leave plenty of vigorous growth on the plant or you will drastically slow down, if not kill, the herb.

General Guidelines and Advice for a Few Basic Herbs:

ROSEMARY: Rosemary resents being moved, so plant it where it intends to stay. Try to buy the rosemary from an herb specialist. Large, general garden centers often do not label specific varieties, coming in several foliage-forms and also bloom in various colors: white, pink, deep blue, or light blue flowers. They like a 12-inch by 12-inch pot with plenty of drainage. Use a light but coarse potting soil such as a cactus soil. Then keep the soil moist but never wet by misting the plant twice a week with warm water. In addition, feed the plants monthly with compost tea. Place the pot in a sunny south or west window.

CHIVES: Chives adapt well to indoor living. They need to be 9 inches to a foot from anything else. The green stems can be cut close to the ground three to four times in a season.

THYME: Thyme comes in a variety of flavors, fragrances, growth habits, hardiness ranges, and flower colors of pink, white or lilac. If you planted thyme seeds, do not be scared if you don’t see anything happen quickly because they germinate slowly. Thyme needs 6-12 inches from other plants and likes a sandy soil mix. Make sure you cut the plants back after they flower to promote bushiness.

MINT: Beware – mint will take over any soil you give it. Mint likes partial shade and moisture. Mint doesn’t grow well from seed, so simply buy your mint plants at any nursery. Mint loves a 10 inch deep and 6 to 8 inch across clay pot with drainage tiles. At the end of each spring, pinch stem ends off to keep plants bushy and at the end of the season, prune the plants back to near ground level and top-dress with compost.

BASIL: Basil grows easily in the ground or containers. Basil needs a soil that drains well and retains enough moisture so that it won’t wilt. Work organic material into the soil to give you the right combination. Water the herbs regularly with air-temperature water to encourage growth. Put the seedlings about 6 inches apart and then when the plants are six inches high, pinch off the tips to encourage bushier growth. Pinch off the buds of flowers are soon as they appear in order to encourage leave growth.

CILANTRO: Cilantro produces the dried seeds called coriander. It thrives in damp, cool springs and hot, dry summers. Like most herbs, cilantro needs sunlight, well-drained soil, and plenty of compost. Cilantro does not like to be transplanted, as it has a taproot that develops quickly. Plant cilantro 4 inches apart from other plants, and give it 12 inches in depth to establish its taproot. Harvest the entire plant when they are 6 inches high if you only want the leaves. For the seeds, wait until the seeds start to ripen and then cut the plants off at the base and hang them upside down in paper bags to finish drying.

Try other herbs such as bay, garlic chives, marjoram, oregano, parsley, sage, scented geraniums, and winter savory. Try a few different herbs each year to spice up your life with new fresh flavors. Good luck and have fun. Enjoy the smell, look, and taste of your homegrown herbs.

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