If you’re anything like me, you love the smell and taste of fresh herbs but seem to kill every plant with the misfortune of living at your house. That’s why I tend to rely on dried herbs and freshly picked herbs when cooking for my family.
But dried herbs just aren’t the same as fresh, and I usually can’t get through an entire pack of freshly cut herbs so end up throwing them away. Since I hate waste and love food, I decided to look at the best way to grow herbs, and which herbs are the easiest to grow.
Plant Care 101
Before you start planting, you need to consider where you’re growing your herbs. The best way to keep them contained is to grow each herb in an individual pot. Growing them this way also allows you to put them outside for some sunlight on a nice day and bring them inside overnight or when it’s cold.
I spoke with Amy Enfield, consumer horticulturist with Scotts Miracle-Gro, to get some tips on growing herbs indoors.
Use the Right Pot
Some pots have solid bottoms, but for growing herbs you need to look for pots with drainage holes in the bottom to allow excess water to escape, Enfield says.
Location, Location, Location
If you put your herbs in the darkest corner of the kitchen and leave them to their own devices, they won’t do very well. “Indoor herb plants will require light, water, food and frequent trimming,” she says.
Instead, choose a window that faces south or southwest and gets at least six hours of sunlight. Create a reminder on your phone to check on them often to see if they need anything.
Too little water can be fatal for a plant, but so can too much water .
“When the soil on the top looks dry, simply stick your finger an inch into the soil. If the soil is moist you can wait; if the soil is dry, it is time to water,” recommends Enfield.
Check the soil more often when the weather is hot and dry. This is one area where I fail at growing plants, so I recommend putting the herbs in a location where you’ll easily see them and be reminded to check them. Alternatively, you can write a note or create a reminder on your phone or computer.
Trim and Feed
“Frequent, light trimming of herbs every two to three weeks, regardless of whether you are using them for cooking, will keep your plants compact and growing new leaves,” says Enfield. She recommends never removing more than one-third of the plant at once, and waiting until your herbs measure six inches tall before harvesting them.
“Frequent trimming also keeps your herbs from flowering,” Enfield says. This means more leaves to use in recipes.
Herbs to Grow at Home
Certain types of herbs are easier to grow than others. Here are five simple herbs you can grow at home.
Stan Miklis, farmer and degreed horticulturist with 40 years experience growing herbs, works at Caliper Farm to Table. One of his top recommendations for anyone to grow at home is basil.
“[Basil] is absolutely the best for the Italian kitchen and outdoor aroma,” he explains. “[It’s] easy to grow because any loose seedlings will reproduce new plants.”
Basil is typically used in pasta sauces and pizza, but can also be cut up in a salad for an extra pop of flavor, or infused in water with cucumber or strawberry for a refreshing summer drink.
Miklis also recommends Thai basil, which is a fragrant and tasty addition to your garden or kitchen.
“[Thai basil] makes a soothing tea called tulsi,” he says. All you need to grow this herb is soil and water. Additionally, Miklis explains that “a piece of stem placed in a jar of water will sprout new roots,” making it easy to grow new plants to share with friends and family.
Tatyana Rodriguez, botanist and writer for Florence’s Flowers, recommends Cuban oregano as one of the easiest-to-grow herbs.
“Cuban oregano is a very hardy plant [that] likes warmer climates,” she explains. “It doesn’t require that much water [and] prefers full sun, but can also grow in the shade.”
This is one plant that is impossible to overwater. “They tend to grow faster if you keep the soil drenched [and] eventually will look like a bush,” says Rodriguez. You can also easily take a clipping of your Cuban oregano and use it to start a new plant.
Rodriguez mentions numerous health benefits of Cuban oregano, such as treating skin conditions, detoxifying the body, defending against the common cold, easing arthritis pain, stress relief and optimizing digestion.
Another easy-to-grow herb recommended by Miklis is citronella. If you live anywhere that mosquitoes thrive, you’ve probably heard of this plant. It’s a main ingredient in mosquito-repellent candles and other remedies.
“[Citronella] grows outside when temperatures are favorable for mosquitoes,” explains Miklis. “[It’s] essential for outdoor living [and] easy to grow in low light.”
Any gum-chewer knows that there are multiple types of mint, the most popular ones being spearmint and peppermint. Mint is also used in various recipes and is delicious infused in water with lemon (or in a mojito after a long day).
When it comes to growing mint at home, even the most challenged gardener shouldn’t have problems getting it to thrive.
“All [mint varieties] grow so vigorously that they may become problematic,” explains Miklis. “I suggest growing [each one] separately in an elevated container.”
One of my favorite flavors is lemongrass, especially in Thai dishes. According to Miklis, lemongrass is also a wonderful herb to grow at home.
“[Lemongrass] is a lovely, swaying, tall grass that also releases the essential oil that repels mosquitoes,” he says. “[It’s] easy to grow in a wide variety [of] soils with a lot of water and bright light.”
Growing your own herbs is much cheaper than buying them from the store and you’ll notice a difference in the flavor of fresh herbs over dried or cut ones. Start with these five suggestions and branch out to other herbs as your green thumb develops.
Catherine Hiles loves cooking and eating, so having fresh herbs at home is ideal. Of the herbs mentioned, her favorite is mint, which she loves mixed with lemon and infused in cold water.