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Grow herbs indoors for a taste of summer year-round

From the ground up: proper lighting is key

Mint Peppermint plant, photographed at Pleasant Valley Garden Center in Iowa City, Thursday, March 16, 2006.
Mint Peppermint plant, photographed at Pleasant Valley Garden Center in Iowa City, Thursday, March 16, 2006.

Fresh herbs. Every cook’s dream is having a windowsill full of herbs growing an arm’s length from them in the kitchen.

Some easy indoor herbs are bay tree, lemon grass, parsley, chives, lemon balm, and mint. A harder group to grow include water cress, oregano, marjoram, tarragon, chervil, rosemary and thyme. Basil, cilantro and sage can be the hardest ones to grow indoors as their light and temperature needs are more complex.

If your kitchen, or any other window, has at least four hours of bright sunlight, you are in luck. Light requirements for all herbs seem to be the biggest hurdle to overcome. If your windows are not bright enough to provide enough bright light, setting up a shelf unit for your herbs with a suspended light source can help. Ten to sixteen hours of supplemental light may be needed for adequate growing conditions.

Full spectrum fluorescent lights suspended from the underside of shelves about 6 to 8 inches above plants promote plant growth.

Actively growing plants do well with a feeding of an all-purpose fertilizer once every two to three weeks. Do not feed young seedlings as the mix will be too harsh. Mix the fertilizer fairly weak so as not to burn the plants.

Plant herbs in pots other than clay or terra cotta to avoid having them drying out in a heated home. Use a well-draining potting soil mix with plenty of material for drainage. Herbs especially hate wet roots.

Indoor house temperatures including cooler nights are fine for most herbs. Basil is the only one that prefers to be warm all the time though. Constant temperatures in the 70s are required for basil. Windowsills can vary greatly in day and night temperatures, so keep that in mind if placing plants there.

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Water herbs at least once a week. More often than that is fine with good drainage. Humidity is always a winter issue in heated homes. By adding a humidifier and giving plants a brief shower in the sink each week, you can manage their needs.

When spring arrives and the soil warms up, you can transplant herbs outdoors for the summer months. Come fall, dig up the plants and bring them in for the winter again. Your supply of fresh herbs will be the envy of most celebrated chefs.

l For gardening questions call the Linn County Extension Hortline at (319) 447-0647.

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