Get started now for a fresh herb harvest all summer

February 23, 2017 | Doug Oster comments

Although cabin fever hasn’t been a problem during this mild winter, there’s always still an itch (or ache) to get something growing as the cold season begins to fade.

Tribune-Review home and garden editor Doug Oster plants a container with herbs to grow inside on the windowsill.

Tribune-Review home and garden editor Doug Oster plants a container with herbs to grow inside on the windowsill.

One of my favorite things to do this time of the year is plant a windowsill herb planter inside. For the next couple months as the days get longer, the plants will thrive. They can be harvested and then grown all summer long outside the kitchen door.
The first thing is to find herb plants. Mine came from Chapon’s Greenhouse in Baldwin, but your local greenhouse should have some, too.

Rosemary is a great choice for growing in containers. Making a windowsill herb planter is an easy winter project.

Rosemary is a great choice for growing in containers. Making a windowsill herb planter is an easy winter project.

I like to buy them in 4-inch pots as they are well established. My windowsill gardens will be filled with rosemary, two types of mint, oregano, parsley and chives. Everyone loves basil, but I’ve found common Genovese types difficult to keep happy indoors. ‘African Blue Basil’ has always been my favorite for inside growing, but I couldn’t find it this year. Sage, thyme and other herbs also would be good choices.
Any container will do as long as it has drainage. Mine are 21⁄2 feet long and 6 inches wide, perfect to fit on the marble windowsills of my 1939 home. Another option would be to sit the container on a table near a window. Southern exposure is best, but take what you can get.
It’s important to fill the herb box with a good planting mix from a nursery, not potting soil or dirt from the garden. A planting mix is light, well drained and usually has some nutrients to keep the plants growing strong. The trick is to moisten the mix before adding the plants. In a tub filled with the mix, add water and combine until the soil will stick together when squeezed. If it drips water, add more mix, if it doesn’t stick together, add more water. Now fill the container almost full, leaving about a half inch at the top. By not filling it all the way up, liquid won’t spill out when watering.
It’s also a great idea to have something underneath the container to catch water coming out of the bottom. Both of my pots have a tray that will serve that purpose. After watering, I’ll wait a couple hours, and if there’s any water left standing in the tray, it will be poured away into the sink.

This planter is filled with herbs that will grow inside on a windowsill in the winter and then go outside for the summer. This one is planted with rosemary, chives, oregano and other herbs. A terra cotta planter will age with a nice patina.

This planter is filled with herbs that will grow inside on a windowsill in the winter and then go outside for the summer. This one is planted with rosemary, chives, oregano and other herbs. A terracotta planter will age with a nice patina.

Take a look at the plants and the container to figure out what goes where. Taller plants should be in the center and then shorter plants around the outside. In my case, the rosemary, chives and parsley will be in the center with the others around the side or in between. The oregano and mint will be planted so they can spill over the sides.
First put in the taller plants; they can be close together if need be and will thrive that way. Then the smaller plants are added. Give them all a drink and put them in their winter home.
They will start to reach for the light and get a little spindly (leggy). Even though the days are getting longer, the plants would rather have full sun. Just trim off the ends and use them in the kitchen as needed. I like to keep them a little on the dry side, but not to the point they show signs of wilting. Overwatering will kill them; it takes a little practice to get it right.
Feed the plants a good organic liquid fertilizer once every two weeks to keep them happy.
By the time spring rolls around, you should have an herb jungle. All the varieties in my planter are pretty hardy and can go out for the summer at the end of April. If you have tender plants like basil in the pot, then it can’t go outside permanently until around the third week of May. Any nice day though, take the planter outside and let it soak up some sun, wind and maybe even rain.
When the time is right, I’ll transplant what’s in my herb box to bigger containers outside. It’s not a necessity, but the plants will take off in the warm weather in fresh planting mix.
At the end of the season, they can come back inside and will usually survive but not thrive until we get back around to this time of the year with longer days
It’s fun to be able to pick fresh herbs almost year round, and it certainly is wonderful to be planting and getting our hands dirty around an indoor garden.

Details: Chapon’s Greenhouse or 412-881-1520.
Doug Oster is the Tribune-Review home and garden editor. Reach him at 412-965-3278 or doster@tribweb.com. See other stories, blogs, videos and more at everybodygardens.com.