What I Learned Trying and Failing to Grow Herbs Indoors
Advice for my fellow black-thumbed home cooks.
I do not have a green thumb. Every plant I’ve owned (with the exception of one very resilient snake plant) has either toppled over from overwatering with a big squish or shriveled into a dry crisp. I can’t tell you why. I read the care instructions. I follow the directions. I still somehow always fail. So last month, naturally, I decided it was time to start growing herbs inside.
WATCH: Make Your Own Flavored Cooking Oil with Rosemary and Other Herbs
I’ll be honest, I didn’t have high hopes for this experiment. But with my meals needing a shower of fresh basil or mint more and more often paired with my hatred of those plastic clamshell containers all herbs seem to come in at the grocery store, I knew I had to try. First, I did a bit of research to find out which herbs I’d actually be able to grow in my apartment (which, depending on the time of year, is either very dry and cold or about 92 degrees and extremely humid). Here’s what I discovered:
Basil and Parsley: Do best in a sunny window potted in well-drained soil. They should be watered only when the soil feels dry to the touch.
Read more: Fresh Basil Recipes
Rosemary, Sage, and Thyme: Do best in sunny windows potted in well-drained soil. As drought-resistant plants, they don’t require as much water as other herbs.
Get the recipe: Rosemary Potatoes
Mint and Cilantro: Do best potted with well-drained soil. They grow in full sun, partial sun, and in the case of mint, partial shade as well—they should be placed in a sunny room and watered often to ensure moist (but not soggy) soil.
Get the recipe: Penne with Asparagus, Pistachios, and Mint
In general, herbs grow the strongest when they can get full sun for at least four (but six-plus is better) hours a day. This made me think about placing my plants on my fire escape outside my kitchen window (which obviously gets more sun than inside the kitchen window), or even up on my roof, which gets full sun most of the day. However, it took less than 24 hours for my test plants to be sat on and/or pooped in by the gang of pigeons that live in my building. The outdoor plan was nixed.
I purchased small basil, cilantro, thyme, and mint plants from the farmers’ market to see how each type would do inside. Unfortunately, the odds were against me, because: 1) I started this project in July, many days of which were officially labeled a heat wave in New York. 2) I only run my air conditioner when I’m home, so for the most part, the plants were exposed to temperatures of upwards of 80 degrees. 3) Even when I moved them to my hallway window, which is west-facing and gets full afternoon and evening sun, from my kitchen window, which is north-facing and gets pretty weak sun, my apartment just isn’t the sunniest place—nice for me, in that I don’t bake in extra heat, not so nice for photosynthesis.
After four weeks, regular clippings, and six days of over 90-degree heat, I must report that the parsley is no longer with us. While the basil is still alive, it seems to become a bit droopier every few days. The thyme and mint, however, are doing alright, though you might want to check in with me after August.
Read more: 5 Lesser Known Herbs That Will Make Your Summer Dishes Sing