windowsill herb garden
May 5, 2006 8:01 AM   Subscribe

I live in a New York apartment and I like to cook. When I go to the farmer's market, I'm always tempted to buy herbs in little pots and put them in my window. Questions: (1) If I buy herbs in little pots and put them in my window, how long will they last? (2) How often do you water? (3) If I want to use them for cooking, do I just snip them off and use them and if I do (4) do the herbs grow back? Basically: how do I start a windowsill herb garden?
posted by adrober to Home & Garden (10 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
If you have a fire escape or balcony, they'll last longer being outside in the real sun.
I did this last year - got a big flat pot and planted lots of herbs. The truth is, they ended up being more aesthetic than anything else, because while I'd grab a pinch of thyme now and again, there was never enough mint or whatever to really grab. (They grow back, but not if you decimate the plant.)
posted by CunningLinguist at 8:09 AM on May 5, 2006

I had herbs on my indoor windowsill for quite a while last year. From my own experience:

1. They'll last basically forever, unless you go out of town and don't water them.
2. I water whenever they're dry. Mine were in very small pots, and as they got bigger I had to water every day, but next time I'd get a bigger pot and water less often. I always used some generic plant food in the water, too - the 7 drops per liter stuff.
3. Yup, just cut off whatever part you want to use.
4. They grow back, but not from the stem you cut - it'll generally branch off around there. You can take advantage of that to chop off bits that are growing an awkward way.

My little garden lasted until I missed watering it a while, since each herb was in its own pot and they were big enough to need daily watering. This year I'm going to get a long, narrow pot and put 3 or 4 different types of herb in it, which should improve things. Honestly, the only real problem I had was too much of the damn herbs.
posted by pocams at 8:12 AM on May 5, 2006

If you don't repot, they will probably only last a few weeks. Especially if you don't get a lot of direct light.

Personally I've found that basil doesn't do so well in small potting areas since recipes often call for a LOT of it. Once I cut a lot of the plant back it tends not to recover. But I'm a sucky gardener, so YMMV!

Rosemary works really well, though, since it's an evergreen.

You Grow Girl has good forums on windowsill and small-plot gardening, if you want to get more specific. I got some good information there on using full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs to keep herbs going, for instance.

You could probably also get good, detailed information about watering specific herbs from the greenmarket person selling the plants.
posted by bcwinters at 8:12 AM on May 5, 2006

1. It depends on the herb. Some will last as long as you can keep them alive; others have a shorter life cycle. When you buy your herb, it will most likely have a little tag of instructions. Make sure each herb has an appropriate amount of sun, water, and space, and you're pretty much good to go.

2. Again, depends on the herb. Water according to touch: in general, you want the soil slightly moist, but not soggy.

3. Yep, just snip off the bits you want to use, as

4. they will grow back, probably bushier than before. Just make sure you have enough supply to keep up with demand.

Congratulations on an excellent choice. You'll never want to do without your own set of fresh herbs again.
posted by moira at 8:19 AM on May 5, 2006

I would avoid using plant food heavily especially in the week before harvesting your herbs, it can effect the flavor.

Basil LOVES real sunglight and in a good size pot w/consistent light it will grow to an obscene size.
posted by cbecker333 at 8:46 AM on May 5, 2006

When I used to have a patio, I grew a some of my own herbs, here's what I remember:
- I watered when the soil was drying off at the top. Honestly, I didn't think too hard about it and they grew fine.
- I used them for cooking maybe 2-3 times a week and my little collection lasted me a year before I moved.
- They don't grow back from the part you cut, but they'll keep growing as long as you don't cut off the main stalk all the side branches are growing out of.

Some herbs I had:
Mint is hard to kill but grow it in its own pot because it's very aggressive. I had something called chocolate mint, very yummy smelling.
Basil was pretty darned easy too but it grew to be huge!
Dill also grew pretty well.
posted by like_neon at 9:25 AM on May 5, 2006

Just make sure you have enough supply to keep up with demand.

This is a point worth re-emphasizing. One little basil plant will not give you enough leaves for, say, a big batch of pesto, nor can it grown back fast enough if you need the herb frequently.

If you plan to use them a lot, be sure to have several pots of the ones you use the most so you can harvest what you need on an ongoing basis.
posted by briank at 10:10 AM on May 5, 2006

I get the biggest windowbox that will fit on the ledge. Drill some holes in the bottom if it doesn't have them, layer about 1" of charcoal on the bottom (to prevent algae) and then fill 2/3 of the way with potting soil, into which you put the herbs. Get substantial seedlings.

Start with rosemary, which does well anywhere. It gets leggy, but keeps the flavor.

Thyme gows like crazy outside on the windowsill, but slowly dies when you bring it indoors, even sitting in a south window. Tarragon is the same way. Buy them for use until the frost.

Cilantro does well, but grows too slowly to replenish what you need.

Basil won't replenish itself fast enough to make pesto, but it's worth keeping a few stalks to supply leaves to snip over vegetables and salads.

Dill is good.

Chervil dies immediately. It can't stand being potted.

Mint grows faster than you can use it. Keep it in a separate pot, though. If you put it in a windowbox with other herbs, it will take over.
posted by KRS at 10:46 AM on May 5, 2006 [3 favorites]

After one season -- basically once it flowers -- Basil gets nasty, sappy and sticky and too sharp-tasting.

Luckily, it's a weed, so you can just plant it again.
posted by xueexueg at 11:01 AM on May 5, 2006

I left my sage plant on my windowsill all winter and just noticed that it's growing back again.

Get yourself some Thyme - this is the most underrated herb of all - adds great flavor to tomato sauce

mint is great and grows like a weed, definitely heed the advice to grow it in it's own pot. Even if you grow it out in a garden - it will take over.

Basil - it's great to add to all kinds of food. if you only have room for one plant you can just use it for your takeout pizza. Nothing like fresh basil on pizza.

rosemary is probably the easiest to grow and most economical.
posted by any major dude at 11:04 AM on May 5, 2006

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