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Growing Herbs Indoors, Nebraska Extension Acreage Insights for February 2018,

Many acreage owners long for the out of doors, especially in winter when weather limits the opportunity to experience it up close. If fresh veggies are on the list of elements in the acreage-scape that are most enjoyable, consider the benefits of growing them indoors. There’s nothing like the triple bonus of good aromas, appealing aesthetics and fresh flavors to chase away the winter doldrums. Even just a few pots of herbs indoors can fit the bill.

Understanding Winter Growing Conditions
A few differences exist between winter and summer growing. First, most herbs tend to be full sun adapted. As such, growing them requires setting up an indoor garden near a south-facing window with at least 4 hours of direct sun each day.

While growing, they may begin to stretch for the sun, a common tendency called phototropism. If this occurs, be ready to counteract it with frequent turning of the pots/flats and increasing the sunlight exposure. A common technique for pot turning is to imagine the top of a round pot as a clock face and rotate them one-quarter turn every other day or every 3 days or so; it may be helpful to mark a spot on the pot and turn them from 12 o’clock to 3 o’clock each time.

Add Artificial Lighting
Increasing the sunlight is not quite as easy. If stretching for the light occurs (or if you don’t have a south window and want to avoid unwieldy growth) it will be necessary to install artificial lighting above the germinating plants. It’s handy to place the lights on hanging chains so that they can be raised as the plants grow taller. Ideally, as the herbs germinate, the light source should be about 3 – 6 inches way from the leaves.

Creating a Soil-less Growing Mixture
A second difference is the soil or media that the plants grow in. Outdoors, native soils that have been amended with compost work nicely to produce healthy, productive plants. Indoors, these soils don’t drain well enough to perform adequately. Instead, a mixture of even parts of Canadian peat moss, perlite and vermiculite is much preferred.

Always make sure there enough holes in the bottom of the pots to allow excess water to drain out and prevent root rot.

Herbs for Indoor Production
Some herb species are better than others for indoor growing. Because there are many cultivars available for each, look for those with a dwarf or compact in growth habit. A few herbs that perform best indoors include the following. 

  • Chives
  • Fernleaf Dill
  • English Mint
  • Basil
  • Oregano
  • Thyme
  • Cilantro
  • Parsley
John Fech
John Fech
Extension Educator - Horticulture
John Fech is a horticulturist with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and certified arborist with the International Society of Arboriculture. The author of 2 books and over 200 popular and trade journal articles, he focuses his time on teaching effective landscape maintenance techniques, water conservation, diagnosing turf and ornamental problems and encouraging effective bilingual communication in the green industry. He works extensively with the media to extend the message of landscape sustainability, making over 100 television and radio appearances each year.

Contact John at:
Douglas/Sarpy County Extension
8015 W Center Road
Omaha, NE 68124-3175
(402) 444-7804

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