How Not to Grow Herbs Indoors


I am not generally a fan of sites that do their best to say uncomplimentary things about other sites. There’s enough sour attitudes and bad feelings in this world without me adding to them. I am now about to break my rule. What prompted this? I recently received a link to a blog post about problems growing herbs indoors. Somehow the authors had managed to do everything possible to make life difficult, if not impossible, for a half dozen hapless herbs. So without revealing the source of this outrage, I have decided to tell you how not to grow herbs indoors.

Where to begin? That is easy because by the second paragraph these gardeners had revealed a fundamental lack of understanding about roots and soil. They made a point of saying how clever they had been by creating a tamping device (a wine cork on a bamboo skewer) to press down the soil in the pot after transplanting the herbs. The logic here was to eliminate air pockets that would harm the roots. What they did instead was rob the roots of space to grow while dangerously minimizing the oxygen available to the roots. All soil (whether in the ground or in the pot) needs a certain amount of air space.

The next thing they did wrong could be seen in the photos they posted. The plants were lined up in the window of a multi-story building surrounded by other multi-story buildings in a major metropolis (name withheld to protect the innocent herbs). Those herbs were growing in low light conditions that would be fine for tropical plants that naturally grow in a forest understory but not at all fine for herbs from the Mediterranean where they HerbsInPotswould be exposed to full, bright sun. It was clear by looking at the photos taken later that the herbs were desperately reaching to find stronger light – well, those that weren’t being drowned by overwatering.

Which leads me to the next problem – constantly moist soil. They were watering these herbs as soon as the soil surface was dry to the touch. In winter, with the heat going, the soil surface will dry quickly but the soil beneath would still be wet. This was further confirmed when the gardeners posted pictures of the oregano and dill, clearly stressed and limp, being watered even though I’m sure the soil was still soggy. It is a sad fact that water-starved and water-logged plants can sometimes exhibit the same symptoms of limp stems and leaves. This is because in both cases water is not being delivered by the roots to the plants; in the first instance because there is no water and in the second instance because the roots have rotted and are unable to transfer water from the soggy soil.

I could go on about how the pots were too small (even after the herbs had been transplanted from even smaller pots), the herbs selected were very bad choices for indoor growing (dill?!?), the lighting was clearly inadequate, and the plants were probably suffering from too much attention. Instead I will just conclude by saying herbs do not belong indoors. Unless you are an experienced gardener and know – really know, not just guess – what plants need and how they look when they are stressed please do not do it. Resist the lure of those cute herb garden kits that make it look like anyone can grow healthy, productive herbs in the kitchen (or in this case office) window.

Or, if you must, don’t let me catch you doing it.

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