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Rhonda J. Ferree

Rhonda J. Ferree
Former Extension Educator, Horticulture

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Rhonda Ferree's ILRiverHort

Rhonda Ferree's Horticulture Blog
Aerogarden planted with herbs on 1-7-13

Indoor Herb Gardens

"As we enter the depth of winter it may seem hard to think of gardening, but actually gardening is a yearlong adventure."

"Indoor winter gardens are fun and therapeutic, says Rhonda Ferree, Horticulture Educator with University of Illinois Extension, "Edible indoor gardens are also useful." An indoor edible garden composed of herbs actually brings the garden inside and relieves the winter-gardening itch. Many herbs grow well indoors on a sunny windowsill or under artificial lighting. Plants can be started and kept indoors, or garden plants may be propagated and potted for winter use.

Botanically speaking, an herb is any plant that dies back to the root each year. But by horticultural or culinary definition, an herb is a plant that is used as an ingredient for health, flavor, or fragrance. Ferree says that herbs are not only useful; they are also fun to grow.

Low light levels are the most common problem with growing herbs indoors. "However, many herbs can be successfully grown in a window that receives several hours of sunlight daily." If you do not have such a window, then artificial lighting may be necessary. This does not have to be complicated. A pair of 40-watt fluorescent lamps is enough to trigger and maintain the photosynthetic process in many of these plants. A combination of both warm and cool white fluorescent tubes provides a good spectrum of light for growing plants. If artificial lights are the primary source of light, they should be on for at least 12 to 14 hours each day. A switch controlled by an automatic time clock can turn lights on and off each day.

Herbs can be started indoors from seed or dug up from the garden. Rhonda suggests that since it is obviously too late to dig up garden herbs this year, consider this for next fall. Also consider propagating gardens herbs next fall using cuttings, division, and layering.

Whether starting from seed or plants, always use a good quality potting mix. Never use soil directly from the garden! Commercial potting mixes work well. If the herbs grow well, they may need fertilized.

Herbs commonly grown indoors include basil, chives, cilantro, oregano, parsley, and thyme. Continuously harvest these herbs as soon as they have enough foliage to sustain growth. Not only does this provide you with fresh herbs for cooking, but also keeps the plants nicely pinched back to keep plants bushy.

Plant some herbs for your enjoyment throughout this winter. When snow blankets your outdoor garden, the indoor herb garden will continue to thrive and provide. For more information on this or other horticultural issues, contact your local Extension office by visiting

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