Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Can You Really Bring Herbs Indoors for the Winter?

septembre 8

Lifestyle magazines love to show pictures of fabulous herbs growing in color-coordinated containers on a winter windowsill. It just seems so trendy to grow your own herbs and serve them to your guests on a cold January day. But it’s not nearly as easy as the magazines would have you believe. Most people who write on the subject have obviously never gone beyond setting up a pretty display for the photographer, because the average windowsill herb garden goes downhill… fast!

That’s because most herbs are full sun plants that really thrive only outdoors. Bring them indoors and they’re in trouble. It is nearly impossible to get anything close to full summer sun on a winter windowsill. The light is simply too weak. Plus indoor conditions during the heating season are brutal: the air is exceptionally hot and dry, while most herbs like nice cool nights. The result is weak, floppy growth, yellowed foliage and, more often then not, bugs. Yes, even if it is said that herbs ward off unwanted insects in the vegetable garden (and I’m not convinced of that), they definitely attract them indoors. Spider mites, whiteflies and aphids – the unholy Trinity as they have been called – seem to home in your poor herbs, leaving them even weaker than before. In fact, there really is only one herb that really does seem to adapt perfectly to winter conditions indoors: : the bay laurel (bay leaf) (Laurus nobilis). Even then, watch out for scale insects and mealybugs.

Obviously, if you can offer wonderful conditions, you will obtain good results. For example, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) grows well in a barely heated room in a very sunny spot… but this combination of conditions is not found in most homes. And almost any herb will thrive under intense artificial light and good humidity… hardly the average windowsill. If you do try herbs indoors under windowsill conditions, you can probably keep them alive for some time and maybe even get them through the winter, but they won’t be the thriving green plants of the lifestyle magazines.

Do you really want to grow fresh herbs indoors over the winter? Here’s an easy solution: sow herb seeds in pots in  a brightly lit, warm spot and harvest the plants when they are still very young, scarcely more than seedlings, well before they have time to suffer under the horrible indoor conditions. A monthly sowing from autumn through spring will keep fresh young herbs on your table throughout the cold season.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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