Start spring inside with container herbs
MOORHEAD—Martha Stewart does it. Ina Garten, too.
But you don't have to be a TV food celebrity to snip homegrown herbs for cooking. Spring takes root indoors with container herbs.
Fragrant plants like basil, rosemary and thyme can be started inside now to ensure a spring and summer of flavorful eats and fresh smells.
"March is a good time to start planting," says Sarah Liljestrand of Holland's Landscaping and Garden Center in Moorhead. "Another plus of growing your own is knowing how they've been grown."
Growing green inside during cold months can boost moods, too.
"Thyme or lemon thyme, even just touching it with your hand, even if you're not consuming it, it's connecting with something. It's nice to have around," says Eric Baker of Baker Garden & Gift in Fargo. "You can crush a little basil and it makes your day."
Some herbs grow quickly, like basil, while others, such as rosemary, take longer to germinate. Experimenting with container herbs is a way for gardening rookies to get a taste of horticulture, Baker says.
Most herbs are low maintenance and only require a few supplies. Make like Martha and Ina and start an indoor herb garden with tips from Baker and Liljestrand.
• Herb seeds.
• Quality seed starting mix (It'll be labeled as such). Starting with a fresh bag of soil is important, Baker says. "Not that soil goes bad over time but if you've repurposed that soil, in theory, there are some things that might attack the plants when they're germinating or growing." Avoid topsoil or mixes with a large amount of fertilizers, Liljestrand says. "You don't want them (the herbs) to bolt in your house and get too woody," she says. She fertilizes her indoor herbs about once a month with organically based fertilizers.
• Germination tray or other starter container. Special trays for starting seeds are sold at area nurseries and big-box stores. They typically look like a black plastic tray with an elevated clear plastic top. Think of them as mini greenhouses. A plastic baggie draped over any small pot or plastic container will work similarly, Baker says.
• Moisten the soil or peat pellets and follow the directions for planting on the seed packet. Liljestrand uses a spray bottle to delicately mist the soil.
Where to set the pots
• Liljestrand keeps her indoor herbs near a sunny windowsill. Baker agrees that a brightly lit area is best and it's partly why herbs can be difficult to start earlier than March. Shorter days mean less sunlight.
• Grow lights can be helpful, too, Baker says, but common, non-LED bulbs can jump-start the seeds as well.
What to expect
• In about two weeks, some herbs will start to poke through the soil, Baker says. Seed packets include planting charts that inform consumers how long it typically takes for an herb to germinate.
• While they're germinating, the seeds shouldn't need much water, Liljestrand says. If they look dry, mist. Once the herbs are more mature, they'll likely only need watering once a week. "I think people overcare for things," Liljestrand says. "Most herbs are pretty low maintenance."
• Baker says to water on demand—if they look dry, water. Be careful when the plants are small, though, because the roots are more susceptible to rotting off.
When to transplant
• When the seedlings are at least ½-inch tall, they can be transplanted to a pot using the same quality seed starter soil, Liljestrand says.
Harvesting the herbs
• Pick lower leaves of herbs first, Baker says, and be careful to not overpick while the plant is growing. It won't come back quite as fruitful if it's overpicked.
• Liljestrand likes to keep herbs in jars like flowers if she'll be using them for cooking.
Think outside the typical seed packet
• Although they're not herbs, Baker says sprouts can be easy to grow and enhance food flavors like herbs. He favors beet sprouts. Seed packets for different sprouts can be found at nurseries.