An icy winter may dampen the mood, but there’s no need for it to hinder a green thumb.
Indoor herb gardens have become a popular option when temperatures drop. And with a shift of focus on fresher, homegrown foods, old and new gardeners alike are showing in interest in moving the garden indoors.
“Herbs are just fresh,” Austin Waters said. “Herbs you can grow inside year-round, and you don’t have the chemicals like with the herbs at the grocery store. People take pride in getting to eat something that they grew.”
Waters manages Braselton’s Outdoor Environments Inc., a landscaping and gardening store. During the winter, it carries herb seeds. Come April, it will have herb plants.
Eager gardeners won’t wait until April, though. Hall County Master Gardener Diane Korzeniewski began sowing her seedlings in February.
“This year, right now, my bay plant is sitting on the kitchen counter because I’m not taking any chances,” the Gainesville woman said.
Gardening since the 1980s, Korzeniewski said the best time to start planting for spring herbs is during the winter, eight weeks before final frost. For North Georgia, that will be early April, she said.
“If you’re going to start something from seeds, now is a good time to do it, so you’re ready in time for spring,” Korzeniewski said. “Otherwise they’ll be a little bit small. It could have a rough time starting because once our spring hits, it can turn into summer pretty quickly.”
Basil, parsley, salad burnet, cilantro and sage are some plants that grow well from seeds, she said. She recommends starting with herbs such as rosemary and lemon verbena from cuttings of an existing plant, for bigger, better results.
“It’s nicer to have a little bit larger plant before spring comes,” she said. “Because if you have a little seedling come spring, it’s susceptible to the sun or drought.”
Korzeniewski keeps her indoor garden in her basement. She has three industrial flat shelves covered in young plants, many of which are now about an inch tall. Attached to the shelves are timed fluorescent lights and underneath the seeds are heat mats.
“That is a big help to get them to germinate,” she said of the heat mats. “That gets them started with a little more vigor than they would if they didn’t have the bottom heat.”
Warmth and full sunlight are the most important things to consider when starting an indoor herb garden, said Karen Kennedy, coordinator of education for The Herb Society of America.
“These are full sun plants,” she said. “Their ideal growing condition is going to be outside in a sunny, well-drained spot. So your best success inside would be in a sunny, well-drained spot.”
For Georgia, a state with sunnier winters, she said herb plants should be OK during the winter by a sunny window.
Kennedy said certain herbs such as parsley, chives and thyme can thrive in low light. But if you can, try transplanting them come spring.
“You put them out in a shaded spot during the day and since the temperature drops at night you bring them in,” she said. “You keep that up for a couple of weeks, extending the amount of time they’re outside, and then they’ll get used to the outdoor temperatures.”
This process is called hardening off and conditions plants so they don’t get sunburned or bleached, she said.
Whether you keep your herbs indoors or take them out, having them around is a good idea, she said.
“If you’re cooking and you need some rosemary, it’s right there on your windowsill,” Kennedy said. “It brightens your home when you’re getting tired of the winter dreary weather.”