Herb Gardening for the Apartment Dweller

Herbs make a most excellent addition to just about any dish you can imagine, from fresh fruit to savory pastas. Yet you don't have to run to the grocery store every time you need some fresh herbs — you can actually grow them very easily right in your own apartment. Really! And you don't have to be especially garden-savvy either.

The Basics

Before you invest in any herbs, however, you'll want to consider a few things, the most important being the light in your apartment or outdoor space. Most herbs like a lot of light. There are exceptions, of course, but generally speaking, herbs enjoy soaking up the sun. Many will grow in partially sunny settings, but won't thrive, so look for locations where your herbs will get at least five solid hours of sun a day. If you think you have a space that meets those needs, or can deal with a little bit punier plants, you're pretty much set. Just keep in mind that you'll need to watch the temperature if you're keeping plants outdoors and will need to vary your watering schedule based on the season and needs of the plants.

Apartment-Friendly Herbs

If you don't have an outdoor space, you can still grow a variety of herbs in a sunny windowsill. There are some that will thrive better than others in a pot, however, and others that are simply easier to grow. Here are some of my favorites.

  • Chives: Perfect for adding a bit of flavor to a soup, baked potato, or salad, this tasty herb is seriously simple to grow. Better yet, it's a perennial, so it will come back year after year. It grows very well in a pot (I've had the same plant for three years running) and simply needs to be cut back in the winter.
  • Mint: Mint is one of the most indestructible herbs out there and one that, even if you have garden space, should be grown in a pot as it will quickly and easily take over if planted in the ground. I've even had them try to set down roots in other pots on the patio, so watch out.
  • Rosemary: Rosemary is another perennial that should be an herb garden staple. If you keep it outside in summer, make sure to bring it in the winter as it might not survive the sub-zero temps. Rosemary likes to be a bit drier than other herbs, so make sure not to overwater.
  • Thyme: Around our house, thyme is one of the most commonly used herbs. Good thing it's easy to grow! It tastes great in soups or as part of a marinade BBQ-ables in the summer. It's incredibly hardy and hard-to-kill so even novice gardeners should be able to keep it going, so long as they remember to water.
  • Dill: Dill isn't ideal for a windowsill because it grows so tall, but it can work well for an outdoor patio that offers a bit more room. Otherwise, it's pretty easy to grow and can be harvested all summer. Keep some seeds and start a new crop next spring!
  • Cilantro: Cilantro is a bit of a pain to grow because it so often goes to seed so quickly in the warm summer months, requiring gardeners to constantly reseed and regrow the plant. Yet hard work pays off because this herb is seriously amazing for using in, well, everything!
  • Lavender: To me, lavender is an herb I plant not to eat but to smell and enjoy. It has a lovely scent and will flower throughout the summer. It can be dried quite easily or used in a yummy summer lemonade. Keep in mind that lavender will NOT do well in part sun. This puppy needs full sun all the way to thrive.
  • Parsley: Personally, I hate the taste of parsley, but this list isn't all about me. It's crazy easy to grow this herb, and if you're partial to the flavor you're likely to have more than you know how to use if you keep this plant happy.
  • Oregano: Oregano is one of the easiest herbs to grow in a small container garden, inside or out. Keep it watered, give it light and its usually good to go and ready to help you add flavor to all kinds of pizzas and pastas.
  • Basil: Summer or winter, basil is a staple of many dishes. It will grow indoors but expect it to thrive much more so in the summer months placed in an outdoor space. Basil can get pretty big, so be prepared to keep its growth in check with regular harvests. Also, make sure to pinch off the flowers when the plant starts to bud; it encourages it to spend energy on making leaves, not the blossoms.
  • Tarragon: Not everyone is a fan of the somewhat licorice-like flavor of tarragon, but as someone who really hates anise and other similarly flavored plants, I can say quite honestly that the more subtle flavor of tarragon is amazing in a wide range of dishes. Even better, it's super easy to grow right on a windowsill, indoors or out.

Care and Harvesting

The most common gardening mistakes usually involve water, whether too much or too little of it. Most herbs like to dry out in between waterings, so don't be too heavy-handed with the water. Pay close attention to the watering needs of each plant you choose for your garden and put those with similar needs together.

So after all that hard work when you can reap the rewards of your herb garden? Give your new plants some time to acclimate to their new setting. Once you see them starting to grow and thrive, and only then, can you start harvesting. Cutting back your plants can actually help them to grow, as it will encourage them to become bushier rather than taller. Just don't overdo it, your plants need those leaves to survive, too.