Home & Garden

With just the right ‘Goldilocks situation,’ herbs can thrive indoors

Fresh herbs have more flavor than dried, and can be easy to keep once you find their “Goldilocks zone.”
Harvest your fresh herbs with kitchen shears or pinch off sprigs with your fingernails.

Full disclosure: you can grow herbs indoors, but it is not easy. There are two “Goldilocks situations” that must be dealt with. These two situations are water and light. Too much or too little of either is bad — you need to get it just right.

To add another throwback to parables of our youth — if at first you don’t succeed — do try again! After all, the herbs you buy at the supermarket cost the same in a pot with roots as they do cut into twigs in little plastic trays.

With this warning and encouragement, are you ready to enter the bears’ home and look for “just right”?


Herbs absorb moisture at different rates. While these combinations look pretty, it is best to give each herb their own space to grow in. ( www.unsplash.com)

Overwatering kills most herbs. So first thing — take off the plastic sleeve. Put the plant in a saucer to catch water. You will water only, and I do mean only, when the soil is dry when you touch it with a finger. If bits of soil cling to your finger, then the soil is still wet and the plant is not ready for more water.

Goldilocks zone: when you do water, water until it runs out the bottom, then empty the saucer. Don’t let your herb with soil stand in water. Roots plus wet soil equals rotten roots and then you get fungus gnats.

Too little water: if you forget to check your herb for about a week, it may over-dry. The soil shrinks away from the side of the pot and water does not soak in. Let the plant sit in a saucer of water until it is rehydrated. This is the only time you should do this.


Too little light kills most herbs. Our homes, even in the Southwest, have less light than the outdoors. That said, all windowsills are NOT ideal. Summer light, shining onto a plant on a windowsill can be too much for most herbs. Note I said “all” windowsills.

This pot in a pot is a disaster waiting to happen. Excess water sits in the lower pot, leading to root rot.

Goldilocks zone: north or east facing windowsills are fine, it’s the south and west facing windowsills in summer that can be killers. If you have a counter a few feet from a bright window, that can be fine too.

Every home is different. In my kitchen space, the air vent blows right onto the north windowsill (poor design that is on the fix-it list). This meant that my north facing windowsill plants were overly stressed and did not survive. Your home may have quirks as well. You will need to find the Goldilocks zones in your home.

Bear in mind that you are not breaking the bank by buying a few plants. I do urge you to get a few of those cute plants at the supermarket and try growing them. As Ms. Frizzle of “The Magic School Bus” taught us, “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!”

Choosing your indoor herbs

Everybody has different plants that resonate with them. Some people can grow African violets, some people kill them. Here is my list of herbs that might work for you. Please let me know (via my website) if you found some to add to this list.

Relatively easy herbs for indoor growing:

Some herbs, like mints, will root and grow in water. Try some!

Basil, oregano, marjoram, thyme, chives, catnip, garlic chives, lemon balm, and mint. You could even keep mint in water, not soil.

Herbs that live less than a year:

Cilantro, parsley, dill, fennel, and anise.

Not for the beginner:

Sage, rosemary, angelica, costmary, and santolina.

Jacqueline A. Soule, Ph.D., is a local author with a number of books about gardening in the Southwest. Her latest — Butterfly Gardening for Southern Arizona, is available in local gardens and nurseries. You can read more about growing and using plants on three local websites she writes for: www.gardeningwithsoule.com, www.SWgardening.com, and www.savortheSW.com.