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10/16 Your Garden: Denise Ruttan

Start a windowsill herb garden

October 15, 2013

Picture this: You take garden potatoes from storage, lay them in a roasting pan and dab them with olive oil. Then you pluck fresh sprigs of rosemary, sage and thyme and sprinkle the herbs on the potatoes.

The best part? These fresh herbs grew in your kitchen -- on the windowsill.

This scenario could be yours by cultivating a container herb garden in your kitchen this fall, said Weston Miller, horticulturist with the Oregon State University Extension Service.

"Growing herbs indoors definitely has benefits," Miller said. "It helps cure those winter blues when it gets cloudy or cold outside. It's one of the few gardening activities you get to do during winter. Aromatic herbs also help flavor foods."

It's a good time of year from early August through mid-October to plant perennial herbs in containers, Miller said. Any type of well-drained container and regular potting soil will do.

It's a must to consider the old real estate adage of location, location, location. Miller strongly advised growing transplanted herbs near a south-facing window that gets direct sunlight for four to six hours per day during the winter. If you don't receive that much light, use supplemental lighting such as fluorescent shop bulbs to ensure adequate growth of the herbs during the winter.

These seven drought-tolerant herbs are Miller's picks for an easy kitchen container garden: parsley, chives, rosemary, thyme, sage, marjoram and winter savory. Note that parsley is a biennial, not a perennial, but it can be transplanted into pots in the fall for winter and spring harvest.

First, choose your plant starts at local nurseries and garden centers to transplant into new pots. Or you could divide perennial herbs currently growing in your outdoor garden with a sharp shovel and transfer them to pots for the winter. It's possible to grow perennials from seed indoors, but they will develop even slower than transplants and require supplemental lighting, according to Miller.

For your kitchen garden, you could pack in up to a half dozen plants in a pot that is about 18 inches long and 6 to 8 inches deep. After the herbs are established, harvest by cutting them with scissors. Place pots on a windowsill or build a shelf or rack by a window. Add nutrients to the potting soil as you pot the plants with organic or synthetic complete fertilizer, Miller said.

When you're taking care of your new herbs, don't forget the most common killer of houseplants: not enough water. To monitor the thirstiness of your plants, poke your finger into the soil once every three to four days. If the soil feels dry, it is time to water, Miller advised. It's also good to keep an eye on pests, as indoor herbs are more susceptible to aphids and white flies.

On rain-free winter days, place pots outside for a couple of hours to lower the pest risk and squash aphids if they start to multiply underneath the leaves of the herbs.

After the herb plants mature and grow too big for the pot the following spring, transplant them to your outdoor garden at a spacing of about 18 to 24 inches apart and enjoy their appetizing aromas all year.

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