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Take it inside this growing season

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2012, 8:56 p.m.
Herb containers are good indoor gardening projects for the winter. Credit: Jessica Walliser

If you're not quite ready to give up the ghost on the gardening season, move it indoors. Herbs are some of the easiest plants to grow in containers and many of them perform quite well on a sunny windowsill. With a little effort, you can harvest fresh, homegrown herbs like thyme, sage, rosemary, oregano and parsley through the entire winter.

Begin your indoor herb-growing adventure with some clean containers. Plastic or glazed terracotta pots are best, as they don't dry out as quickly as unglazed terracotta pots. Be sure each container has a drainage hole in the bottom and a saucer beneath it to catch the drips. For perennial herbs, you'll want a minimum of 8 inches of pot diameter per plant. Annual herbs can get away with tighter quarters, so putting two plants per 8-inch pot is possible. If you plan to mix several herb varieties in a single container, you can put three or four plants in each 16- to 18-inch pot. And, as many herbs are shallow-rooted, you don't need a very deep container; a shallow, bowl-like pot works just fine.

Fill the container with a commercially made soilless potting mix. These mixes are best for indoor growing, as they are light, well-draining and sterile. Use the most expensive potting mix you can afford, because using a high-quality potting soil means less frequent watering as well as consistent soil volume.

Once the pots are filled, select your plants. Begin this process by deciding what flavors you love — let your cookbooks and appetite be your guide. Visit your favorite local nursery to see what they have in stock. If you'd like, you can seek out smaller-statured varieties of favorite herbs that are specifically bred for container conditions. Included in my personal favorites are ‘Pixie' purple basil, ‘Santo' cilantro, ‘Dr. Ietswaart' golden oregano, chives, sweet marjoram, ‘Cameo” basil, ‘Kaliteri' oregano, and parsley.

Place your new herb garden in a sunny windowsill. Or, for even better harvests, invest in a small grow light. Turn on the grow light for 12 to 15 hours per day. Keep your herbs well-watered by moving the pot to the sink every seven to 10 days (or whenever the soil feels dry) and flushing the pot with water until at least 20 percent of what you put in the top, comes out the drainage hole in the bottom.

Allow the pot to sit in the sink until it fully drains, then empty the saucer and put the plant back in the windowsill or under the grow light. Although it isn't necessary to fertilize your herbs in the winter, especially if the potting mix you selected contains a slow-release fertilizer, you can water the pot with diluted liquid kelp (available at local nurseries, at Peaceful Valley Farm Supply, www.groworganic.com, and through other online sources) every three to four weeks.

To harvest your herbs, use your thumb and forefinger to pinch off sprigs or individual leaves. Do not harvest more than a quarter of the foliage at any one time.

Horticulturist Jessica Walliser co-hosts “The Organic Gardeners” at 7 a.m. Sundays on KDKA Radio. She is the author of several gardening books, including “Grow Organic” and “Good Bug, Bad Bug.” Her website is www.jessicawalliser.com.

Send your gardening or landscaping questions to tribliving@tribweb.com or The Good Earth, 503 Martindale St., 3rd Floor, D.L. Clark Building, Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

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