Everything you need to know about growing an indoor herb garden – Orange County Register
If you are passionate about herbs and want to grow them indoors in your home, “Plant-based houseplants: grow beautiful herbs indoors!” (Cool Springs Press, 2021) is a book you really can’t live without. Besides, technically speaking, the difference between herbs and spices is that herbs are grown for their foliage, whether they are fresh or dried, while spices are grown for their seeds, rinds, flowers or dried roots and usually crushed.
Light is the main limiting factor when it comes to growing herbs indoors, as they require five to six hours of bright light per day. Muted, spindly shoots mean the light is not bright enough. According to author Susan Betz, “A clear window facing south, west or east is the best place to grow an indoor herb garden. . . Placing a plant a few feet from a window will reduce the light intensity by up to 50%. When there is not enough natural light, you can still grow herbs using “a simple full spectrum grow light with a high light output level”.
There are a few herbs that can grow well in low, indirect sunlight, and members of the mint family are one of them. Here, Betz extols the virtues of Corsican mint (Mentha requienii), which grows in a low carpet of tiny leaves, barely reaching an inch in height. “I never get tired of this plant,” exclaims Betz. “If you lightly stroke the leaves, they release an uplifting and enchanting mint aroma. Orange mint, chocolate mint and pineapple mint are other favorite mint selections. Betz gives detailed instructions for preparing mint skin toner using peppermint leaves and lemon balm mint bubble bath (Melissa officinalis).
Betz quotes Alfred Austin who said, “There is no gardening without humility, a diligent willingness to learn, and a cheerful willingness to admit that you made a mistake. I really think this is the key to success with plants in general and houseplants in particular. People tend to give up after one or two failures instead of learning from their mistakes and moving on. Betz’s definition of a green thumb is also important when evaluating our ability to grow plants. “A green thumb,” she writes, “is nothing more than a good understanding of plants and their requirements, plus the time, inclination and determination to consistently meet those requirements. The determination to learn what container plants need is absolutely vital as they are completely powerless without us and can decline quite quickly when their needs are not met.
Betz does not recommend the use of plastic or glazed ceramic containers for growing herbs indoors. These containers are touted to keep the soil moist longer than is the case with clay pots. Yet, she writes, “clay pots are best for growing herbs indoors … They allow the potting soil to ‘breathe’ because water slowly evaporates through the sides of the pot, increasing the air exchange between soil and roots. This means plants are less likely to have wet feet (roots), which can hinder (or worse!) Their growth. Plus, evaporating moisture through the porous sides of clay containers is a simple way to increase humidity and humidity in the air surrounding the plant.
Betz advises spraying herbs once or twice a week to deter pests that find hot, dry air to their liking. In this regard, houseplants of any kind are recommended to be grouped together, since the loss of water from their leaves during transpiration moistens the air for the benefit of the whole group. When it comes to soil for growing herbs indoors, Betz recommends a formula consisting of 3 parts potting soil, 1 part coarse sand, 1 part compost, and 1 part perlite.
An entire chapter is devoted to fragrant leaf geraniums, of which there are over 100 varieties, all of which have made their home in southern Africa. Fertilize them during the growing season with a 15-15-15 product (percentages of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and, if the product lacks magnesium as a micronutrient, add 1 teaspoon of magnesium sulfate per gallon of water on a monthly basis. is easily done from cuttings. Several cuttings rooted together in a pot make a fragrant gift. A dressing recipe is offered that includes lemon, apple, rose and mint scented geranium leaves. Recipes of lemon geranium mousse and pomegranate-strawberry geranium sorbet are also in the spotlight. (Geraniums are safe to eat, but you should always check whether a plant is safe to eat before trying it.)
“Herbal Houseplants” provides the history of each herb that is discussed as well as information on conserving herbs, creating herbal topiaries from stem cuttings, preparing herbal teas, and blending a ” quick and easy potpourri “. In a section on pest control, Betz recommends the following prescription for the control of aphids, fungal flies and spider mites as well as for overall plant health. Mix 2 cups of water and 2 tablespoons of 3% hydrogen peroxide in a 24 ounce spray bottle. You may occasionally want to soak the soil with this concoction even where pests are not a problem since hydrogen peroxide oxygenates and aerates the soil. (Note: Hydrogen peroxide has long been used as a soil amendment in the garden to increase oxygen availability to the roots and for soil aeration purposes.)
I received several responses to a recent column on palo verde trees, including the following:
I am a kindergarten teacher at Longfellow in Riverside. About three years ago, I applied for a grant to beautify the kindergarten quad. For my small plot, I opted for drought tolerant plants, including palo verde and lantana. It buzzes with bees! The warden, Mr. Chris Ricker, planted all the trees and grew several vegetables in other plots. – Yesenia Mejia-Hudson
I have both Parkinsonia praecox (palo verde green) and Parkinsonia florida (blue palo verde) in my forest of 40 trees. Blue is by far the more decorative of the two. – Richard Rorex, Apple Valley
In your column on the benefits of palo verde, you didn’t mention a problem with its roots. Next to our new artificial turf, a palo verde tree was inadvertently planted by our landscaper. In less than three years, he was 15 feet tall. Then the gardener pointed to the speed bumps going up into the grass beaming from the tree. I had the tree removed, but it made the grass unsafe (tripped several times). I think you should add a disclaimer to raise your palo verde hymn. – Lloyd Dent, Northridge
I have never encountered any troublesome surface roots on a palo verde tree and I guess the water trapped under the artificial turf is the reason for their growth in this case. Normally, a desert tree like palo verde has deep roots and would only grow surface roots if water was abundantly available in the topsoil. I would be interested to hear from other people who may have encountered a similar problem.
And about the tomatoes:
Tiny green caterpillars eat all of the green in our tomato leaves, leaving only the veins. We have a tool shed full of sprays, some of which are not intended for edibles. Suggestions? – Donald and Carole Jo Wells, Long Beach
Any product containing BT (Bacillus thuringiensis) should be effective in knocking down these caterpillars and can be used safely on edibles. BT infecting and killing caterpillars is an example of biological control, a practice that uses one living organism to attack another.
To help with the yellowing of the plant, I add a spoonful of Epsom salt to the hole when planting. And to help control blossom end rot, I add 3 Tums to each hole when I plant. Magnesium and Calcium seem to really help with fruit skin texture and moisture absorption for the plant. – Kent Prentice, Rocklin (east of Sacramento)
Tip of the week: Susan Betz recommends sea onion (Ornithogalum caudatum) for ornamental and conversation starter purposes. I have grown this plant – not a real onion although it looks like one – and I vouch for its charms. “The bulb is made up of many layers of skin, and between these layers small bulbs, or litters, form. At first, they look like bulges on the side of the bulb and eventually ripen and fall off the mother plant. Repot the bulbils and pass them on to your friends. This plant is very tolerant of neglect and will only die if overwatered. Sea onion bulbs are readily available from internet vendors.
For more information on the area’s plants and gardens, visit Joshua Siskin’s website, thesmartergardener.com. Send your questions and photos to [email protected]