I pride myself at being super knowledgeable when it comes to house plants—I have about 70 and counting—so when I failed at growing herbs from seed multiple times I was, frankly, shocked.
Even using kits I received as gifts and following the instructions to grow basil, chives, parsley, and six different kinds of peppers resulted in varying results: My parsley thrived, my basil had one sprout, the chives did nothing, and only one type of pepper seed germinated. I really didn’t understand why this was happening so I reached out to an expert for tips on growing herbs from seed on windowsills and countertops.
1. Select the Herbs and Vegetables You Will Actually Use
Wolfe's number one tip for people who are just getting started growing herbs is to “select the herbs and vegetables you will actually use," she said.
"Many first-time gardeners get excited about the variety of vegetables available and go overboard or even are overwhelmed with the sheer amount of options. Stick with a handful that you know you like and go from there.” Focusing on what you really like will give you a little extra motivation to get it right.
2. Get the Lighting Right
Then address the conditions for growing the herbs, and Wolfe said it’s best to start with light.
“The quantity and quality of light you have in your windowsill will determine what you can grow successfully. Most edible plants need 6 to 8 hours of sunlight per day.
"In general, south-facing windows get the most light and are best for plants that need lots of bright light or full sun. East-facing windows get weaker morning light, so they can be good for plants that have medium- to low-light requirements. You can also supplement your lighting needs with grow lights,” she said.
Light conditions differ depending on what you’re growing so make sure to at least do a bit of research first. —Debbie Wolfe
3. Create a Warm & Moist Environment and Plant at the Right Depth
It sounds counterintuitive, but “seeds do not need light to germinate," Wolfe said. "They just need temperature and moisture.”
When you seeds don't germinate, she suggested the cause “could be that the seeds did not receive consistent moisture and warmth. A great way to help seeds germinate is to provide bottom heat and a humidity dome.
"Also, make sure to plant seeds at the depth recommended on each seed packet—seeds that are planted too deeply will not germinate. Placing planted seeds on top of a refrigerator will provide bottom heat and placing the pot in a plastic zip baggie creates an instant humidity dome. You can remove the dome once you see the seeds poke through the soil.”
Wolfe shared more tips to help people with their own windowsill gardens:
- Use fresh seeds every year.
- Rotate your plants every couple of weeks to ensure they are getting light on all sides.
- Water deeply and thoroughly (until the water comes out of the bottom of the plant) versus shallow watering is better.
- Prune herbs often to stimulate growth. "Once they set flowers, it will not produce full foliage," she said.