By Charlie Nardozzi

It may be cold and bleak outside, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have a garden blooming inside—even without a greenhouse. One of the most satisfying winter gardening activities is growing an indoor herb garden. You can grow compact varieties of culinary herbs that produce enough leaves to spice up a winter dish. Herbs are versatile, too.

“Certain herbs, such as lemongrass, rosemary and kaffir lime, are essential for making ethnic dishes, plus they can double as houseplants in a well-lit room,” says Rose Marie Nichols Magee, president of Nichols Garden Nursery.

Given the right amount of light, water and fertilizer, and an occasional pinching to promote bushy growth, aromatic and culinary herbs can thrive in your home. Use them in soups, stews, casseroles and salads, or create potpourris and sachets. They’ll give your taste buds and nose a teasing glimpse of the growing season to come.

Choosing Herbs

If you like to cook, culinary herbs such as basil, thyme and sage are good options. If you just want something that will tickle your nose in winter, try aromatic herbs such as mint, scented geraniums and lavender.

The amount of sun you get will dictate what you can grow. If you have a sunny, south-facing windowsill, try growing sage, thyme and nasturtiums. If you have an east- or west-facing window, grow mint, chives, parsley and scented geraniums.

You also can grow sun-loving herbs under grow lights. Set a timer on the fixture to ensure that plants get at least 12 hours of light per day. Without adequate lighting, plants will produce many small, paper-thin leaves. Leaves that get enough light will be large and thick.

Plant herbs in individual pots, large containers or planters that fit on the windowsill. Pair tall herbs, such as rosemary and basil, with cascading herbs, such as oregano and mint. Choose compact varieties of popular herbs, such as “Fernleaf” dill and “Spicy Globe” basil.

Soil, Water and Fertilizer

Contrary to popular belief, herbs need fertile, well-drained soil to grow well, especially in containers. Potting soil should drain easily, but will need extra nourishment for the plants to grow best. Supplement the soil with weekly applications of a diluted liquid fertilizer such as fish emulsion. When the soil is dry to the touch, water plants until draining from the bottom of the pot occurs.

Charlie Nardozzi, a nationally recognized garden writer, book author, speaker and radio and television personality, has appeared on HGTV, PBS and Discovery Channel television networks. He is the senior horticulturist and spokesperson for the National Gardening Association (www.garden.org) and chief gardening officer for the Hilton Garden Inn.

All materials courtesy of the National Gardening Association