8 Herbs You Should Never Grow Indoors
As apartment living grows and gardens shrink, growing herbs indoors has become one of the most popular ways to grow edibles. However, some herbs take more effort to grow indoors than they are worth. Gardening expert Madison Moulton shares seven herbs she won’t grow indoors and why.
Although it may not seem like it to new gardeners, the gardening world is filled with controversy and debate. These debates can get quite heated, with gardeners fiercely defending their positions. Unfortunately, I believe I am about to spark one of those debates with this list of 8 herbs you should never grow indoors.
As an indoor gardener, first and foremost, I have tried to grow many plants that aren’t traditionally classified as “houseplants” indoors. But when it comes to indoor herb gardens, it’s about more than just keeping a plant alive. The goal is for it to be healthy and productive for the best possible harvest.
With that in mind, I’d like to preface this article by saying that it’s not impossible to grow these herbs indoors. But from my experience, I don’t think it’s worth the effort. If you have no outdoor space at all, you can give it a try. But if you do, rather keep these options outdoors.
I find dill is often forgotten in the herb garden (and in the kitchen too). But its distinctive flavor adds something unique you can’t find anywhere else, quickly elevating a dish when you know how to use it right. Unfortunately, just because it’s great to use in your kitchen, that doesn’t mean it’s good for growing in your kitchen.
The central issue is size. Dill grows to around 3 feet tall, but some varieties grow even larger – up to an impressive 5 feet. This size demands more than a small pot on your windowsill. Even if you try to keep growth compact, mature plants usually take up much more premium kitchen space than they’re worth, and it requires frequent harvesting.
Instead of battling with dill indoors, you’ll see far better results keeping it outdoors if you have the space. It’ll have room to stretch out, thrive in full sunlight, and grow to its full potential.
Lavender – famously native to the sunny Mediterranean – requires an environment that matches Mediterranean conditions to grow well. That means it adores the sun and thrives in areas with abundant light and excellent drainage.
Unfortunately, this kind of environment is not usually found in our homes. You may be one of the lucky few with the perfect space large enough to grow lavender, but these spots are hard to come by. When forced to grow in limited light (and often excessively moist) indoor conditions, lavender struggles to push out the blooms and fragrant leaves it is grown for.
Lavender needs consistent direct sunlight for at least six hours per day, preferably more. Achieving this indoors can be tricky, especially considering the quality of light indoors is not quite the same as outdoors.
Another common problem for indoor lavender plants is drainage. More specifically, lack of it. Lavender doesn’t tolerate high humidity and can’t stand being overwatered – both common problems when growing herbs indoors.
Even if you provide somewhat adequate light and water carefully, lavender grown indoors won’t reach its full potential in size or number of blooms. Keep it outdoors in your garden beds or large pots to avoid leggy and disappointing growth.
Basil is often recommended for growing indoors, so you might be surprised to see it on this list. However, I have never managed to grow basil indoors successfully for over a few months, and I’ve chatted with many gardeners who feel the same. If this resonates, don’t consider yourself a black thumb – basil often doesn’t perform well indoors.
Basil loves bright and sunny conditions to boost growth and produce flavorful leaves. They are also plants that need warm temperatures year-round to thrive. Unfortunately, replicating this within the confines of your home can be challenging, as we often keep our homes at cooler temperatures than basil prefers!
It isn’t just light and temperature you have to worry about. Watering basil is a delicate balance in containers. They can’t survive soggy soil but also wilt quickly when the soil stays dry for long periods. Maintenance indoors can therefore be tough, managing varying conditions with no rain to supplement when needed.
If your heart is set on indoor basil, there are steps you can take to increase your chances of success:
- Choose a spot with at least six hours of sunlight daily for strong stems. Add grow lights if needed.
- Maintain a warm environment above 70°F.
- Keep the soil moist but not soggy.
- Regularly check for pests.
You won’t be able to harvest as much as if grown outdoors, but indoor growth can be sufficient if you only want to use a few leaves at a time.
Cilantro is one of those controversial herbs that has everyone divided. You either love it or hate it (usually because you have a smell receptor that picks up aldehyde chemicals, making the cilantro taste soapy to you). While I am firmly on the ‘love it’ side and use it regularly in the kitchen, I still wouldn’t try growing it indoors again.
Without sufficient light, cilantro growth is incredibly disappointing. The stems become tall and leggy with very few leaves – the most important part of the plant when harvesting. Indoor spaces don’t provide the right direct sunlight cilantro needs to flourish, resulting in a leggy, underperforming plant.
If you’ve tried growing cilantro indoors, you likely ended up with a tall and thin plant rather than bushy and full. The leaves become sparse, leaving you with a far less useable harvest than you likely hoped for when planting.
For indoor cilantro to stand a chance, you must find the sunniest window available or supplement it with a grow light. But for optimal results, cilantro is better planted outdoors.
A staple in many dishes as a highlight or simply a garnish, parsley is an undeniably versatile herb. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for its adaptability to indoor conditions.
Parsley responds similarly to cilantro when it doesn’t get enough light. As it tries to reach for the sun, the stems become elongated and weak, causing them to topple over.
Lack of light and the plant’s natural desire to stretch towards any available light source will result in lanky growth with few leaves suitable for harvesting. The leaves will also be far less flavorful than in ideal outdoor conditions.
A position on a balcony or patio in full sun will give you a fuller, healthier plant with plenty of aromatic leaves for harvesting. But if you don’t have the right outdoor space, choose a south-facing window and keep a close eye on the plant.
When you think of resilience, rosemary is usually the first herb to come to mind. But even with this reputation, successfully growing rosemary indoors demands a level of maintenance that often isn’t worth it compared to the ease of growing it outdoors.
Rosemary needs well-draining soil and plenty of sunlight to mirror its Mediterranean origins. Like lavender, it can be a struggle to replicate these conditions indoors. The risk of overwatering also becomes a real possibility, especially for overzealous waterers who fuss over their plants.
Space is another issue. It’s relatively easy to keep rosemary compact by pruning often and confining it to a small container. But in their native habitats, rosemary grows far larger than small kitchens will accommodate. So if you can give them the space to spread and give you more leaves to harvest outdoors, why wouldn’t you?
While rosemary can be grown indoors, it’s not without its challenges. If you’re willing to do the work, you can still have a piece of the Mediterranean in your home. If not, keep this herb outside.
Chamomile is famous for its calming properties and adorable flowers. You may have considered adding it to your indoor garden for a consistent supply if you don’t have the right outdoor space. However, you may want to think again.
Chamomile loves to stretch out, often grown as a ground cover of lawn replacement where it can make the most of the available space. A small pot on a windowsill or a crowded indoor herb garden won’t provide the room this herb needs to flourish, especially if you want plenty of flowers.
And, at the risk of repeating something you’re probably tired of hearing by now, sunlight is also an issue. Chamomile needs an ample amount of light to thrive and flower. Less-than-ideal light levels will lead to spindly growth and fewer blooms. If you’re cultivating chamomile for its blooms – the part most often used in teas – fewer flowers mean less of the herb to harvest and use.
If outdoor gardening isn’t an option, ensure you have a big enough pot and a sunny enough location to encourage the best growth. Instead of forcing chamomile to adapt to indoor conditions, choose other herbs that better withstand indoor conditions.
With a strong flavor and plenty of health benefits, the seeds, bulbs, and fronds of the fennel plant all have a place in the kitchen. It’s not my favorite herb to eat, but I know many gardeners who love to grow and use it (especially in salads).
Regularly reaching heights of 6 feet, with an almost equal spread, fennel is certainly on the larger side when compared to other herbs. This is one plant that appreciates its space, and unfortunately, windowsills and tabletop gardens don’t provide the real estate it requires.
Like the other herbs on this list, fennel prefers a full-sun environment and well-draining soil. Too little sun can yield a leggy, unhappy plant. Overwatering in a well-intentioned attempt to keep it moist can also quickly lead to root rot, a common issue among indoor herbs.
It may be tempting to keep fennel ready to harvest in the kitchen, but this herb is best left outdoors. Not only will it have the space it needs to grow, but it’ll also have the optimal conditions it needs to thrive.