How much space needed to grow herbs?

sepandeeFebruary 17, 2008

I live in an apartment so I don't have that much space to grow herbs. I've never grown herbs before but I'm about to order some seeds soon, but don't know which ones or how many pots i should order. So my questions are,

1) How much space is needed for 5 plants (the dimensions, roughly)?

2) What would you say are the "essential" herbs to grow? I know this is a very subjective question, but I want to get some ideas. I know i use basil and parsley a lot, but the difference between the two is that parsley i can get in huge bunches for a good price, whereas basil (and mint) I get for a ridiculous price, and I end up with sweaty herbs stuffed in a plastic box (looks like a sauna). So I'm looking at increasing my overall utility, where a higher utility = cheaper price + better quality.


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It is impossible to generalise about herbs. There are 20000 of them to choose from, and each has its own optimal size and growing conditions.

Also, it's my experience that plants don't do so well indoors. For one thing, potted plants will always be stunted to some degree (this can be a good thing!); for another, they don't get the advantage of 'real' sunlight which they need; and also they are subjected to all sorts of abuses such as wildly fluctuating temperatures (especially in a kitchen), stale air, poor drainage, dust and assorted gaseous emissions; cramped quarters; attacks of diseases and bugs etc.

You've mentioned 3 herbs you use.

Basil can grow to 1.5 metres or more in height, and can be wider than the fattest person in the world.

Parsley at maturity will be too big to fit into your oven.

Mint will fill an Olympic swimming pool-sized pot in no time flat. It has a strong yearning to take over the world. You'll have to repot it on a regular basis to prevent it becoming potbound. Let's just say 'the largest pot you can manage', eh?

As for other herbs, it depends on what you like and what you will use. They'll all need plenty of space. How about chives, garlic chives, French tarragon (for heaven's sake don't be fobbed off with the Russian tarragon!), thyme, savory, lemon savory, rosemary, sage, bay. That's just to name the most popular of the Mediterranean herbs. I always recommend something 'lemon-y', so you could try lemon balm, which is closely related to mint but not quite such a thug. You might prefer Lime Balm, or you could have both (not together, however).

I suggest you spend some time browsing through the threads at this site, where you'll find lots and lots of information of the kind you're seeking. Or do some googling.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 1:28AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

"Herbs" is too broad a term... As mentioned in another very recent thread, there many hundreds of thousands of herbs, and their varieties. Can you specify some more of your favorites so it would be easier to list what can be grown in small containers. Mint isn't a favorite of mine, but if you like it, buying fresh is also very cheap, unless you use lots of it, where even containers of it may not be able to keep up with your demands. Many need all the sun they can get, while others cannot take a lot of heat or strong sun. Basil varieties alone can grow anywhere from a 10 inch tall plant to about 5 foot tall. The basil leaves are also different sizes ranging from smaller than a thumb size, to bigger than your hand. Dill, is a good one for the leaves it produces. Rosemary, and thyme are also god to grow in pots.

    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 9:18AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Do you have a front steps or an area outside your apartment where your plants could at least summer outdoors? As mentioned, growing things indoors can be hard but if you can give your plants some fresh air and real sunshine during warm weather you might meet with more success. One caveat - just like people, plants that have spent all winters indoors need a chance to get accustomed to sun, wind, and rain. Provide them shelter and put them out a little at a time in the beginning for best results.

Being in Ontario, you will also want to keep your indoor plants in the brightest location, window sill maybe, you have. In fact, I would suggest some additional lighting especially this time of year when we rarely see the sun. (I'm just south of you in Western NY State.) The additional lighting doesn't have to be super expensive. It can be lamps with grow bulbs if that works for you. This will help your plants immensely - especially if you wish to grow plants that hail from the tropics or Mediterranean.

If starting seeds, there are germination needs for each that you should review. Light and certain temperatures are common needs. If you keep your place warm (70 degrees or more F), you shouldn't have issues with temperatures for seed germination. But if it is cooler (like I keep my house this time of year), you may need to find a way to keep them warm at least until they have germinated.

As far as container gardening, more varieties are being developed for containers since there is an increasing number of people who lack the space or time for full-scale gardens. If there are specific plants you intend to grow, mention those. Someone may know of a variety that does better in a container.


    Bookmark   February 18, 2008 at 10:50AM
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Well, to make things more specific:

* I'm no expert at cooking. At 24, I'm still learning my way through this fine art, but like I mentioned before, I use basil a lot. I also use parsley (italian or not) and thyme once in a while, as well as bay (the latter 2 are I use mostly with chicken). But not being an expert or even a moderately-knowledgeable cook, I can't really decide which spices and herbs I'll be using the most.

* I live on teh 26th floor of an apartment building in downtown Toronto, with views to the south and east = lots of sun in the morning, noon and afternoon. The windows are huge (covers the whole wall) so if the sun is out, it's pretty bright. The apartment's pretty warm during the winter (75-78), and it's just hot hot hot during the summer by the window with the sunlight (around 85, and 90-95 under direct sunlight). I do have a balcony, but is Toronto summer good for growing ... well, i don't even know what I'll be growing!! Let's just say basil, parsley, and thyme for now.

* If indoors, I can dedicate MAX 60 x 20 inches in width and length. Height, well, it's an apartment, so go figure. If the plants grow nice, then perhaps even 1 meter (40in). Outdoors (balcony), i have a bit more space.

I'm just so confused. I've never grown anything from seed, have no idea about germination, not sure what herbs to get, not sure if I can grow them in my apartment, etc., but I really want to do this. HELP!


    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 1:01AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Suggest that if your unsure about what herbs to grow (limited due to your climate and space restrictions), that you buy a few store bought dried ones first. The ones you like, might be ones that will grow well. Most herbs do best in sunlight, and a few are fine in some shade. Keep in mind that if they are indoors, the chances of getting good sun (with UV rays) may be very low. many herb plants love UV and need that as part of the leaf system. Start simple, like maybe try and grow some cilantro from seeds. Next, try Thyme. Cilantro can grow a little indoors as it doesn't like heat or a lot of strong sun. Another favorite is dill. Get seeds for a short variety that doesn't go to seed too fast (called bolting).

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 2:46AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Garden sage grows well from seed. It loves sun and well drained conditions. It would love your balcony. It is a perennial that winters outside quite nicely in my zone 5/6. Depending upon conditions where you are, you may be able to winter it outdoors as well. It could be an experiment to try with a pot tucked up close to the side of the building.

I agree with ksrogers. Try fresh and dried herbs. Find out what you like and try growing them. I would also suggest visiting a library or bookstore. There are oodles of books on growing herbs and such a book would help you to know how to start. It would cover far more information than we can possibly cover here.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 9:06AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

My sage was started from seed, and did not survive a single winter. I live in Z6, and I must say it was not very hardy once we got the cold of winter. The next spring, the branches were bare, and not a single leaf bud was seen. The same with rosemary. On the other hand, I can still see green leaves on my thyme, which has been buried numerous times under heavy snow and ice, and expect it to flourish again, once we get warmed up here.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 9:43AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Came across this site after doing a search for alligator pepper. Thay have a good assortment of unusual spices and herbs.

Here is a link that might be useful: Spice source

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 10:27AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

I've got some really cool pictures of my sage all snowy and covered in ice - recently it has been a winter of ice more than snow. I'll have to see about posting some pictures...

I've grown sage outdoors for about 15 years and I've yet to loose one to the winter. Rosemary, I've stopped trying to get that one to survive the winter. And thyme I've had so-so luck with. The thyme I have now I have had the best luck with and that I started from seed directly sowed.

sepandee - Hey neighbor across the lake! I live near Rochester, NY. There's a great herb place about 30 minutes from Toronto. It's called Richters and I included their link below.


Here is a link that might be useful: Richters Herbs

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 11:10AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

It may be the type of sage you have growing. Mine looked exactly like that in photos. It was dried and rubbed into a 'cottony' ball, then I place it in some canning jars. I use it in my sausage making. There are a few rosemary strains that can resist a lot of severe cold, but I have yet to find any, so I start rosemary from primed seeds instead. Dill is another one that can drop seeds that survive winters. I start dill plants too, but the ones outside seem to be much bigger. Last years dill was over 5 foot tall. It was so cold about three years ago, that I lost ALL my rose bushes. Some were more than 30 years old too, and the blue rose was a masterpiece, sniff..

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 1:35PM
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I think you should give it a try. I have grown parsley, basil, oregano, mint in containers and they do fine. You'll have to keep them cut back, but you'll want to do that anyway so you can use them! Try a window box, or a container under the window that you can move around to capture the most sun. I think herbs are the perfect thing for an apartment gardener! I say go for it.

Have you every used an Earth box? I had 8 types of herbs in one last year and they were fabulous. It is designed to use outside, but you could use it indoors if you have room and if you put something under the water drain hole. The great thing is they roll around.

Here is a link that might be useful: Some info about Earth boxes

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 3:16PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

ksrogers & sage -

Could be the type of sage but it's one thing that I have a real fondness for and I've gotten the plants from numerous garden centers and nurseries over the years. A few years back someone gave me a bunch of herb seed packets they got at Wal-Mart. I think every sage seed sprouted (direct sown) and is doing well. I've also scattered seeds from mature plants and had them sprout. I've had the best luck with no named varieties. Just plain old garden sage, Salvia officinalis. I must say that the named varieties I've tried haven't been as robust.

The last bunch of sage plants I got was from Richters. They are currently in one of the vegetable beds which are very unprotected and as cold a location as I have - I think sage finds it way into all my garden beds at some point. Richters sells seed as well as plants. You could try what they have.


    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 5:38PM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

My sage never had any flowers or seeds, so I guess Z6 isn't long enough for them to reach that seed level, as compared to something like dill, which will come up everywhere after a single year of it going to seed. My winter chives (wild onions) can spread everywhere too, but I pull off the tops before the tiny bulbs fall off.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 5:57PM
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I think if you are a real beginning-beginner, you should forget out seeds for now. Why not get some seedlings (baby plants) from a nursery? That will give you a head start, and you can do taste-testing right away, as well as learn how to look after them.

I don't know about where you live, but here in my part of the world, in the fruit/vege section of the supermarket, we can buy small herb plants in tiny pots for a reasonable price (usually tarragon, mint, basil, thyme, sage, chives). They aren't intended for growing-on, but sometimes you can be lucky if you repot them straight away.

Also I suggest using your balcony for growing the plants, as long as you can protect your babies from extremes of cold and wind.

I think it might be a good idea to take a tour around a local herb nursery. Don't be afraid to break off a leaf or two, crush it, smell it and taste it. Use your taste buds and nose to guide you as to which herbs you like. Remember the flavour will be quite strong, but just imagine (while your tasting) how it would go in your next stew or omelette or on your roast dinner.

    Bookmark   February 19, 2008 at 6:19PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Daisyduckworth is correct. Seeds can be very frustrating to the new (and sometimes the very experienced!) gardener. A few small plants are not very expensive. Try a couple small plants and grow as a gardener with them.

The only seeds I suggest to new gardeners are annual types. Annual plants (plants that complete their life cycle in one growing season) are as a general rule easy to germinate and don't have special germination requirements. Dill, cilantro, and basil (culinary) are annuals and are easy to start from seed.

Just something for you to remember as you get started...As gardeners we all have failures sometimes but we learn from them. In fact, we learn more from our failures than our successes. The best part is that we get an endless supply of second chances and we can try again. Very few things in life give us such an opportunity.


    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 9:33AM
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ksrogers(EasternMass Z6)

Start seeds in small 2"x2" (inch) plastic pots with high quality seed starting mix. NEVER use potting soils or any soil gathered from outside. This will reduce any possibility of bugs and diseases from killing new plantings. Some potting soils I have seen slug eggs in!! These so-called soils have small round greenish white eggs, that are semi translucent, and can survive for quite some time in the bags they are packaged in. Dare I say Miracle Grow potting mixes, and other well known name brands! YES! Some people have attempted to try and sterilize some soils, but baking in a home oven, which is NOT GOOD! The baking odors alone are enough to tell you that these soils have things in them that should never come in contact with foods. Needless to say, I use a seed starting mix that isn't really soil of any kind, but is made of coconut husks and a few other things that are far better for delicate seed starting. Just my opinion, but with almost 40 years of seed starting along with it.

    Bookmark   February 20, 2008 at 1:54PM
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