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Starting Herbs from Seed

A few important things to consider:

  • Buy only quality seed from a reliable herb supplier that labels the seeds correctly.
  • Starting herb seeds successfully requires good light, proper timing, and quality growing medium, moisture, the right temperature, air circulation, and lots of patience.
  • Some herbs are difficult to start from seeds. They will do better if started from cuttings. How to take herb cuttings.

Ten steps to starting herbs indoors:

1. Find a fun container with good drainage: 

  • Use yogurt cartons that you cover with paper and decorate, have an adult punch holes in the bottom for drainage.
  • Empty juice boxes- adults only cut the BOTTOM of the box off, make sure the straw hole is open and use this side for drainage.
  • Egg cartons with a hole punched in the bottom of each section
  • Sour cream containers- cover with paper and decorate, have an adult punch holes in the bottom for drainage.
  • Small clay pots- decorate with paint

2. Soak or wash your container in a mixture of 10% chlorine bleach and water. Ask an adult for help. Allow the containers to dry.

  • Find some great herb seeds or seedlings from the nursery.
    • Cookie Herbs - lavender, rosemary, lemon balm, lemon thyme, mints
    • Pizza herbs - basil, oregano, parsley, thyme Salsa herbs-cilantro, parsley, garlic, chives
    • Chocolate Herbs - chocolate mint, chocolate mint scented geraniums
    • Butterfly Herbs - marigolds, purple coneflower, butterfly weed, cosmos, lavender, sage, parsley
    • Sister Herbs - rosemary, lavender, Melissa (lemon balm), lady's mantle, sweet Annie, violet  

3. Fill your container to about one inch from the top with the soil-less medium of your choice

  • Check with your local garden center to find out what mix will work best for you.
  • Make use of compost for seed starting. What is composting?
  • A finer mix is better for smaller seeds.

4. Wet down the soil in the container and let it sit for 20 to 30 minutes.

5. While you are waiting take some popsicle sticks and write down the names of the plants you are planting. Good information to include would be the Latin and common name of the plant, and the date you planted the seed.

6. Planting

  • Seeds - Planting seeds at the right depth is extremely important for proper seed germination. In addition, seeds have different light requirements for germination.
  • Depth - The amount of growing medium you place on top of your seeds is partially determined by their size. For example, smaller seeds such as lemon balm will need a shallower covering than larger nasturtium seeds. A general rule for planting seeds is to cover them with enough soil for 1-3 times their size.
  • Light - The amount of growing medium is also determined by the light requirements for seed germination. Seeds may need to be covered with soil or left uncovered. For instance, the seeds of summer and winter savory need light for germination so no growing medium is placed on top of them while basil seeds will need to be covered with soil.
  • For best results, follow the directions on your seed packet or consult a reliable gardening book for seed depth and light requirements.

7. Do not let your newly planted seeds dry out. For best results, bottom water your seeds by placing their containers in a flat tray of water. Leave them on the tray only until the soil at the top is moist. Bottom watering prevents dieback and promotes deep roots.  

8. Cover your containers with plastic wrap to help conserve moisture and create humidity. Make a tent or dome out of the plastic to allow for air circulation; bent coat hangers work well for this purpose. To avoid mildew uncover them every other day so they can get some fresh air. Remove the plastic wrap completely once the seedlings begin growing and have developed several more leaves.

 9. Herb seeds need as much as 14 to 16 hours of light per day in order to develop properly. The addition of artificial lighting may be needed to insure healthy growth. Check your herbs to make sure that they do not dry out. Your goal is to keep your plants and seeds moist but to not over water them.

Seedlings:

Once you have planted your seeds proper care will result in seedlings that will need to be transplanted into new containers. Wait to transplant your seedlings until they have several sets of leaves and until their roots have developed. They should be about 2-3" tall. Transplant the seedlings by carefully taking off their lower leaves. Turn the pot upside down and let the seedling fall into your hand. Do not pull the plant out by the stem or the leaves. Place the seedlings in the soil to a spot just above where you pinched off the lower leaves. Pat the soil around the plant and water it in.

While you are waiting for your herbs to grow find out all about them by doing some research. You can learn about their history, folklore, uses, and care so you can enjoy them for many years to come!