Growing your own herbs from seed can be a really fun little project. The satisfaction of being able to say “I grew that” as you serve it up for dinner is hard to match, not to mention it’s a great way to save money compared to both buying seedlings at the nursery or cut herbs at the market.
Like most things, a little background knowledge and reading up on the basics is going to drastically increase your chances of success, which is exactly the objective of this article.
Before You Start Growing Herbs From Seed
Before you dive right in, we recommend taking a moment to think about what you are going to do with your herbs as they sprout and grow larger, as this will influence the type of equipment you need. Are you going to be growing your herbs indoors or out?
If you are going to be transplanting your herbs outdoors, then you’ll want to look at some historical climate data for your area and figure out when the last spring frost occurs. Deduct 6-8 weeks from this date, and aim to plant your herb seeds around then. You’ll want to make sure that the growing medium you use for herb seed starting is large enough to allow the roots to develop somewhat over this period. Coco coir is a great growing medium to look for, and its what we include with our seed starting kit, but remember this doesn’t contain much in the way of nutrients, so by the 6-8 week mark it might be worth considering some sort of nutrient supplement or plant food.
If you are growing herbs indoors then the ultimate goal is likely to grow your herbs in pots. Some herbs such as dill, parsley and cilantro don’t particularly enjoy being transplanted, so if there’s an option to place these seeds directly into their final home that’s what we’d recommend.
The indoor/outdoor decision might also impact the amount of space you have available. Just like all humans aren’t alike, neither are herb seeds. Within a variety of herb (for example ‘Thai Basil’) there can be dozens of different strains or cultivars. Some will be tall and skinny, others short and wide. Some will have large leaves, others smaller. If you are purchasing cheap generic seeds, then you’re pretty much just going to have to take what you’re given, but if the cultivar is important to you then be sure to ask your store or supplier about it to make sure you get seeds that are best-suited for you. For what its worth, Urban Leaf’s focus is on cultivars with a compact stature and dense foliage, as these are generally best suited for indoor and urban gardeners – which means they may not be the best choice for everyone.
If you are starting indoors, then you might want to consider some sort of germination tray. These are helpful to i) serve as a tray for water (it helps to keep your growing medium in a little bit of water so they are always hydrated) and ii) the lid can help trap humidity. Although these are available as ready-made kits, our personal preference is to avoid the extra plastic and just re-use something you already have – this blog covers a few such ideas.
Which Herb Seeds Need Soaking?
One day before you plan to get set up, it’s a good idea to soak some herb seeds. Although it’s not essential, soaking herb seeds helps soften the hard outer shell of some varieties thereby increasing their germination rates. Varieties that benefit from pre-soaking for 12-24hrs include parsley and coriander.
What Is The Right Temperature For Your Herb Seeds?
Herbs are living things, and just like us that means they are sensitive to temperature extremes. Either too hot or too cold and you’ll have a problem. If you are seed starting indoors in anticipation of spring, then probably the biggest threat is cold windows / window sills. The sun from a window will be important once they sprout, but when you’re at the germination stage it is far less important. More important in the first few days is temperature. These little herb seeds are smart enough to know that if it’s cold out then it must still be winter, and there’s no point in them sprouting. You need to trick the seeds into believing that they are coming into spring and that the temperatures are therefore warmer. 65 – 75 F is a good range to aim for, and if your home doesn’t allow for this then consider getting a heat mat to place under the seeds while they are getting started.
Which Herb Seeds Need Light To Germinate?
Some herbs need a little light in order to encourage germination, which means they should be placed on or near the surface. Others prefer darkness, so we recommend placing a thin layer of soil over them – a good rule of thumb is that the soil layer should be no deeper than the length of the seed.
- Herbs that like light to germinate include: Thyme and Lemon Balm
- Most of the other herbs we offer including Basil, Chives, Cilantro, Cosmos, Dill, Marigold, Mint, Oregano, Parsley and Zinnia prefer a slightly darker germination environment.
Labeling Your Herb Seeds
This might sound obvious, but you’d be surprised how many people skip it! Once you’ve become familiar with them, it’s easy to tell the difference between fully grown herb plants, but when they’re little seedlings they are much harder to differentiate! Be sure to use some sort of sticker or label to mark which is which. Trust us, you’ll be glad you did.
What To Expect Next
Once your seeds have sprouted, which can take anywhere from 2 – 15 days, the hard part is over. From here, maintaining happy and healthy herbs is essentially about managing three essential inputs:
- Water. The soil or growing medium you use should be damp, but not soggy. Basil is a variety that can tolerate more water (if grows well hydroponically) while as a general rule of thumb the Mediterranean varieties like Rosemary, Oregano and Thyme prefer slightly drier conditions. We like to start our seeds in some sort of tray, such that we can keep the growing medium sitting in a shallow puddle.
- Nutrients. Seed starting mixes like coco coir and peat moss generally do not contain much in terms of nutrients. That’s ok – because the seed itself comes with enough in-built nutrients to get a start in life, but after a few weeks you should expect nutrient levels to be getting low. Supplemental nutrients can either come from a high-quality potting mix containing something like worm castings, but if you are going to keep your seeds in the starting mix for a longer period then we recommend some sort of nutrient or liquid plant food top-up.
- Light. You eat food, plants eat light. If they fail to get enough of it, they will starve. Check out our separate resources on lighting to learn more.
Hopefully, this article has given you the foundational knowledge you need to give this rewarding hobby a go. There’s so much to gain from gardening and growing your own food, and really very little to loose. If you have additional questions then feel free to either leave a comment below or shoot us an email at [email protected]