A guide to urban herbs

Kate Gardner in her brooklyn garden. (Brian Harkin)

Gardening and living in New York City don’t have to be mutually exclusive. City residents can grow fresh herbs that flavor food, boost health and save cash.

“As long as you have a window with decent light, then you can have an herb garden,” said Kate Gardner, a New York City-based nutritionist. Here are five foolproof steps to sustaining an herb garden.

Step One

Choose your herbs
Herbs such as basil, bay, chervil, chives, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage, tarragon and thyme grow well indoors during the fall and winter.
Do a little research to learn which herbs can be planted with others, and which need their own pot.

Step Two
Buy the basics
To start, you’ll need either a ceramic or plastic pot with tiny holes for water drainage. Pots should be at least 8 inches long and 8 inches deep. Also buy organic potting soil, fertilizer and, of course, herbs.

“If you are starting late in the season, it is better to get baby herbs instead of seeds,” Gardner said.

You’re best off purchasing everything from a nursery, where the selection is extensive and the staff is usually very knowledgeable.

Step Three
Plant away
Layer the bottom of the pot with 2 to 3 inches of soil. If you are going to plant multiple herbs in the same pot or container, make sure they are 8 inches apart.
Repot your transplants, or baby herbs, in the soil and then place another layer of soil on top, leaving an inch for watering.

Step Four
Sunlight and air
For most herbs to survive, they need direct sunlight for up to four hours a day.
South-facing windows are brightest.

If you don’t have a window, an inexpensive fluorescent light will do the trick.
In addition to sunlight, plants need air. “Open the window, let the air come in and wiggle the plants around,” said Cynthia Sandberg, founder of Love Apple Farm and growbetterveggies.com.

“If you can’t do that in the winter, then a fan blowing on the plants for a couple of hours every day is important,” she said.

Step Five
Maintenance is key
Most herbs only need a light watering two to three times a week. It’s best to water the plant in the sink and then let it drain.
Fertilize your plant about once a week (any all-purpose organic fertilizer will do the job).
Follow the directions on the package. You’ll almost always have to dilute the fertilizer in water and then add it to the soil.
Trimming herbs on a regular basis will ensure growth.
Be sure not to clip more than one- third of the plant’s foliage at a time.

Additional resources:


Mint: Mint contains anti-nausea and antiseptic agents, and is known to soothe bug bites.
Basil: Basil is loaded with vitamin A, and has antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Lavender: Lavender has been used for centuries to calm nerves and promote sleep.
Oregano: Oregano is a known antioxidant with antibacterial benefits.
Sage: Recent research suggests that sage helps maintain stable blood sugar levels. It also inhibits perspiration and acts as an antioxidant.

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