Indoor Gardening Mistakes that Everyone Else Makes

Indoor Gardening Mistakes that Everyone Else Makes

Tending your own herb garden indoors, on a balcony, or in a garden, is a pastime filled pride and joy. Imagine the satisfaction of experiencing the pleasing fragrance of lavender or the fresh taste of aromatic basil that you nurtured from seed to mature plant. Growing herbs from seed can be straightforward and rewarding if you just remember a few simple rules, have some common sense, and avoid these common mistakes. 

1. Not Aware of Light Requirements

Herbs are very sensitive in terms of light. Many novice gardeners tend to underestimate the amount of light herbs require to produce the nutrients they need to survive. Indoor herb plants require 4-5 hours of direct sunlight so attention needs to be given to the placement of an herb plant. Placing it in a corner of a room where it gets one hour of direct light, will not be enough. Placing the plant on a windowsill in full sun will do. But if there are not enough hours of direct light, repositioning the plant to a sunny spot or using a grow light will help.

Too much sunlight or heat is not usually a problem except during hot summer days. With these conditions, herb plants could be in danger. Direct sunlight on these days could burn the leaves and the heat could lead to dehydration. During these times, shading the herb plant will help protect it.

Tip: Because potted plants will reach towards the light while growing, the pots need to be turned (a half rotation) every couple of days. This will ensure straight even growth.

2. Not Knowing Watering Requirements- Too much? Too little? Or just Right!

Often people do a visual check to see if the soil around an herb plant is damp which tells them whether to add water or not. This can be problematic as the soil below the surface may indeed be quite dry…..or very soggy. 

  If the soil is pulling away from the sides of the pot, it's probably dehydrated. To be sure, feel the soil 2 inches below the surface with your finger.

  If your finger comes away quite wet, the plant may be in danger of root rot. If the finger comes out dry, it's time to water the plant. If your finger comes out moist, the soil is fine. It's just right!

 Tip: Did you know that sage prefers a short period of dry soil? And that basil does not tolerate dryness well? Be aware that different plants have varying water (and light!) requirements.

Tip: Beware of wet soil! Constant wet, cool conditions can cause something called damping off, which can weaken and kill seedlings after they germinate. Good air circulation will help control the wet conditions that promote damping off. If needed, a circulating fan or an open window may provide enough air circulation. 

Tip: As well, did you know the gentle bending and swaying of growing plants strengthens their stems and branches?

3. Choosing the Wrong Container... with No Drainage Hole

Do not buy that pretty container that has no drainage hole! The absence of a drainage hole will cause the herb plant to die due to root rot. Flower pots usually have a hole which allows the soil to drain excess water.

The size of the container matters greatly. A tiny seedling will  have problems in a huge pot that contains a massive volume of moist potting soil. The roots of the young plant, on its own, would not be able to dry the potting mix. Constant wet roots will lead to root rot!!

Some gardeners plant their herbs in containers that are too small. In this case, the soil dries quickly as the plant’s roots draw up the moisture in the soil. As well, cramped containers will stunt the growth of the herb plant.

Tip: Most herbs are comfortable in a six inch pot. If the plant seems to be outgrowing its pot, repotting into a slightly larger (1-2 inches larger) is advisable.

 Tip: Ensure that the flower pot saucer is not holding water. If water is always sitting in the saucer, the soil in the bottom of the pot will be soggy, creating an ideal situation for root rot bacteria to grow. Plants with long roots that reach the bottom of the pot will develop root rot. So...empty that saucer!

  Tip: Raise the flower pot by placing a jar lid under the flower pot. This may be enough to create space between the pot and saucer. 

4. Using the Wrong Growing Medium

Nature’s earthmovers like worms, insects and small animals, help aerate and drain soil in an outdoor garden. Without them, circulation of air and water can become an issue of concern with indoor herb plants. When growing herbs in containers, it is essential to use a suitable growing medium that addresses these issues.

When growing seedlings, it's always best to use a quality seed starting mix. This starting mixture allows the seeds to easily access water, oxygen, and is soft enough for young roots to grow through it.

Once the plants have developed three or four sets of true leaves, herbs need good potting soil to continue to thrive in containers. Garden soil is too dense to ensure proper aeration and drainage.

5. Misuse of Fertilizer

Fertilizers provides nutrients to plants but more fertilizer does not equal bigger, better plants! Over-use will lead to yellowing/browning of leaves, weak stems, sudden surge of growth with little leaf development, and eventual exhaustion with poor results. 

When using a seed starter mix, suitable seedling nutrients are added to the mixture so that the herb seeds develop properly. As well, good quality potting soil usually contains a slow-release fertilizer that also promotes healthy and measured growth of the maturing herb plant.

6. Lack of Routine

Good gardening practices can help ensure a great yield. It’s as simple as that! Checking the herb plants for their watering/ lighting needs and for the presence of pests are long term practices that need to be done on a regular basis. Forget to water a basil plant and there’s a chance of losing it. 

Decide to make taking care of your herb garden part of your daily routine. You will not have to water your plants every single day, but a daily quick visual inspection is a rewarding activity in many respects. The first sight of a seedling emerging is enormously satisfying!

An easy way to create this new routine, is to use an established routine. For example, do a quick check on the herb plants when having your morning coffee.

Tip: One of my favourite daily routines is to gently pass my hand through the tops of my herb plants. Not only do I smell their fragrance, but plant stems become stronger with this action. 

7. Not Harvesting or Pruning Regularly

Harvesting and pruning properly is actually beneficial to the healthy growth of your herb plant. It's more than an aesthetic practice that most gardeners enjoy. When pinched back or pruned in the right spots, herbs tend to produce more branches as they grow. Note that each herb plant has different pruning needs. So do a little research to find your herb’s pruning needs. 

Using freshly harvested herbs is so rewarding, much more than using dry herbs. But what to do with the extra harvest? There are numerous ways to preserve the bounty of your gardening efforts. Check out specific websites that are dedicated to just this topic. You’ll be amazed at the unique ideas and practices that experienced herb gardeners are happy to share with other gardeners. (Personally, I love creating herbed oils and vinegars to give as gifts!)

8. Misuse of Insecticides

As in all gardens, balcony or backyard, pests and insects will interact with plants. Some insects are indeed beneficial, while others can destroy a plant in a day if left unchecked. Some gardeners will purchase chemical solutions to  get rid of these pests. Be aware that many insecticides are not suitable for edible herbs. So try not to use chemicals and check for natural alternatives.

To keep things under control, always look for unwanted pests when doing your daily check of your herb plant. Some insects can be removed by just shaking the herb or carefully picking them off the herb plant by hand. Sometimes using a spray bottle of a water/vinegar or water/soap mixture can be good enough to get rid of these pests. 

Use expert advice...and Technology 

Most expert gardeners are more than happy to give free advice and share their passion with beginner gardeners. Don't be afraid to ask the most basic of questions!

And yet most experienced gardeners will readily admit that they don't know everything about gardening! Technology and the wonderful world of the Internet provides dozens of gardening sites where seasoned and beginner gardeners alike can source free advice on any gardening issue. Check out the various groups and forums such as, Garden Stack Exchange or one of the many Facebook garden groups out there.

If you have a lot of time to research (and don't mind getting overwhelmed), simply search “Best Gardening Websites”. 

Back to blog