How to Grow Herbs from Seed
Growing herbs from seeds indoors is perfectly possible. Sometimes, it may be the only way to get your hands on the exact variety you want. Herb seeds can be found in most seed catalogs, but if you are looking for something unusual one of the best places to look is Richters Herbs in Ontario, Canada. They specialize in herbs and carry many of the more unusual varieties, although their prices are often a bit higher than average (and yes, they do ship to the US).
When Not to Grow Herbs from Seed
With herb plants, unless you are creating a large formal herb garden you may only want a plant or two of each type. If you want only common herbs, you may find it easier to just buy a plant of each. It is usually slightly more expensive than buying a packet of seeds, but it is also less labor-intensive for you and a lot faster. However, if you want to start many plants inexpensively, or to acquire an unusual variety, then seeds are the way to go.
You may also be able to get herb cuttings from friends who have herb plants. If you can, this will probably be faster than growing from seed.
How to Start Herbs from Seed
There are several things you will need:
- Potting soil or seed-starting mix
- Small pots or seed trays
- Plastic bag or plastic top cover for seed tray
- A warm area for seeds that need bottom heat (on top of the fridge often works, or you can buy a warming mat to put under the seeds.)
- A place in the fridge, a ziplock bag and some paper towel if you need to stratify seeds.
- A knife if you need to scarify seeds.
- A growing spot with plenty of light, whether a windowsill, artificial light or a mixture of both.
This is what you need to do:
- Stratify seeds if necessary. It isn’t for most seeds, but check the instructions on the seed package, and see below for the method.
- Scarify if necessary (see below).
- Fill the pots with potting mix, and water well.
- Add the seeds at the depth indicated on the packet, and cover lightly with soil unless they need light to germinate.
- Place plastic top on seed tray, or put pot inside plastic bag.
- Place pot in a warm place if heat is needed, or in the well-lighted place where the young plant will be growing if it is not.
- Once the seeds sprout, move the newly sprouted plants to a well-lit place if they aren’t in one already.
- Grow young plants until they reach a reasonable size and it is the right time of year that they can be put outside.
- Harden off seedlings and plant them outside.
The instructions on the seed package should tell you if there is anything special that this species needs to germinate, such as stratification or bottom heat. They will also tell you the depth at which the seeds should be planted, and when it is OK to put the herb plants outside. If you are unsure of the depth needed, remember that small seeds usually need to be nearer the surface than large ones.
Special Needs of Some Herb Seeds
Some herb seeds need to be stratified. This means they need a period of cold before they will germinate. This can be done by placing the seeds( in a damp paper towel sealed inside a plastic bag) in the refrigerator or freezer. The length of time required varies. Read the instructions on the seed packet. Fortunately, most herb seeds do not need to be stratified, which makes things simpler.
Scarification is occasionally necessary. Again, check the packet instructions. Scarification refers to damaging the surface of the seed with a knife, sandpaper or other sharp object. It simulates damage to the surface of the seed caused by passing through an animal’s stomach.
Scarification and stratification are not usually required by seeds, but are more commonly seen among medicinal herbs than among vegetable seeds.
Hardening Off and Transplanting
Hardening off is where you let the young plants you grew indoors get used to the weather extremes of the outdoors gradually before you transplant them. Take them out for an hour or so at first and place them in a shady or semi-shady spot. Increase the time each day until you can leave them overnight. Transplant them, and you have now successfully grown herbs from seed. Congratulations!