Today many of us do not have access to a garden but do have a kitchen windowsill or balcony. Growing herbs on a windowsill or balcony is a fantastic way to bring the joys of gardening into your home. At Jekka’s, we believe there is nothing more rewarding than nurturing your plants, watching them grow and seeing the pollinators they attract.
Gardening also has numerous physical, cognitive, and emotional benefits that have been written about extensively. Jekka believes everyone feels better after getting their hands in the soil.
With a little bit of planning and care, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of fresh herbs right at your fingertips. In this blog, we'll explore Jekka’s ten essential tips to help you successfully grow herbs in these confined spaces, ensuring a fragrant and flavorful addition to your culinary adventures.
This blog builds on Jekka’s previous blogs such as:
- Jekka’s tips for the balcony herb gardener, which contains Jekka’s favourite plants to grow plus a balcony garden design
- Jekka’s advice on growing herbs in containers and her top 10 herbs
- Jekka's guide to indoor herb gardening
Jekka’s top tip is to understand the specific needs of your herbs. You should always grow herbs replicating the conditions from where they come from. Although herbs are from all around the world, most of the culinary herbs we use today come from the Mediterranean and the Middle East and grow best with full sun, in a sheltered location with light, well-drained, moisture-retentive, fertile compost with plenty of organic matter incorporated.
Jekka’s 10 essential tips to create the perfect kitchen windowsill or balcony garden
Jekka’s 10 essential tips for the perfect kitchen windowsill or balcony garden are:
- Choose the right herbs: Selecting the right herbs is crucial for successful growth in limited spaces. Jekka’s top tip is to grow what you will use, do not waste space on herbs you just might use. You can also consider popular choices such as basil, parsley, thyme, coriander, wild rocket, chives, and oregano. These versatile herbs will complement a wide range of dishes and bring an extra touch of freshness to your cooking. They work equally well planted in a garden, raised bed or in pots on a windowsill.
- Assess Light Conditions: Herbs require ample sunlight to flourish. Before setting up your herb garden, assess the light conditions in your window sill or balcony. Most herbs need a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day. East and west windows are the best as a south facing window in summer can get far to hot. If your space receives limited sunlight, consider using artificial grow lights to supplement the natural light.
- Choose the Right Containers: Selecting suitable containers is crucial for successful herb gardening. Choose containers with adequate drainage holes to prevent waterlogging and root rot (see below). Use containers with a diameter of at least 6-8 inches to allow ample root space. Additionally, consider using hanging baskets or vertical planters to maximize space.
A variety of containers from raised beds (left), terracota pots in stands (center) and a WoodBlocX planter (right)
- Root drainage is key: When you are growing in pots it's essential to provide proper drainage to prevent waterlogged soil and root rot. You should check your pots or containers have adequate drainage holes at the bottom. You can add some stones or bits of broken pots to the bottom of the pot to ensure the drainage hole does not become blocked. This prevents water from pooling around the roots, promoting healthier plants. By allowing excess water to escape, you promote healthy root development. Jekka also recommends placing your potted herbs on a tray to stop your worktops getting dirty.
- Use Quality Potting Mix: Compost is the engine of the plant and herbs require well-draining and nutrient-rich soil to thrive. Invest in a high-quality peat-free, potting mix that is specifically formulated for container gardening. Avoid using garden soil, as it can be too heavy and may not provide the necessary drainage. A good potting mix will help retain moisture while allowing excess water to drain away. You can also add horticultural grit to your compost to promote drainage.
- Water with care: The most important point with watering is NOT to over water because you can add water but never take it away. Herbs grown in containers need consistent moisture, but overwatering can be detrimental. Here at the herb farm we always water in the morning before lunch so that the herbs go to bed dry, so preventing a “soggy bottom’. Ensure thorough watering to encourage deep root growth but avoid leaving the roots sitting in standing water. This is important when growing herbs inside as excessive moisture will cause ‘damping off’ a fungal infection, and mildew. Jekka prefers using the small Haws watering cans.
- Feed consistently: While herbs generally do not require a lot of food they cannot just live off love and water. A little nourishment can go a long way. Regular feeding is essential for healthy herb growth. Jekka recommends using a high-quality potting compost that is peat free and naturally rich in the food your plants need. Fresh compost has about six weeks of food. Jekka suggests “Feeding on Fridays” during the growing season with an organic liquid seaweed fertiliser. Follow the manufacturer's instructions for proper dosage, as over-fertilization can lead to weak growth and less flavorful herbs.
- Protect from Pests: Indoor and balcony gardens can still fall prey to pests. Keep an eye out for common herb pests like aphids, whiteflies, or spider mites. If you spot any infestations, treat them promptly using organic pest control methods or insecticidal soaps to avoid compromising the flavor and health of your herbs. Jekka recommends using SB Invigorator.
- Prune for growth: Pruning your herbs is vital for promoting bushier growth and preventing legginess. Pinch off the tips, from the top, to a growing node (where new leaves are shooting), particularly for herbs from the Lamiaceae family, like basil, mint, and oregano. Through prudent pruning, you'll stimulate your herbs to flourish, bush out and result in a fuller harvest. This practice also helps maintain a compact size, which is beneficial for confined spaces. Don’t forget to use your snippings in salads, sandwiches and stir fry dishes. Check out Jekka's range of snips and tools in our "For the Garden" selection.
- Collect your harvest: Lastly, harvest your herbs regularly to encourage new growth and prolong the plant's lifespan. However, remember to harvest your herbs with care and precision. Similar to pruning, harvest to a growing node to promote further growth. Jekka recommends avoiding harvesting more than a third of the plant at once, as this can stress the herb. By harvesting properly, you'll enjoy a continuous supply of fresh, aromatic herbs throughout the growing season.
Growing herbs on a window sill or balcony is a rewarding and convenient way to add fresh flavors to your dishes. By following Jekka’s ten essential tips, you can create a thriving herb garden in even the smallest spaces. Embrace the joys of gardening and enjoy the delightful aroma and taste of homegrown herbs throughout the year. Happy herb gardening!
Jekka's terracotta pots planted with Greek Basil (left), Nasturtium Empress Of India (center) and a selection of herbs (right)
Want to know more?
If you require pots or compost, we have put together some Jekka's Herb Kits, including a complete Jekka’s Grow at Home Herb Kit and a Jekka's Grow at Home Veg Kit which contains all you need to start a little kitchen herb garden as well as Jekka's Seed Sowing Kit, if you have the seeds and just require seed compost and pots.
For more information on growing herbs from seeds please see Jekka's blogs on sowing herb seeds and sowing your winter culinary herbs or see our Jekkapedia pages for the individual herbs pages. We also have Jekka's blogs on growing herbs in containers and growing on your herbs, which are useful follow-on blogs once your herbs are growing.
Jekka's "How to Grow Herbs" videos, includes Jekka's video on how to sow herb seeds for an informative step-by-step guide to seed sowing.
For advice on growing and maintaining herbs, check out ‘Jekka’s Seasonal Tips’ blog series, which includes what to do in your herb garden in early spring, late spring, summer and autumn & winter. Together they form the basis of Jekka’s guide on how to grow herbs.
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days or Herb Experiences (see our events calendar). Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (email@example.com). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer a limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.