You can keep these fresh ingredients growing in almost any east- or west-facing window.
By Molly Marquand May 25, 2015
PHOTOGRAPH BY WHITPRESTON/GETTY
Picture this: mounds of aromatic kitchen herbs just waiting to be picked, lined up along the sill of your sunny window. Don’t have one? You should probably skip basil, oregano, and sage, which are gluttons for sunlight, but there are a number of delicious herbs that grow great in shadier conditions.
Cilantro and parsley prefer cooler temperatures than most: any east or west-pointing window will satisfy their needs. These no-fuss annuals grow best in freely draining potting soil and require little else beyond occasional watering. Don’t forget that in shady spots, water evaporates less quickly, so check the surface of the soil to ensure it’s dried out before watering again. Otherwise your parsley and cilantro—forgiving as they are—will wilt from overwatering.
Lemon balm is another easy-growing low-light herbs. To avoid the lag time it takes to raise this perennial to harvestable size, buy already-started plants. They do well in freely draining potting soil but need to be watered regularly—up to three times a week.
Chives will also grow continuously throughout the year given the right conditions. Starting chives from seed can be aggravating, as the newly germinated plants are about a hair’s width in size, and it can take several years for them to grow into a tousled mound of useful plants. Buy starters and grow them in an east or west window with a few hours of direct sunlight. Chives appreciate moist soil, and will benefit from the occasional misting.
For a bit more spice, try cultivating ginger. Equatorial in origin, the root traditionally grows beneath shady canopies of tropical trees. Inside, it can work almost anywhere except a hot and sunny location. Plant the root several inches deep in a mix of compost and potting soil, and keep the pot away from chilly drafts. Ginger will grow best in indirect light at a temperature of approximately 70 degrees, which just happens to be ideal apartment weather! Mist the plant to keep humidity high.
Even if the only window you’ve got seems dimmer than a closet, there’s one herb you can still grow: mint. There’s almost no scenario in which this stalwart can’t grow—and it will try in even the most unforgiving conditions. Plant it in potting soil (or cement—it may not matter) and water regularly for best results. Most mints grow vigorously with only a little sunlight and will need to be pinched back every couple of weeks to prevent them from taking over the house.
Finally, though it takes a little effort, if your place gets light but not all in one place, you can always plant a box of herbs and rotate their position to track the sun. In general, making sure the basic needs of your plant are met—regular watering and occasional feeding—will nurture a more resilient herb that’s better equipped to deal with lower light situations.