As an Amazon affiliate, I may earn a small commission when you make purchases through these links. For more information, read full disclosure here.
How to Start Herb Seeds Indoors
As I’m writing this afternoon, looking out the window, I can see snow coming down steadily. It’s a slightly saddening (and maddening) sight. But inside the house, it may as well already be spring because I can see new seedlings and hear the incubator running. A few days ago, my 2023 planting got underway, and I’d like to write a bit about how to start herb seeds indoors- or at least how I do it.
If you’ve read my “how to start vegetable seeds” post (here) then you’re already familiar with this very simple process. More than any specific tools or steps, the key here is patience. We need to simply make conditions ideal and then wait- the seeds will take care of the rest.
Herb Seed Starting Supplies
Trays- Whether I start seeds in 72-cell trays, or in small pots, I like to use the 10″ X 20″ trays underneath them both. The trays make moving flats around much easier since they’re more rigid. Having a flat underneath everything also means that I can start my seeds inside the house, and water them, with ease. (These are the trays I’ve used)
Pots or Flats- To hold the soil and keep each seed separate from its neighbor within the flats, I like to use cell trays or pots. The trays I use have 72 cells- so you can get up to 72 seedlings per flat. Or I can arrange some smaller plastic pots and get 15 seedlings per tray.
Soil- A high-quality seed starting mix is ideal- especially since so many herb seeds are microscopic. I buy ours in bags from Lowe’s or a local nursery. When starting seeds in the spring, I’ll usually mix in some compost and egg shell powder as well.
Seeds- Seeds are the most important part of seed-starting (who knew!). I buy my herb seeds from a variety of a places and haven’t settled on one favorite supplier yet. Everwilde is a great source for herb seeds (here). I’ve also had good luck ordering seeds from Etsy. I would also suggest getting your seeds early, so that when planting time comes you won’t be scrambling to find a specific variety.
Labeling system- I you’ve read my other seed-starting post, you’ll know that I’m a big masking tape fan. It’s cheap, easy to use, and if you move your plants around or mislabel something it’s an easy fix. Purpose-made plant labels abound. Use what works best for you, just make sure you’re using something- it’s really easy to get seedlings mixed up.
Other Useful Tools- Beyond the bare necessities, there are a few tools I like to use when starting herb seeds. If you have room in the budget, getting a grow light is a wise investment. With it you can give the seedlings an exact amount of sun-mimicking light daily- which is a huge help when starting seeds in the winter. A seedling heat mat is another useful tool, but I don’t usually use one until later in my seed-starting. By starting just a few flats in January and February I can keep them in our house, where it’s warm already, instead of in our planting shed- which would have to be heated. Keep in mind that we’re trying to mimic spring conditions, which doesn’t require high temps, just warm ones.
How to Start Herb Seeds
With all of our supplies gathered, begin by filling the cell trays or pots with your seed starting mix.
Water the soil enough that it is moist, but still maintains a soil texture, without watering it in to a mud or soup.
Place 2 -4 seeds in each cell or pot. (This is easier said than done for some of the tiniest seeds. I like to pour the packet out onto a piece of paper, then split the seeds into groups for planting. This lets me avoid dumping an entire packet into one cell)
Gently sprinkle some of the seed-starting mix over the seeds.
Label your pots or trays. I’d suggest including the variety and the start date on your labels.
Arrange the trays under a grow light or near a window.
Keep the trays moist and at a warm temperature. You should see the first signs of germination after about 1 week.
After several weeks of growth and care, your seedlings will probably need to be upgraded to bigger pots. (If your climate is more temperate than mine, you may be able to transplant them outdoors after a period of hardening off.)
I fill the new pot halfway with soil, gently place the seedling on top of the soil, and then fill the pot to the rim with more soil. Make sure to keep the seedling well-watered after transplanting to avoid shock.
Once our weather is consistently warm, mid to late May, I’ll begin moving the seedlings outdoors for a few hours a day. This allows them to grow more robust and adapt to the temperatures outside. Once they’ve hardened and the danger of frost has passed, I’ll transplant them into their garden beds.
My 2023 Herb Garden Plan
This is the first year that I’ll be really serious about growing herbs myself. I’ve done plenty of haphazard seed-starting in the past, but by the time the first frost comes, I’m too busy to worry about over-wintering herbs.
This spring, we’ll be building a pair of raised beds for our backyard. We have our big garden plots further from the house, but there’s a 50 X 80 (or so) lawn directly behind the house that needs “something”.
Rather than committing one of our vegetable beds to perennials, we’re going to build a pair of raised beds and put them up in that back lawn. Complete with a chicken-proof cage, since they free-range back there all summer long.
Each bed will be 4′ X 8′ X 1′ deep. This gives me 64 square feet of space that I can commit to herbs year after year.
So far, I have a wide variety of seedlings coming up in trays that will get transplanted in those beds come May or June. I’m growing; rosemary, fennel, marjoram, parsley, basil, dill, cilantro, mint, and some chamomile. I’m also going to be trying my hand at growing ginger and turmeric as well.
With any luck, these raised beds will provide all of the fresh herbs we need this summer, as well as plenty to preserve for winter. I’ll also be moving some of these herbs indoors during the winter, to have some productive houseplants- unlike my avocado saplings and pothos.
Thanks for reading! I hope this post has given you some ideas on how to grow herb seeds on your own homestead. With a little bit of planning ahead, your family can have plenty of fresh herbs to use all summer long. Or break out the dehydrator and leave behind the store-bought spices for good.
PS For more ideas about where to buy your garden seeds for this upcoming spring- including herb seeds- check out this post. Want to get the wheels turning about other ways to start homesteading, today? Check out my list of 33 ideas here.