I can make herbs grow?

I’ve been experimenting with growing herbs in pots in my teeny tiny NYC flat. So far only marjoram works. All others die. Well, okay the chervil died. But it died horribly without ever giving so much as a sprig of useful chervil.

The marjoram has thrived. It is the best plant ever. Magical even. I cuts away more than half the plant to add to the eggs in the morning by evening there’s more than enough to flavour my pasta sauce. Magic, I tell you!

My sister says that rosemary is also dead easy to keep alive. I cook with rosemary a lot so I may give it a whirl. Do any of youse lot have green thumbs without actually having a backyard? (Or front yard for that matter.) I have window sills. That’s it. Other than rosemary and marjoram what else do you think I’ll have a shot at keeping alive?



  1. Mary Anne Mohanraj on #

    For beginners, I usually recommend oregano and mint — they’re both fairly drought-tolerant (if you forget to water) and hardy. Be sure to put the mint in its own separate pot; it’s invasive, and will take over the rest of your herbs and smother them. Home-grown oregano is great in pasta and pizza sauce; mint is fabulous in Asian dishes or cold drinks. Of the herbs, I find cilantro the hardest, so if you have trouble with that, you’re not alone!

    If you’re feeling more ambitious (it’s a bit late in the season for this, but you could try), I recommend a pot of cherry tomatoes. Tremendously satisfying for very little effort. My favorite to start with is Sweet 100, which is usually readily available at good garden stores.

    Both herbs and tomatoes (and chili peppers, if you want to take the next step), do require a lot of sun, so put them in the sunniest spot you have. If you’re working with windowsills or balconies, the order from least to most sun is: north-facing, east, west, south. A good southern exposure, regular watering, fertilize every few weeks if you’re feeling ambitious, and you should be all set!

    I started my parents off with herbs and tomatoes and chilies this summer — they were dubious, but I insisted they would like it. Now my dad is calling me every few days with excited updates, and has plans to expand into eggplant next year. 🙂

  2. Justine on #

    Balconies? Balconies? Luxury!

  3. Amie Stuart on #

    I keep meaning to try and grow some herbs but never get to it. I did buy a Rosemary Christmas tree one year and it was heavenly! It smelled so good (but alas, it died LOL).

  4. Julia Rios on #

    Not exactly an herb, but my favorite kitchen plant is aloe vera. Excellent to soothe burns when you’re cooking, and the leaves grow fast enough that we have never been in danger of running out. I think you may have inspired me to try marjoram.

  5. Gillian on #

    I’ve kept parsley very successfully on my south-facing (in the UK) kitchen window-ledge. If you have large window ledges, spring onions grow very successfully in a large pot. I second Julia’s @4 recommendation of aloe vera. Mine has been almost wholly neglected, but thrives most excellently.

  6. Mallory on #

    I have a ton of experience with this. If your plants get a lot of sun (which most herbs like the sun) then clay pots dry them out fast. You MUST have an under tray and really good soil and you MUST water them a LOT. We douse ours twice a day. At first we tried the fill the tray under thing but we soon learned that we were slackers about being consistent and they would dry out before we would remember. We grow chives, thyme, rosemary, generally some basil types (more than one) mint is greedy so you MUST pot it, lavendar grows well…

    If you are north facing then you might want to put a water monitor on it since they may not use as much.

    Just remember that pots dry out really fast particularly if you used potting soil versus REAL soil in them. Clays in real soil will hold more water longer but have other problems. So if your soil was ‘light’ you have to be water happy. Also, sometimes they look dead when they ain’t…

  7. veejane on #

    I have killed rosemary. So it is possible. OTOH, I have kept my gardenia alive for 3 years, which impresses even me.

    Knowing how much sun you get will help determine how many plants, and what kind, will survive. If you only have one window of full sun, plan accordingly. (And buy one of those hanging-arm things you can screw into the window frame, so that the plants don’t have to all jostle each other on the windowsill.)

    I regularly raise basil, thyme, and rosemary. I don’t raise any kind of parsley or cilantro any more, because the cat eats them up. Because I have a back stoop, I have tomatoes; but I also have a landlord who waters them when I forget.

  8. molly on #

    Mint! So handy for mint juleps. My other happy herbs are thyme (two varieties, but the lemon is taking over) and sage. I had some oregano, but when I moved it outside, something — squirrels, starlings, raccoons, who knows — ate it all.

    I thought rosemary was easy too, but I think I’ve killed a couple. Sadly. Oh, chives are good too…

  9. Jen on #

    I’d have to agree with Molly and Mary Anne, gotta go with mint. The two varieties I’ve seen are Catnip and Lemon Balm. The Catnip grows like crazy around this area and some of the leaves have gotten about as big as a computer mouse. The Lemon Balm I haven’t done anything with since we just planted it this year, but, just like the tag will say, it’s got a wonderful lemon-mint smell. I’ll bet it would taste great as a tea.

    We bought a bunch of herbs recently and when I picked up the Rosemary my mom said it would be really hard to grow but it’s managing to somehow stay alive better than most (probably because it wants to spite her in some petty planty way)

    Of course, my and my family can’t grow anything for beans. We all have BLACK thumbs.

  10. Rene on #

    Rosemary lasts really well. I can kill most things, but usually, not that. Oregano and thyme are likewise hardy. I barely water mine at all. Basil requires a lot of water or it shrivels up, but it also recovers really well.

    I find these to be really helpful if you tend to be lackadaisical about watering (I am!).

  11. Lori S. on #

    Chives are easy and pretty and tasty. I recommend chives.

    Me, myself, I also grow mint (two kinds), parsley, thyme, and marjoram. (the landlord has huge bushes of rosemary in the back, so I skip that.) I jut bought some lemon balm *and* lemon verbena, and I’m growing borage and chervil from seed just to see if I can.

    I have the hardest time with thyme; there have been seasons when I have gone through three plants by the time winter comes by. This current plant has lasted a long time, though, so I have hope.

    Despite the fact that I keep a *lot* of herbs (in pots on the porch, fwiw), I am not at all a green thumb. I just water twice a week, every day if it’s hot, and that’s more or less it. I will second the note about unglazed clay pots drying out very fast, and to take that into account. I bought glazed pots for just this reason.

  12. PixelFish on #

    A container gardening page I saw recommended mint as well. And basil. (Apparently you can grow basil and tomatos in the same pot.)

    Not an herb, but I just got The Urban Homestead book, and they also recommend beans–you can thread a piece of fishing line for a climber and they grow up it. Plus, as long as you keep picking them, they grow well into fall. (If you stop picking them, they decide, oh, harvest is over.)

  13. Ariel Zeitlin Cooke on #

    Basil! Like marjoram, you can cut it off in the morning and find lots more lovely leafy green leaves in the evening. I have a black thumb and even I can grow it.

  14. Amber on #

    I second basil for apartment growing. I had a garden back in NZ and the previous owners were obviously silverbeet (swiss chard) addicts. There was so much of it you couldn’t possibly have eaten it all, even if you were a _really_ big fan with many friends who were also willing to subsist entirely on silverbeet. So in the end it grew and grew like Mrs McGinty’s Bizarre Plant, until I was afraid to go out there. I support not having a garden, because I suck at maintaining one. Basil in a pot, I say.

  15. NotAnotherExit on #

    Chives are dead easy. Basil, too, though I’ve managed to slaughter that myself a time or two. Parsley’s nigh impossible to destroy, from what I’ve experienced, though Mint always seemed a little fragile to me, in that I’ve never successfully kept a mint plant alive, though I may be in a slightly different climate.

    I suppose variety of the plant might make a difference, but that’s getting in over my head. Good luck!

  16. cherie priest on #

    Basil, mint, and lavender. They grow like WEEDS. Practically impossible to kill 🙂

  17. Jeanni on #

    Basil grows well in Brooklyn!

  18. claire on #

    i have an absolutely black thumb and was able to grow one european basil plant into several through a few berlin winters … on a window sill. all you do is water and eat. maybe some plant food after a year. super easy.

  19. lili on #

    parsley is like a weed – particularly continental parsley instead of the curly kind. impossible to kill.

    i’ve also got chives, thyme, rosemary and sage. can’t grow coriander because the snails find it too tasty and i end up on these deranged vendettas where i get up at 2am with a torch to spring them (and squish them).

  20. Merrie Haskell on #

    Have you window boxes, or are you keeping things indoors on a sill? Makes a bit of a difference–water, wind, sun, etc.

    Rosemary is a perennial, which is a point in its favor. I’m a fan of things I don’t have to replant every year.

  21. Lethe on #

    I third (or fourth, or whatever) basil, since it grows well and is much better fresh than dried. In my experience, though, it requires immense quantities of water.

    I might also suggest sage (particularly the exceedingly vigorous Hybrid #4 cultivar, if you can find it) and tarragon. Both are better fresh than dried (tarragon in particular being utterly useless in dry form), and both are perennial and come back bigger and stronger in their second year.

  22. Claudia on #

    Mint is amazingly easy, but it will take over the box.

    Others I have done with limited space are thyme, rosemerry, oregano, and sage. But the easiest by far was the mint

  23. Diana Peterfreund on #

    I’ve killed everything you can kill. i Killed the most beautiful rosemary plant. nothing helped — not even regular applications of plant food and careful watering.

    I scoured the internet for help on keeping it alive. nothing.

  24. lunamoth on #

    I have green thumbs. *shows thumbs as proof* People give me their dying plants to bring them back from the brink. Most of the time, the culprit for killing of plants is they’re root-bound. (i.e. person buys plants, leaves them in original tiny plastic container from plant store, plant tries to suck up water and *can’t* in this condition, finally goes “Hurk, ack, ack, DIE!”)

    I don’t have a garden to speak of, and I rent, so it’s all in pots. I’ve had luck with chives, basil, lavender, and mint. It’s pretty hard to kill mint, unless it’s in direct blazing sun for days with no water. But it needs its own pot or it’ll choke everything else. I had oregano, but it became an ant colony, which was disgusting (thousands of tiny black ants!), and it is now gone as far from my deck as possible.

  25. bennett on #

    ok i better NEVER hear you talking about your GIANT AND FANTASTIC apartment that way again.

  26. hillary! on #


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