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Urban Gardening: Shade-Tolerant Herbs to Grow in Your Apartment

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Urban Gardening: Shade-Tolerant Herbs to Grow in Your Apartment

February 25, 2018

Buttermilk biscuits with chive butter, egg salad with ribbons of tarragon, iced tea with fresh mint. There are many reasons to love fresh herbs. Sadly, as a city dweller living in a Brooklyn apartment without bright sun, I always figured that I wouldn’t be able to grow my own.

Turns out, I was just trying to grow the wrong herbs. While it’s true that many—such as lavender, thyme, rosemary, and sage—need a lot of sunshine to thrive, a slew of culinary herbs can thrive in a shadier spot.

For more, see Seed Starting: Adventures in a Tiny Apartment.

Photography by Erin Boyle.

Soft, leafy herbs such as chives, parsley, mint, cilantro, tarragon, oregano, and lemon balm can do quite well in slightly shadier spots (though tread lightly with basil and dill, which are soft-leaved, but require full sun).
Above: Soft, leafy herbs such as chives, parsley, mint, cilantro, tarragon, oregano, and lemon balm can do quite well in slightly shadier spots (though tread lightly with basil and dill, which are soft-leaved, but require full sun).

If you have a tiny window ledge (or a fire escape), consider potting up a few of these herbs to enjoy throughout spring and summer. If you don’t have outdoor space, but you get plenty of sunshine inside, many of these will even do fine in a sunny windowsill or on a bright kitchen countertop.

Where do you Hide Your Potting Soil in Plain Sight in a Tiny Apartment?

I stopped in at my local garden shop and chose four different organic herbs to place in my planter: parsley, oregano, chives, and tarragon.
Above: I stopped in at my local garden shop and chose four different organic herbs to place in my planter: parsley, oregano, chives, and tarragon.
I also bought a skinny, three-inch-wide teak planter with good drainage. If you like wooden window boxes, here are a few others to consider:  Easy Pieces: Wooden Window Boxes.
Above: I also bought a skinny, three-inch-wide teak planter with good drainage. If you like wooden window boxes, here are a few others to consider: 10 Easy Pieces: Wooden Window Boxes.
You can use small rocks in the bottom of a planter to prevent the soil from compacting and clogging drainage holes.
Above: You can use small rocks in the bottom of a planter to prevent the soil from compacting and clogging drainage holes.

A lot of the more sun-loving herbs are particularly sensitive to overly damp roots, but if you stick to herbs that don’t require as much sunlight, you won’t have to worry as much about keeping the soil sandy. (If you keep the planter inside, consider investing in a small tray to place beneath it to catch water drainage).

Since I&#8
Above: Since I’m fairly certain that I’m going to spend the summer sipping mint juleps, I bought a mint plant, too.

Mint is an herb that really thrives in shadier gardens. In fact, it sometimes thrives too well. I didn’t want my mint to take over my tiny window box, so I picked up a Ben Wolff pot in white and potted it there instead.

 When it came to potting the rest of my herbs, I left about two inches between each plant to ensure that they&#8
When it came to potting the rest of my herbs, I left about two inches between each plant to ensure that they’ll have room to stretch out.
My apartment windowsill only gets about three hours of direct sunlight daily, but that&#8
Above: My apartment windowsill only gets about three hours of direct sunlight daily, but that’s more than enough to keep these plants happy.

(Full disclosure: I stuck a basil out there a few weeks ago, and to my surprise that’s doing A-OK too. If you can’t get through summer without a daily caprese salad, I say give it a go—just don’t get too sad if it doesn’t survive).

Herbs are meant to be eaten, so harvest often. In case you need a little help with your clipping, here are some beautiful scissors to help with the task.
Above: Herbs are meant to be eaten, so harvest often. In case you need a little help with your clipping, here are some beautiful scissors to help with the task.

If you’d prefer a zinc or galvanized window box, see some of our favorites at 10 Easy Pieces: Metal Window Boxes.

Ready to design and plant a spring herb garden? See:

N.B.: This is an update of a post originally published on May 15, 2013, during our Gold Coast week.

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