Growing herbs indoors without sunlight: Let’s make it simple

Heart set on growing herbs indoors? But the light in your home or apartment is well, less than perfect? Growing herbs indoors without sunlight is simple when you pick the right herbs or use a grow light.

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growing herbs indoors without sunlight main photo

Introduction

All plants need sunlight, water, air and nutrients specific to their needs to thrive. Herbs are no different. They require these elements to grow and reproduce. Sunlight is very important in herbs as it helps produce the essential oils that give herbs their unique flavors and scents.

Growing herbs indoors without sunlight or a general lack of light in the home can sometimes present challenges for indoor gardeners. However, there are a range of herbs that will still flourish in low light.

Not interested in growing just a few herbs that enjoy low light conditions? Then growing herbs indoors without sunlight can be achieved using a grow light. The good news is most herbs will grow well under a grow light.

Let’s explore the topic of growing herbs indoors without sunlight including the varieties of herbs that can be grown indoors in low light conditions and the use of grow lights.

Why do herbs need sunlight?

Let’s start with a little simple biology.

Without sunlight, plants can’t get the necessary food needed to grow, produce flowers and seeds to reproduce, and survive.

All plants need three basic things to live: sunlight, water and carbon dioxide.

Photosynthesis is a process whereby plants use the energy from the sun to convert carbon dioxide, nutrients and water into food.

That’s pretty amazing when you think about it!

Herbs, like all other plants, require sunlight as their primary source of energy – either directly or indirectly.

When herbs receive plenty of light, they produce more of the essential oils that give herbs their taste and smell. Without enough light, less of these essential oils are produced.

For best growth, most herb varieties require at least 6 hours of light per day. However, this light does not have to be sunlight. In fact, we can trick our indoor herbs into growing just fine by supplementing their light with florescent lamps or a grow light.

5 easiest herbs to grow in low light

When grown outdoors these herbs grow well in a more shady spot. These same herbs are the ones that do well when we are growing herbs indoors without sunlight.

growing herbs indoors without sunlight - mint
Mint

Mint is a great candidate for growing indoors because it is easy to grow in almost any environment. This herb needs its own pot though because it is quite invasive, expanding to grow in any available space, even at the expense of other herbs. The two most commonly grown types of mint are peppermint and spearmint.

growing herbs indoors without sunlight - parsley
Parsley

Parsley can be used for garnishes as well as in recipes.

growing herbs indoors without sunlight - chives
Chives

Chives are grown for both their beautiful flowers and delicious leaves. Onion and garlic chives are the two most commonly grown.

Cilantro or coriander

Cilantro or coriander is related to parsley and is used in many Vietnamese recipes. When left to flower and produce seeds, you can collect the seeds in brown paper bags and use these in recipes as well.

growing herbs indoors without sunlight - lemon balm
Lemon balm

Lemon balm makes a whimsical addition to your indoor herb garden. It is a member of the mint family but has a distinct lemony taste and smell.

For more detailed information on each specific herb, its light, position, and care preferences, read 9 of the best herbs for beginner gardeners.

These are just a few varieties of herbs common when growing herbs indoors without sunlight. But there are many others that you can research and trial.

If you are keen on starting from seed, check out this non GMO herb garden starter set that contains seeds for 12 culinary herbs. 

Grow lights for growing herbs indoors without sunlight

Obviously, the best light for any plant is sunlight, in just the right amount to support growth, reproduction and the general health of your plant.

However, if you really want to grow herbs indoors, but you don’t want to be limited to a few herb varieties that enjoy low light conditions, that’s ok.

To be successful growing herbs indoors without sunlight, you will need to purchase a grow light.

Whether you live in a home or apartment with restricted sunlight, or in a climate that only gets sunny conditions for a few months of the year, a grow light is a simple and effective solution.

What to look for in a grow light

Type

There are so many types of grow lights to consider, from single lightbulbs that fit regular light fittings to multi-spectrum light panels that hang above your plants.

There are also self-contained LED indoor herb growing kits.

The size of your plants, the amount of natural sunlight needing to be supplemented, and where your plants are located need to be considered before you make your choice.

Size

Do you have one herb or are you planning an indoor herb garden? Are you settling up a dedicated space for your herbs or are you planning to move your herbs around to suit the light conditions and your taste?

To decide what size grow light you need, think about how many herbs you are planning to keep.

Look for something light in weight and more portable if you are planning to move your light from place to place.

best pots for orchids

Safety is important as well:

Make sure there is room for the grow light to operate safely – away from wet areas, not up against furniture, curtains or other items, and the cables are not trip hazards.

Ease of use

From installation to day-to-day operations, check the instructions are clear and that the grow light is not going to be too much effort to operate daily.

Be mindful of how much noise your grow light might make.

best pots for orchids

Invest in a timer: 

You might want to invest in a timer to ensure that your grow light comes on and goes off at the appropriate times. These are also useful to make sure your herbs are receiving the same amount of light each day.

5 Indoor grow light system ideas

Want to see some indoor grow lights? From small and simple to larger units suited to the more serious indoor gardener, this YouTube video by Garden Answers walks you through 5 different systems.

Growing herbs with grow lights

Full-spectrum grow lights are the best for growing herbs indoors without sunlight.

Sunlight contains the full spectrum of light including all colors of the rainbow: red to yellow to blue to violet.

Indoor herbs and indeed most indoor plants grow best under full-spectrum grow lights because they produce a balance of cool and warm light replicating sunlight.

If possible, place your grow lights directly above your indoor herbs. Again mimicking the natural environment with the light coming from overhead. This also encourages your indoor herbs to grow upwards and evenly.

If you are supplementing the natural light from a window, it is fine if the artificial light is coming from an indirect angle.

Growing herbs with grow lights is easy.

Place plants within a foot of the bulbs or follow the instructions provided with your lights.

Start by having the lights on for 12 to 16 hours a day for indoor herbs that prefer full sun and adjust the number of hours downward for indoor herbs that prefer partial sun environments.

If you don’t want the hassle of buying and setting up special grow lights, there are new all-in-one indoor herb growing systems that combine lights with a planter and sometimes even a hydroponic system.

Here are some of our favourite grow lights to help your indoor herbs live life to the fullest.

This LVJING Indoor Garden Kit features a modern LED Grow Light with 4 dimmable levels, 3 timing modes and a height adjustable grow light stand. It is a funky, modern set up that is perfect for growing herbs indoors without sunlight on your kitchen bench or any other space.

LVJING also produce a full spectrum grow light bar suitable for providing all the necessary light for a large indoor herb garden.

If you want to make growing herbs indoors without sunlight super easy, try this hydroponic all in one kit by Vegebox. From seeds to mature herbs, this kit will support their growth.

Herb varieties and their lighting requirements

With so many herb varieties to choose from, it is difficult to know which varieties prefer full sun, partial sun, or if you are lucky, can adapt to any conditions. The following table provides a sample of the more common herb varieties and their lighting requirements.

Don’t forget to read the labels that come with most plants. These provide excellent information on the specific soil, water and lighting requirements of each plant.

Full sun
Basil
Caraway
Catnip
Cilantro/Coriander
Dill
Fennel
Lavender
Mustard
Oregano
Rosemary
Sage
Tarragon
Thyme
Partial sun
Aloe
Chamomile
Chervil
Chives
Coriander/cilantro
Garlic
Lemon Balm
Lovage
Marjoram
Mint
Parsley
Thyme

Microgreens: An alternative to growing herbs indoors without sunlight

If growing herbs with grow lights just sounds too complicated, you might want to consider growing microgreens instead.

Microgreens are sometimes confused with growing sprouts where seeds are germinated and then the root, seed and shoot are eaten.

Microgreens are different. These are actually a variety of edible immature greens which you harvest less than a month after germination.

Broccoli, cauliflower, mustard, chia and buckwheat are really easy to grow seeds for beginners to start growing microgreens from.

At your garden center, you can also find microgreen seeds for salad mixes and microgreen color mixes that come in different colors including reds, purples and greens. 

What a great way to jazz up a salad or garnish a dish.

A microgreen kit can also be a simple alternative to growing herbs indoors without sunlight. This hydroponic sectional microgreens growing kit is a complete set up for you to start with.

Microgreens offer great nutritional value and will brighten up any dish.

Final thoughts

Sunlight is a critical element in growing indoor herbs. Herbs need sunlight to produce the essential oils that make herbs smell and taste the way they do. 

But, if your indoor environment is less than optimal, don’t worry. Growing herbs indoors without sunlight is still possible.

There are a few varieties of herbs that grow very well in low light conditions. Give our 5 easiest herbs to grow in low light a try and you will be surprised at how well they grow. 

Don’t forget to read 9 of the best herbs for beginner gardeners as well because it has heaps of information on each herb and its specific growing and care requirements.

Don’t fancy these herbs?

Then, you can supplement the amount of light available to your indoor herbs with a grow light or grow bar. 

A full spectrum grow light is best because it mimics the natural light. Most herbs will thrive and produce lush foliage under a grow light so you can choose whichever herbs take your fancy.

Remember to water and fertilize as well because your indoor herbs still need water and fertilizer to grow. 

Either way, you will have a ready supply of fresh herbs on your hands. And, if you end up with too many fresh herbs, give some to your friends – they will love you for it!

Make sure you hang around and check out our other indoor gardening blog posts.

Remember, life is better with indoor plants!

Credits: Main photo by David Martín on Unsplash.

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