The good news is that you can grow herbs and vegetables year-round in low-light conditions without a grow light.
Will you get a more robust harvest with grow lights? Absolutely. But it is not a requirement. And you can still harvest fresh herbs in the midst of winter.
Top 5 favorite herbs & taste enhancers for low-light growing
If you are a regular reader, you know that I am a fan of hydroponics and grow herbs and vegetables year-round.
But I also grow herbs using nothing more than the available sunlight and our regular indoor lighting.
Here in this article, I will give you my top 5 herbs and taste enhancers to grow indoors in low-light conditions without the use of grow lights.
My list is, of course, personal and built upon the fact that I like big flavors.
When you grow in low light conditions your harvest will be less than what you are used to under normal conditions. Consequently, I prefer big strong flavors where a little goes a long way.
1. Garlic greens
Growing garlic greens in water are probably my favorite as it takes minimum effort and delivers wonderful results.
You need a garlic bulb, preferably softneck, a regular glass, and water.
Harvest the garlic greens for salads, flavored oils, stir-frys, or any other dish in need of a fresh garlic zing.
You can learn more about how you grow garlic greens in the article Tips to grow garlic indoors faster – in water or soil (with videos).
Microgreens allow you to grow healthy sprouts and herbs indoors year-round. And again, it is easy and takes minimum effort.
Growing microgreens is a perfect project for children interested in gardening or science. Compared to, for example, growing avocado from a stone, microgreens give faster and more tasty results.
Use the age-old paper towel method or spend 30 minutes to an hour and build your own self-watering paper towel system using a milk cartoon.
Either way, microgreens are great for salads, sandwiches, or to add to any dish at the time of serving.
Chives are great to grow in low-light conditions and will yield a good harvest placed on a sun-facing window sill.
Use well-drained, fertile soil and keep moist but not wet. Adding perlite will help the soil remain loose and enable strong and healthy roots.
Chives will regrow after harvest and you should cut them back leaving only 3-5 cm (1-2 inches).
Read more about how to grow chives indoors in the article Why we grow Chives indoors year-round.
4. Cilantro (or coriander)
You either love or loathe the taste of cilantro, also known as coriander.
Because yes, I am referring to the leafy part of the herb, not the seeds.
Coriander seeds can take time to germinate, even in ideal conditions. I recommend gently crushing the seeds before planting them in well-draining soil.
Cover the pot with plastic, be patient, and place the pot in a warm location as the seeds need heat to germinate.
Remove the plastic cover and place the pot in a sun-facing window when the first leaves sprout.
Coriander will grow leggy in low light conditions. Harvest and pinch back the plant regularly to encourage bushier and more compact growth.
Use as a condiment to any dish or dressing or add for flavor just before serving.
Start the mint seeds in well-draining, fertile soil and keep the seeds moist but not wet. Cover the pot with plastic and place it in a warm spot to help the seeds germinate.
On top of a refrigerator is often a good spot as it gives off a nice level of heat.
Remove the plastic and place the pot in a sun-facing window when the first leaves develop.
Mint is a vigorous grower, and given good conditions, the plant will grow and yield a good harvest. Much like cilantro, it is important to pinch back the plant to encourage more compact growth.
Use mint for salads, cold dressings, and refreshing drinks and beverages. Mint is also a wonderful condiment when chopped finely.
Thyme almost made the list as it is such a great companion to the stews and casseroles we cook as fall and winter arrive. Thyme is however a slow grower and fails to make the top 5.
My top 8 tips when growing indoors in low-light conditions
I have learned a few things over the years through both successes and failures. Here are my top tips for growing indoors in low-light conditions without artificial lighting or grow lights.
1. Shade-tolerant herbs do better indoors
Gardening is a combination of art and science. At least, that is how I see it. And my favorites to grow may not be yours.
You can of course try to grow any herb or vegetable. I even hope you will and then contact me to tell me all about it.
I have, however, learned that shade-tolerant herbs do better indoors in low-light conditions.
2. Do not overwater your plants
You should never overwater plants. When growing plants indoors it is important to remember that plants grow slower in low-light conditions and consequently need less water.
3. Go easy with fertilizers
Plants grow leggy in low-light conditions and adding fertilizer risks making it so much worse.
When your plant reaches maturity, start by adding a quarter of the recommended dosage. Watch and learn and then adjust.
Learn more about leggy seedlings and plants in the article How to fix leggy seedlings.
4. Watch the temperature
Seeds need warmth to germinate. But when the plant is established, room temperature is fine. Actually, it is better to keep the plant below room temperature than above.
If the room temperature is too high, your plants will grow tall and leggy.
A classic example is placing a plant too close to a light source radiating heat or in a window sill too close to a radiator.
5. Harvest and pinch back regularly
Your plants will grow leggy due to lack of light and it can be made even worse due to the wrong temperature and adding too much fertilizer.
Here pinching back and regularly harvesting your plants can help promote more compact and bushy growth.
6. Make the most of the light you do have
Do make the effort and move your pots to where they will get the most light over the course of the day.
When we grow indoors in low light conditions every bit of extra light helps.
7. Watch out for pests and diseases
Keep an eye out for pests and diseases. When you grow indoors there are no longer any natural predators that will help fight pests and diseases.
Inspect daily and treat and isolate infected plants at the first sign of infestation.
8. Make your potting soil root friendly
Add a handful of perlite to improve the soil and make it looser in structure and well-draining.
A looser soil will make it easier for the root system to spread and grow strong.