Skip to main content

You don’t need sunshine to start an herb garden

If your apartment or other living space doesn’t have a lot of natural lighting but you’d love to grow fresh herbs, don’t count yourself out! There are many herbs that grow in shade indoors — you just have to find the right ones. Herbs that grow in low light will have slightly different coloring and may take a bit to adapt, but once you learn how to care for them, you’ll successfully grow herbs in no time!

Can you grow herbs in low light?

Yes! There are plenty of shade-tolerant herbs that you can grow if your space doesn’t have optimal lighting. You’ll often find that  herbs that tolerate low-light conditions are a darker green color and have thinner, larger leaves. This is due to the way these plants photosynthesize.

Plants that can thrive in low-light conditions need to be able to capture light as efficiently as possible. In order to do that, they have larger chloroplasts and hold more chlorophyll that is more evenly spread out across the leaves. Shade-tolerant herbs (and other plants) also have larger leaves in order to give them more surface area to absorb the light they need.

A closeup of mint leaves
Ömer Yılmaz/Pexels

What indoor herbs grow best in low light?

The best herbs that grow in low light will be ones that mature at a shorter height. You’ll find them easier to grow and care for, and the small size of the plant won’t require as much space or sunlight as a larger one. They’ll fit well on a windowsill, a small table, or even on a kitchen counter if there’s a window.

Many of these herbs will be culinary herbs (perfect!), so you’ll have a good selection of low-light options to choose from. These include cilantro, mint, parsley, thyme, lemon balm, chives, and oregano. All of these herbs adapt well to being grown in containers, too, which makes them ideal not only for low-light conditions but for being grown indoors in general. Cilantro can be especially useful as a culinary herb to grow because if you let it go to seed, you’ll also have coriander to add to your pantry.

If you’re looking more for scented herbs that grow in low light, you can opt for parsley or mint, which will serve dual purposes. Both are culinary herbs that you can use in recipes, but they also smell fantastic and will bring a lovely aroma into your home. On the non-culinary side, you can grow catmint (a more compact herb in the mint family that’s related to catnip) or sweet woodruff, whose dried leaves smell similar to fresh hay.

A harvested parsley sprig
Karolina Grabowska/Pexels

Caring for your shade-tolerant herbs

Herbs that grow in shade indoors often need a bit extra care than their counterparts grown in more sun. Part of what will help here is choosing the right herbs. The ones mentioned above are more ideal for low-light growth, but ones that grow more compact in general will be helpful here. You’ll get less leggy growth, and the herb will be able to absorb the little light it gets as effectively as possible.

That said, even though the leaves and stature of these herbs has adapted to grow better in low light, you should still put them as close to the windows as possible. Chances are, if you’re growing in low-light conditions, you won’t have too much risk of causing sunburn to your plants; however, be aware that if you only have one window and it has direct sun all day, it may be better to spread your plants around the window instead of directly in front to avoid burning the leaves.

Another tip to aid in the growth of your low-light herbs is to avoid overcrowding the planters. They’re fighting for light enough on their own, so they don’t need to fight each other. By spacing them out, you’ll allow each herb to absorb its own light as effectively as possible without having to compete with the plant right next to it for space. Be sure to pinch back the growing parts of the plant to help encourage branching, too. This will help the herb be more compact and shorter in stature.

What if you want to grow herbs that need more light?

If you’re in low-light conditions but want to grow herbs that need more, you can always purchase grow lights! Grow lights exist to help aid in recreating outdoor lights for indoor plants and greenhouses. If you’re able to make the investment, it’s a good way to expand your herb collection (and even help your low-light herbs). Be aware with grow lights that some plants will require different types of lights throughout their growth cycle, so do your research before you buy!

Herbs that grow in low light can help bring culinary freshness, beautiful aromas, and lovely greenery into your space. And it isn’t just herbs! We started here, but there are plenty of low-light plants you can grow in your space to help bring the outdoors inside.

Editors' Recommendations

Kiera Baron
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Kiera Baron is a freelance writer and editor, as well as a budding digital artist, based in Upstate NY. She is currently one…
The do’s and don’ts of feeding your orchids so you don’t kill them
Person watering orchids

Orchids are notoriously difficult to grow, and one care aspect that may be tricky to nail is fertilizing them. These blooming plants aren’t heavy feeders, but they do appreciate consistent feeding. To help orchids grow healthy leaves and blooms, it’s a good idea to fortify their growing medium with nutrients and minerals. By the same measure, you don’t want to overfeed your orchids, which can result in weaker plants that are prone to diseases. Getting your orchids feeding routine just right helps you nourish healthy and productive plants — here's everything you need to know about how to fertilize orchids.

Which fertilizers to use for orchids
Using orchid fertilizers
There's no shortage of choice when it comes to nourishing your orchids, as you have a wide range of fertilizer options available. You’ll find plenty of specialized orchid fertilizers, including mists, spikes, and water-soluble plant food. With orchid mists, all you have to do is spray your leaves and roots with the solution. On the other hand, spikes and water-soluble plant food work more like conventional houseplant fertilizers that slowly release or dilute into the soil with water.
Using balanced fertilizers
In general, a balanced fertilizer (like a 20:20:20 one) where the nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ratio is even should be sufficient for your orchid. This type of fertilizer tends to have minor nutrients, such as manganese, calcium, and sulfur as well, so you’ll get more than just the three major elements. You can also look into bloom boosters where the phosphorus and potassium values are higher, but these fertilizers aren’t strictly necessary for a healthy orchid.

Read more
What you need to know about growing beautiful azaleas indoors
An azalea plant grown indoors

Azaleas are beautiful flowering plants that are most often grown by outdoor gardeners. Many of the varieties are shrubs, lending themselves to garden borders or centerpieces, depending on how much space you have. Because azaleas are sometimes referred to as rhododendrons, it can be a bit confusing to know which one you’re actually growing. Azaleas have evenly distributed blooms throughout the plant whereas rhododendron blooms often grow in clusters. Azalea leaves are also smaller and brighter, so it’s easy to tell the two kinds of plant apart if you know what you’re looking for.

These outdoor shrubs usually mark the beginning of the season — but have you ever considered growing azaleas indoors?

Read more
Bring your herb garden indoors for the winter to keep your harvest healthy
Herbs on kitchen counter

As the temperature drops, you may notice leaves on your favorite garden herbs dropping as well. Even if you live in the appropriate climate zone for your herbs, they may benefit from going indoors over the winter. If you’re wondering why some herbs should go indoors and how to bring them indoors to ensure their chances of survival, you’re just in luck. Ahead, we’ve rounded up everything you need to know about keeping your herbs healthy once cold weather sets in.

Why bring your herbs indoors
Bringing your herbs indoors will, first and foremost, protect them from freezing temperatures and cold winds. You'll especially want to transport your plants indoors during the winter if they're not perennial to your climate zone. Plants will also go dormant sooner outside and stop pushing out new leaves. Bringing them indoors essentially extends the growing season, so you can enjoy fresh herbs throughout the year if you provide enough light and warmth.
When to bring your herbs indoors
The best time to bring your herbs indoors during late fall or early winter is before the temperatures reach below freezing, so just as they hit the low to mid-30s. The colder it gets, the more likely it is for your plants to experience transplant shock when you bring them inside. Some herbs that can tolerate transplanting well include oregano, thyme, rosemary, and chives.

Read more