Starting Herb Seeds

Herbs add color, fragrance, and texture to the garden — not to mention flavor and variety to the kitchen. Many are perennials and few require special care.  In my time as a haphazard gardener, I’ve grown herbs almost every year. Lots of them have died, due to neglect and/or ignorance, but I have finally hit on a method that works for me. Growing herbs from seed is the most economical way to go, but if you find seeds challenging you might be reluctant. Maybe my method will work for you, too.

Rosemary is probably my favorite herb, but thyme, oregano, sage, tarragon, cilantro, basil, and parsley are also usually in my beds somewhere. The viciously cold weather last winter seems to have killed my rosemary, so I’ll be starting a new one this year.

Last summer.

Last summer.


This spring.

This spring.

The oregano did just fine.


So did the sage, which was surprising because last year was its first year in the ground. I thought it would still be tender.


I tried, unsuccessfully, to grow rosemary from seed for a number of years. It would usually germinate just fine, then whither away. The plant that died last year was about four feet tall and absolutely luscious. I would touch it every time I walked by to enjoy its piney scent. The trick for me was to keep it in a pot for a few years.

That has turned out to be the best way for me to grow a number of perennial herbs — get them started in a pot, and bring the pot in over the winter for 2-3 years. Then, when it is firmly established, it seems to do better planted in the ground.

The method I use will probably never be endorsed by any expert, but it has consistently worked:

  1. Fill a pot (any pot with drainage) with potting soil.
  2. Sprinkle some seeds around.
  3. Put the pot outside.
  4. Keep the soil just damp.
  5. Start picking leaves off to use for cooking as soon as there are leaves to pick.
  6. Bring the pot in for the winter.
  7. After 2-3 winters, transplant to the garden.

Of course, some herbs, like basil and parsley work better as annuals, and I just plant new seeds each year for them. Others, like mint and chamomile can be invasive. I don’t mind if they start spreading, but you may prefer to keep them in containers rather than transplanting them into your garden.

Growing herbs from seed is inexpensive, and can have big rewards. It’s certainly worth trying if you haven’t.


It’s Just Chives Talking

First, I must make an admission: I don’t have cats. I have birds and dogs and fish, so adding a cat to the mix would be…chaotic. Or, perhaps I should say, even more chaotic. Even though I don’t have cats myself, several friends do so I know about the difficulties cat owners face when trying to start seeds indoors.

cat smelling a pot of seedlings

Sparky checking out the seedlings

There are several ways to deter your cat from digging around in your seed trays, or eating your plants after they sprout. One of the most obvious is to enclose your seed trays or planting medium. There are miniature greenhouse-type seed trays available for purchase — the kind with a domed lid that snaps on and off. You can also recycle things like plastic cake trays and other disposable food containers that come with a clear plastic lid.

The problem with the domed lid approach is that, eventually, your seedlings will need to be uncovered — at just the time the tiny plants will look like a most tender salad to your cat! What do you do then?

Many people use old aquariums. You can put the aquarium in a sunny spot and put a screen over the top. Your plants will get the light they need, air circulation, and the screen is easy to remove when you need to add water.

Reading various forum threads, I came across one creative cat owner who uses a baker’s rack and a mattress bag to start her seeds. When a mattress is delivered, it comes wrapped in a big, clear, plastic bag. Put the seeds on trays on the baker’s rack in front of a window, put the mattress bag over the whole rack, then use binder clips to pull the bag taut and secure it.  A small fan can be rotated from shelf to shelf and turned on for a couple of hours each day to provide necessary air circulation.

Other creative enclosure methods include using cages — such rabbit or small bird cages, building shelves, using chicken wire, or putting your seed trays in a room with a door and closing the kitties out (although this could well lead to pitiful meowing for a few days).

If an enclosure simply will not work in your situation, you might try deterring your feline with scent. Citrus peelings are supposed to be off-putting for cats, though you will need to change them often so the smell will always be strong. There is also a commercially available spray called Ssscat Spray.

Another tactic is to make the seed starting set-up unattractive to cats. For instance, cats don’t like to walk on anything that feels unstable, so putting marbles, rocks, or seashells in areas where the cat would have to walk may convince them to back off. Usually, this is a good way to keep cats out of larger, well-established houseplants.

The retail product Scat Mat serves the same basic purpose, emitting a harmless, low-power pulse when touched. Some people use bamboo skewers or toothpicks to create a barrier. Simply push a toothpick in next to each seed so that it sticks up out of the soil like a spike. Cats don’t like to walk on spikes!

One word of caution: some people suggest using pepper or pepper spray to keep cats away. However, if the pepper gets on a paw, then the cat licks the paw and rubs its eye…well, you can imagine how pepper in your eye would feel. Stick with a squirt of air or water, please 🙂