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I'm very inexperienced with gardening and I got two growing sets from IKEA, including sets for basil, parsley, peppermint, coriander, oregano and thyme. Most of them have begun to grow and it seems they are in good shape so far:

http://imgur.com/a/OS6bX

I bought the basil, parsley and peppermint first and the other 3 were added later. Now the IKEA instructions don't tell me a lot about how to take care of the herbs, which is why I'm asking here.

  1. Do I have to repot them at some point? In the IKEA pictures, it seems they can be left in the included pots for a very long time, but I don't know if that's a good thing.

  2. If I have to repot them, can I put a few of them (say 2-3) in a single pot or do I have to put them in separate pots?

  3. They are currently sitting on a window sill facing east inside my living room (I don't have a lot of light in my kitchen unless I turn the lights on). Should I put them somewhere else where they are not exposed to direct sunlight or will they be fine?

  4. How often should I water them? I have some other indoor plants too, and the way I have to take care of them varies a lot, some need the earth to almost always be wet whereas others should be left until the earth has become a bit dry.

  5. Do I need to use fertilizer at some point? Which one?

  6. What do I have to pay attention to if I want them to survive the winter?

  7. And most importantly: When do I know that I can use them for cooking? What do I have to pay attention to when I use them? Should I only use a few branches every time?

Thanks a lot in advance for any help!

  • Any chance to get those babies outside at some point? Balcony, garden... And welcome to Gardening SE, too! I sense a new subject in the FP on the horizon: Use of herbs in cooking ^_^ – Stephie Apr 14 '16 at 15:24
  • @Stephie: I don't have a balcony or garden, but I could put them on the window sill on the outside of my kitchen or living room. However, I'm afraid they'd fall down very easily on a windy day. – Huy Apr 14 '16 at 15:25
  • @Stephie: Do some of them have a particularly hard time surviving indoors or why did you ask? – Huy Apr 14 '16 at 15:27
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  1. The pots you have look quite small (maybe 9 cm across?), but you should be able to keep your herbs in them. I have 3 herb pots on my window sill that are about the same size, and my herbs have been quite happy in them all winter. You do have a LOT of plants in each pot, though, so I would thin them out a bit. Maybe leave 1-3 plants in each container. You can use the plants that you thin out - don't throw them away! Personally, I'd thin them out slowly as I needed the herbs, so they don't go to waste. Here are pot size recommendations from Cornell U: http://www.gardening.cornell.edu/factsheets/misc/containers.pdf.

  2. If you choose to repot them, you could combine them into a couple pots. They have slightly different requirements, so I might combine in more than one. Oregano and thyme both like to be a bit neglected. Basil, parsley and coriander can take a bit more watering. Mint likes to take over and will try to outcompete the others. Three pots might work best.

  3. I'm not sure which direction your window faces, but your herbs should be fine in the living room window. Herbs generally like a lot of sun.

  4. I covered water requirements in #2 above - oregano and thyme will need the least.

  5. In general, herbs do not need a lot of feeding, but in pots they do need a little bit. You can use a slow-release fertilizer for herbs in the pots. I use an organic 5-7-3 that is marketed for vegetables and herbs. I feed them once a season.

  6. I don't think you'll have any problem getting them to last, but keep their life cycle in mind. Coriander will go to seed at some point, and will need to be repotted. If it is kept cool in the house, it should last a good long time. Once the heat of summer hits, though, it is likely to bolt. Use it before then! Parsley will last for about a year before it bolts. It is a biennial, so this is normal. You'll need to reseed it, too.

  7. In the photos I see that your plants have their cotyledons and are just starting to get their first true leaves. Once they are about four inches tall and have more true leaves you can start using them. To use the basil, thyme, mint, and oregano, pinch or snip the top part of a stem off, leaving at least a couple of leaves on the plant. This will cause the plant to grow bushier. With coriander and parsley, I'd just be sure to leave a few stems behind from each plant.

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    The pots are around 7.5 cm across, so a bit smaller than your estimate. Also, the window they are currently located at faces east, but I could also relocate to north. Thanks for your answer! – Huy Apr 14 '16 at 15:40
  • Oh shoot - I did not mean to include mint in the same group as oregano and thyme for watering. Thanks for pointing that out, Stephie! – michelle Apr 14 '16 at 16:35
  • Huy, I would leave them in the east-facing window. They will not get too much sun. As for the pots, the minimum recommended size for most herbs is 4", which works out to 10 CM (I'd done the inch to cm calculation incorrectly - mine are 10 cm), so your pots are a bit small. An 8" pot is recommended for mint and parsley, so your pot will be very small for those. I'm adding the container size recommendations from Cornell U to my answer for you. – michelle Apr 14 '16 at 16:42
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With most plants indoors, insufficient light is one of your greatest enemies. It can lead to etiolation or, plainly long, lanky and pale stems and unfortunately a higher tendency to attract pests or simply fall over. So give them as much light / sun as you can, do not move them away from the window.

As for your questions, it depends a bit on what you want to acchieve: just a supply of fresh herbs for the kitchen or a somewhat permanent solution. Some of your plants are pennials, so with good care, oregano, thyme and mint can be your "green pets" for years. Basil is a bit tricky, because it usually will go to seed and then die, but we had users here reporting a "perennial" effect from self-seeding basil. But that's probably in another climate, iirc. Parsley will bolt in the second year, coriander after one season, so those are more the "use quickly" type.

If you are careful, you can keep them in those tiny pots for a while, but you need to be extremely diligent in watering and fertilizing and probably won't have them for too long. Larger pots give the individual plants more room, otherwise some of the seedlings might die off as natural selection (described here) or - worse - hinder each other from growing. -> I would go for at least 12 cm or bigger, especially mint likes to put down roots. Small pots outside (see below) are also hard to keep sufficiently watered on hot summer days.

If you have a safe (= can't fall down) window box or similar, move your seedlings outside once they have developed the first set or two of true leaves - that would also be a good time to transplant them in small groups into their new pots or window boxes. Keep thyme and oregano separate, because they need less water (and consider adding a rosemary, says the cook). Do not move them outside instantly, you need to harden them off. More about this can be found on this site.

Choose the window which gets the most sun dring the day, not your north-facing one. Parsley and mint will cope with less, but as you don't have a south-facing window, I suggest your east kitchen one, meaning you can reach them easily for cooking. Note that sunlight will not only let your plants grow well, but also increase the aromatic oils we so desire in our herbs for cooking.

A food-safe (read the lable) fertilizer will keep the softer plants happy, a slow-release one means you fertilize only once, a liquid one lets you adjust better if you feel they need more or less at any given time. Let thyme and oregano "starve" a bit, they need probably half the standard dose.

Water "as needed", meaning somewhat generously for basil, mint, parsley and coriander (you want lots of leaves!) do not keep thyme and oregano wet all the time.

You can start harvesting single leaves (or tips) once the plants have a few leaves, just don't leave the stem "bare". Harvesting the mint and basil tips encourages new growth from lower nodes and bushier plants. Let oregano and thyme grow into little bushes, then snip branches.

As for overwintering, see here, for example.

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