16 Reasons Your Indoor Herbs Are Dying (And How To Save Them)


It can be a painful situation watching the herbs dying a slow death. That’s why I wanted to know what are the reasons for indoor herbs dying before I start to grow them.

Your indoor herbs could be dying because they don’t have enough or too much sunlight, overwatering, or underwatering. The container you are growing them in could be too small. Or the herbs could be infested with pests and diseases.

There’s a lot more that goes on when an indoor herb is dying and you can find some useful information below to find the problem and try to resolve it.

Your herbs are getting less sunlight

There are some herbs that need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight to grow the best possible. Some such herbs are oregano, lavender, and rosemary.

If these herbs are not getting enough sunlight they will get stressed and eventually die.

Solution

You need to move such herbs to an area of your house where they can get the required amount of sunlight. If that is not possible, you may need to move these herb plants outdoors.

You can either grow them in containers or use a hanging basket in your patio or balcony.

Your herbs are getting too much light

There are other herbs that do better when they get indirect sunlight. Too much direct sunlight will cause such plants to wilt. Some examples of such herbs are cilantro, mint, tarragon, and thyme.

Solution

Move these herbs to an area of your home where there’s less direct sunlight. It would be preferable to grow these herbs in a location that gets indirect sunlight that is reflected by walls and windows.

You are underwatering the herb plants

You may be watering your herb plants as per your schedule but maybe it’s not enough. Some plants like parsley, mint, and basil need to remain in moist soil to grow well.

Solution

The best way to find out whether these plants need water is to check the surface of the soil in the container. If the soil appears dry, you can give the soil a good watering.

You are overwatering the herb plants

Sometimes we get over-enthusiastic and keep watering the herb plants as much as we can. We feel that the more we water, the better these herbs will grow.

But there are herbs that would prefer a dry condition to grow the best they can. Some such herbs are rosemary, sage, and thyme.

Overwatering is also a problem because it will drown out the roots causing root rot and fungal diseases.

Solution

Put your finger 1-2 inches into the container soil to check the moisture. If the tip of your finger does not feel moist, it’s time to give the container soil a good watering.

But if the soil is moist, avoid watering till it dries out to the required level.

The herb container is too small

We love to grow herbs in cute containers that could be a mason jar or a small tin can. But the problem is plants need their space.

The bigger the plant grows, the more it’s roots need to spread. If that does not happen the plant gets root-bound. The roots cover the entire container which means no room for moisture and nutrients in there. And this is a situation that will cause your herbs to die.

Solution

Select a container that is the right size for your herb plants. You want a container that is 1-2 sizes larger than the plant. When the plant grows bigger, you need to transplant if the container feels too small.

The herb container is too large

You can end up being over-cautious and selecting a container that is too large for your herb plant. This might seem like a good idea but it can cause your herbs some problems.

If the container is too large, it means the soil holds moisture longer as the roots are small and cannot absorb all of it. The more the roots remain in moisture, the higher chances of root rot and fungal disease.

If you use fertilizer in your container, the large amount will cause an overdose of nutrients to the roots and cause them to burn.

Solution

The solution is to pick a container that is 1-2 sizes larger than the plant but no more than that. This gives the plant’s roots sufficient area to grow but without suffering the above problems.

The container does not have good drainage

This problem can happen if we pick a container based on how good they look but forget about the drainage at the bottom.

If you’re using a container like a mason jar or a tin can, you need to be very careful of watering the herbs. Water remaining in the container will drown the roots and kill the plants.

Solution

You can pick a container that comes with drainage holes at the bottom for excess water to drain out. Or you could use a regular container and drill some holes at the bottom yourself.

Make sure to place the container in a saucer that has a layer of pebbles. This way the excess water will drain from the container into the saucer instead of on your floor or window sill.

The water quality is not good

You know how much water you need to give your herb plants. But if you’re using tap water, there could be a problem.

The tap water contains chemicals like chlorine or fluoride that can harm your plants. If it’s well water, it could be hard water that contains salts and minerals that can collect over time and kill your plants.

Solution

The best water to use is rainwater if you can collect it using a rain barrel. Or you can use distilled water if you have a distiller at home.

If you can only use tap water, let it sit in a container for at least 12 hours. This helps most of the chemicals like chlorine to dissipate from the water and then it’s safe to use for the plants.

Your herbs can’t deal with the humidity

The environment in a house or apartment is different from the area outdoors. This can create a microclimate indoors which has higher humidity.

So plants that would thrive outdoors in the area might not do well in such indoor humid conditions.

Solution

You need to change the indoor conditions where you’re growing the plants. You can do this using a humidifier where you’re growing the plants.

Or you can place a saucer filled with pebbles under the container and fill it with water till the top of the pebbles. The water will evaporate and lower the humidity for the herb plants.

You’re not using the right potting soil

Potting soil plays an important role in the growth and development of your indoor herbs. You cannot use garden soil for this purpose.

It may contain too much clay or sand that does not have a good moisture retaining capacity while draining out the excess. The garden soil may also contain harmful pests and diseases you don’t want to reach your herb plants.

Solution

You need to choose a potting soil that is sterile and suitable for growing herb plants. You can get such potting soil at your local garden center or order it online.

Make sure it is completely neutral and does not contain any kind of fertilizer or nutrients added to the soil.

The herbs are overcrowding in the container

It may be tempting to grow a lot of herb plants together. Maybe of the same or different varieties of herbs. But that’s a big mistake that can cost your plants life.

Herbs like most plants need sufficient space to spread out their roots. Growing lots of them together may work when they’re a seedling.

But when they are mature, the herbs will compete for nutrients and moisture. Lack of these required components may lead to your herb plants dying.

Solution

The best way to grow herbs is to plant several seeds or seedlings in a container. But when they grow a little, you can pluck out the weak ones, leaving only the strongest in the container. This process is known as thinning the plants.

I would suggest determining the container size that your herb plant needs and grow only one in each container. This will avoid the problem that multiple plants are competing with each other for resources.

You’re using too much fertilizer

Plants that grow in the soil can spread their roots in search of nutrients and moisture. But when you grow herbs in pots, they don’t have anywhere to go.

The potting soil that you use is also sterile which means it works well as a medium to retain moisture but does not contain any nutrients.

Most herb plants don’t need fertilizer because they prefer to grow in a low-nutrient environment. If you try to use fertilizer, it will end up with root and plant burn.

Solution

The potting soil that you use for your herbs should either be sterile or contain a small amount of slow-release organic fertilizer. This helps provide them with the required nutrients during the growing stages of the plant.

But once the herbs have grown a little, there is no need to provide any extra fertilizer like you would for some other plants.

The herbs are not harvested correctly

The fun in growing herbs is you get to eat the delicious leaves when the plant has matured. But if you pluck the biggest leaves from the plant, it won’t be able to grow again.

The leaves are the organs that the plant uses to make its food. So plucking most of them will force your plants to die.

Solution

You should only pluck the foliage from the herb plants that are at the top. You should leave the bottom two leaves as is. This helps the plant continue growing and producing more leaves.

I would also suggest to just pick about ⅓rd of the herbs you need and leave the rest of the plant to continue producing more foliage. This will help you harvest plenty of herbs during the growing season.

There’s nothing wrong with the herbs

You may have done everything right and still find that your herbs are dying. But that may not be your fault.

Like all living things, plants also have a life span. Some may grow for a few weeks, months, or years. But eventually, they will die.

You could be growing herbs that are annuals or perennials. Annual plants grow for one season, develop seeds, and die. Perennials grow for the season, become dormant, and then emerge again during the next growing season.

Solution

Learn about the herbs you are growing and in which category they fall. Realize that as the growing season ends with the coming of winter, some of your herbs will naturally die.

Herbs are infested with pests and diseases

Growing plants in containers helps reduce the risk of pests and diseases that can reach it. And they don’t prefer attacking some of the herbs.

But there are still chances that your herb plants may get infested with pests and diseases. If you don’t take care of the problem soon, it may kill your herb plants.

Solution

Monitor your herb plants every day when you are watering them. Check for any signs of pests and diseases on the foliage, leaves, stem. Lift the herb plant out of the container to check for root damage or root rot.

If there are pests or diseases, take care of them by finding out more about them and the solution to get rid of them

You picked unhealthy seeds or seedlings

If you pick seeds that are old and have a low germination rate, your herb plants won’t be able to grow. The same will happen if you pick unhealthy seedlings from a garden center.

Solution

Make sure to start with good seeds that you purchase from a reputable seed company. You can even try to get some seeds from your family and friends if they grow their own herbs.

When you buy seedlings from a garden center, be thorough to check the plants. Make sure they’re not stressed out. If the leaves are turning yellow or wilting that’s not a good sign.

If there are pests hovering around the plant or it’s showing signs of disease, you should avoid getting that herb plant.

You should lift the plant out of the container to check the roots for signs of disease or stress due to a lack of growing space.

What are some herbs suitable to grow indoors?

Annual herbs are those that grow for one year. They will grow foliage, flowers, seeds, and then die.

Perennial herbs grow for many years. They grow for the season, then become dormant during winter, and regrow in the next spring.

Biennials are herb plants that grow for two years. They grow for one season, remain dormant in winter, regrow the next spring, seed, and die in the next winter.

HerbTypeLight
BasilAnnualIndirect sunlight
ParsleyBiennialFull sunlight
MintPerennialPartial shade
RosemaryPerennialFull sunlight
ThymePerennialFull sunlight
CilantroAnnualFull sunlight or partial shade
ChivesPerennialFull sunlight or partial shade
OreganoPerennialFull sunlight
SagePerennialFull sunlight
DillAnnualFull sunlight or partial shade
ChervilBiennialPartial shade
WatercressAnnualShade
Sweet ChamomileAnnualFull sunlight or partial shade
AnisePerennialFull sunlight or partial shade
TarragonPerennialFull sunlight
PeppermintPerennialFull sunlight or partial shade
CatnipPerennialFull sunlight or partial shade

Kevin

Kevin’s sick of eating mass-produced vegetables that contain harmful chemicals and lack nutrition and taste. He wants to grow his own food and help others do the same even with limited growing space.

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