Guest Post: Herb Gardening – Preparing for Winter

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As summer is winding to its close and fall sits on the horizon, home herb gardens are nearing the end of their productive season. Perennial herbs go dormant and wait quietly for spring, while annual herbs die off and need to be replanted after the last frost.

Perennial and annual are botanical terms, but for the home gardener it’s more about “winter hardy” and “not winter hardy” than anything else. Winter hardy herbs are almost always perennials, although in warmer planting zones some annuals will survive year round and not require replanting. Depending on the climate in your area, some perennial plants will not survive the winter and must be treated as annuals. These are sometimes called “tender perennials” and include rosemary, sage, and lavender. Tender perennials will occasionally surprise you, however: I live in Zone 7a, and everyone told me my rosemary wouldn’t make it through winter, but it’s four years old now and still going strong.

(By the way, if you’re not sure about your planting zone, the USDA has an interactive zone map.)

One of the most important factors in overwintering your garden is how you cared for it in the spring and summer. Protecting your garden against extreme heat will leave it healthy and robust to face the colder months.

If you’re growing herbs in containers, you can simply take the non-hardy plants indoors for the winter. It’s best to keep them somewhere cool, like a garage, rather than in the warm parts of the house.

For your annual plants, fall is a good time to let some go to seed. You can gather the seeds once they dry and use them to replant your garden. You can tell if seeds are dry enough to harvest by crushing the plant gently in your hand; dry seeds come away easily. Some plants, such as dill and fennel, produce seeds that are used as spices. Keep your gathered seeds in a dry location until spring and plant them after the last frost. Compost your annual plants after the first frost, but be sure not to toss any seeds into the compost pile unless you want “volunteers” sprouting up in the spring.

In an upcoming entry I’ll explain the various methods you can use to preserve your summer herb bounty so that it will last you through the cold months when your herb garden isn’t producing.

(Photo Source: Steve Petrucelli)

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