How to handle herbs over the winter?

ButchieMonadOctober 11, 2012

This was my first year growing herbs, and they came out great. I am in Cincinnati (southern part of zone 6). Pictured (pic is about a month old so they're all bigger) from left to right, peppermint, parsley, basil, sweet basil, rosemary, tarragon, lemon balm, dill, cilantro, greek oregano, italian oregano, purple sage, green sage, lemon thyme, and chocolate mint. Only ones that didn't do well are parsley (idk why) and cilantro (sowed from seed late, in July - it's about 3x bigger now though).

So my plan for the winter is to bring some herbs inside, leave some outside in my mini zip up greenhouse, and leave some out in the open. I will of course harvest the annuals, including the basil, parsley, dill and cilantro.

Inside: Rosemary (though I may keep in greenhouse)

Greenhouse: Oreganos, thyme, sage, tarragon

Out: Mints, lemon balm

And my question is, does this sound OK (will everything outside survive in the greenhouse or against the house in pot)? And also, what happens to the herbs over the winter? Do they just stop growing, or do they die down at all, or what? Not sure if I should harvest a bunch now (outside of the annuals I will harvest), and even the annuals - should I just keep them near a window and pick some when I need, or should I harvest and dry them all now?

Any tips, herb specific or general, would be appreciated. Next year, I plan on putting some of the perennials in the ground so that they will survive winter better. I just ran out of time this summer to make an appropriate spot (though I could sink some of them into my raised garden bed they are currently sitting on).


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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

Parsley has a long tap root and would hate a pot that short. Next year, either direct sow some parsley seed directly into your garden or start some from seed indoors when you start seeds for peppers and tomatoes. That way the plants will still be tiny when you can plant outdoors. Plant without disturbing the roots. I'm sure that will work much better for you. I would expect you could direct sow some seeds now for spring sprouting. Good luck!

Anything kept outside in a pot should be sunk into the ground. The soil line in your pot and in the garden should be the same. The ground will help to insulate and protect the roots from cold temperatures.

Common oregano (Origanum vulgare), thyme (Thymus vulgaris), sage (Salvia officinalis), lemon balm, and mints all handle my winters in the ground with no protection. I get lots of cold (does occasionally through the winter get below 0 F here), snow, and ice. Making sure these plants are in a place that has good drainage is key to their survival. Any place water pools a lot will mean a sure death. In all actuality, I have lost more plants to "critters" in the winter especially late winter/early spring when animals get desperate for food than to the winter itself. Good luck!


    Bookmark   October 12, 2012 at 9:05AM
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Hmm...what do you think would protect the herbs better - in the mini greenhouse protected from frost, or planting them in the ground?

If I do plant them in the ground, I'm concerned about the mints spreading...especially the peppermint, it seems to be growing more fiercely than the chocolate mint. But I suppose I could put them next to the raised bed garden, I could put them in a mound of dirt to ensure drainage. But I'd have to figure out a way to contain the mint.

Reading up on herbs, I found that dill, along with parsley, also has a long tap root. I probably shouldn't put that in a pot for next year either.

When harvesting the herbs, such as mint, is it best to pick off entire stems, or pick off individual leaves? I've never really known this (though I have heard that with Rosemary, you should pick off the "needles" instead of a branch).

    Bookmark   October 17, 2012 at 10:39PM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

I've never overwintered in a mini-greenhouse and can't comment on its effectiveness. But the ground and snow both insulate plants from the most harsh winter temperatures. You won't get that from the outdoor mini-greenhouse. I personally would opt for the ground.

Mints. Some talk as though they are akin to garden Armageddon. I'm not of that mind. I plant them right in the ground and I've had some mint spread but not overly much. The only one to spread quite successfully for me was a wild mint I started from a wild-collected cutting. That said, I don't plant them in my most rich, fertile, and well-watered ground. That ground is saved for veggies. The herbs get other less-friendly locations and I have more of a "sink or swim" attitude with anything common like mint. I can't give you mint containing advice since I don't do it, but there is volumes of info on that in the back posts of this forum.

Yup. Dill is another no-pot herb. Cilantro too.

Harvesting each herb is different. Some you pluck leaves, others you take entire branches. Best rule of thumb, take no more than 1/3 of the living plant material (esp. leaves) at any one time. Wait until the plant recovers before harvesting again. Some plants you can take more and some have a slower regrowth rate than others but you will discover that quickly with experience in your own garden. Start slow. Watch and listen to the plants. They will tell you what is best for them.


    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 7:51AM
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flora_uk(SW UK 8/9)

Regarding rosemary - cut stems. Stripping the needles will just leave you with naked sticks which look bad and do not help the plant. Strip the needles after picking if you want to but I usually just put the whole stem into the dish of whatever. Then you can remove it to serve. Getting separate needles in your mouth is not pleasant.

For mint, cut stems. Each cut will produce two or more new stems and helps keep the mint bushy.

    Bookmark   October 18, 2012 at 1:17PM
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When you harvest your Rosemary you could strip off most of the leaves and stick those bare branches in root tone and try to get new starts just in case you lose your parent plant during the winter.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2012 at 12:27AM
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What's the plant in the back right corner? Looks to me like it might be a bay. Unless you are heating the greenhouse, I don't think it will be warm enough for rosemary which I think needs temps over 28 degrees. Inside, it will need lots of humidity.

Outdoors, herbs (at least in my zone 5 in NH) will lose their leaves. Tarragon has already lost its leaves. Sage, thyme, etc are much hardier and will stay good for awhile yet. In the spring, tarragon seems to put up brand new shoots from the base but it's about the last herb to wake up. Some years I think I have lost it. OTH things like chives start up as soon as we get a good warm spell. Sage puts new leaves out from branches. I prefer to let my hardy perennials have a winter dormancy outside.

    Bookmark   October 30, 2012 at 4:00PM
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