This post was last updated on May 30, 2017
Today’s tutorial will show you how to prune herbs. If you’re a visual learner, there’s a video on how to prune basil at the bottom of the post; it shows you all the steps you need to prune any herb!
For us, the point of growing herbs is clearly so we can use them to make delicious food! Cuz, duh! But in order to do that we have to get them growing big and strong, and then we have to get the leaves or flowers off of the living plant. It seems like that part would be pretty simple (just cut ’em off, right?) but there’s actually a fair bit that goes into pruning and harvesting your plant so that you can get the most out of it.
One important thing that I learned is that even though sometimes the words are used interchangeably, there is a difference between pruning your herbs and harvesting them. They both mean pinching or cutting pieces off of the plant, but they have different purposes.
- To put it simply, pruning is strategically removing pieces of your plant in order to help it grow properly. There are many things you can accomplish by pruning your plants, and pretty much any plant can benefit from pruning. It can shape your plants so that they grow bushy instead of tall and spindly, encourage new growth (especially useful for herbs), get read of dead pieces, increase the yield of flowers or buds, and much more! You can prune a plant throughout it’s whole life to help encourage the type of growth you want.
- Harvesting, on the other hand, is removing pieces of your plant for your use or consumption. Unlike pruning, you only want to harvest plants when they are ready to eat (or dry, or whatever), when they are at their peak flavor or scent. And you need to be strategic here too so that you don’t kill the plant by harvesting too much. (I’ll go into more details about harvesting in a later post).
The plants have been growing for about two months now and they are doing great (the catnip especially, that little guy is going crazy!) It’s not quite time to harvest them yet, but it’s definitely time to prune them! You can start pruning your plants pretty early on, but you want to wait at least until they have three full sets of leaves, otherwise they’re probably still too young.
One of the coolest things about plants is how pruning them helps to promote even more growth. They’re like a hydra…cut one head off and two more take its place! I’m not even joking. 🙂
Plants start out with one main stem and grow pairs of leaves from that stem. But plants can’t sustain growth like that forever or they’d be ridiculously tall and skinny! So at some point new stems start growing from the joint of each pair of leaves (you can see a couple extra stems near the bottom of the catnip below). Pruning can help encourage this behavior because once a stem has been cut off the plant puts its energy into growing the two little buds nearest that joint instead. This will make your plant bushier and lower to the ground. Also, since each new stem starts sprouting pairs of leaves as well, your plants will start growing exponentially, and more leaves are always a good thing when you’re growing herbs!
You can see in the picture above that, unlike the basil which only has four sets of leaves total, the catnip has four sets of leaves on the main stem, but TONS of other leaves growing from other stems near the ground.
When pruning or harvesting your plants you want to be careful to always cut just above a pair of leaves rather than below them. Remember the hydra analogy? Well the two new “heads” grow from the joints where the leaves and stems connect, so you don’t want to actually remove the leaves.
Go back and look at the picture of the catnip above. See the leaf on the left that is the closest to the camera? Follow the stem of that leaf down until it joins the main plant stem. Do you see the tiny little buds right at the joint there? Whether you are pruning or harvesting, right above those little buds is where you want to cut the main stem.
Take a pair of scissors and cut the main stem just above the little buds. You can see in the picture above that the little buds are still there. Now that the main stem is gone the plant will put its energy into growing those new shoots instead!
Here’s a close-up of the basil that I pruned yesterday evening. I pruned the fourth set of leaves right off of the top, and now those tiny little buds get a chance to grow!
About four days later the new little catnip shoots were really growing well!
The first time you prune your plants you want to do exactly what I did here: cut off the main stem above a pair of leaves. But the second, third, fourth, etc. times you prune your plants the main stem probably won’t have that much new growth on it, so look around for other stems to prune. The next ones I’m going to prune from the catnip are the very very bottom ones. That way instead of a main stem and two side stems at the bottom I’ll have a main stem and four side stems! (Remember, hydras 🙂 ) That way the plant will be “bottom heavy” instead of getting so tall and skinny that it falls over from it’s own weight. Yes, that is what will happen if you don’t prune your plants!
If you want to see pruning in action, check out this video I made on how to prune basil! The steps for pruning basil are the same as for any herb, so even if you’re not growing basil this year, take a look!
Have you had any luck growing things so far this season? The weather is getting nice and warm here in Chicago and our herbs are just LOVING it!
This post is part of a series about growing herbs indoors. You can see the rest of the posts in the series here.
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- Top-Dress the Early Arrivals
- Clean Up and Revitalize
- Divide and Repot
- Ground Planting
- Location, Location, Location
- Fertilizers and Watering
- 18 Medicinal Perennial Herbs for Your Garden
- Lemon Balm
- Marjoram and Oregano
- Winter Savory
- Russian Comfrey
- Garlic Chives
- UConn Home & Garden Education Center
- A Guide to Growing Herbs
- Connecticut Garden Journal: Overwintering Herbs
- Windermere Blog
- How to grow a winter herb garden and store the harvest
- Hardy outdoor herbs
- Tender outdoor herbs
Owner & Blogger at Practically Functional Hi, I’m Jessi! Welcome to Practically Functional, a DIY and crafts blog for everyone! I believe that anyone can do crafts and DIY projects, regardless of skill or experience. Whether you’re looking for simple craft ideas, step by step DIY project tutorials, cleaning hacks, or just practical organization solutions, you’ll find them here! Make sure to sign up for the email newsletter to get craft projects, Cricut tutorials, and cleaning tips in your inbox every week (for free!)
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Who doesn’t love herbs? They’re fun and easy to grow, delicious to cook with, and they offer amazing levels of antioxidants for good health and well-being.
And they’re also among some of the earliest perennials to make an appearance in the spring garden.
Some, like chives and garlic, will even push up tender new growth through the last layers of winter snow!
To ensure a bountiful and steady supply of fresh seasonings, in this article we’re looking at the best spring care tips for your herb garden.
A posy of lavender, rosemary, sage and thyme.
We’ll cover how to top-dress early arrivals, revitalizing compact growth, dividing potted and garden growers, location, fertilizer and water requirements, how to propagate new plants, and mulching.
Let’s dig in!
Top-Dress the Early Arrivals
It’s not unusual for fall-planted garlic and chives to make an appearance in late winter, followed closely by tarragon and oregano.
However, their out-of-season emergence doesn’t necessarily mean the cold winter weather has finished.
To protect and nourish these brave little stalks, a top-dressing of organic material, such as well-rotted manure or compost, is called for.
The nutrients will release slowly down to the roots, and a collar of mulch will protect tender greenery from freezing temperatures.
Before applying, fluff the mulch with your garden fork to reduce its weight and create tiny air pockets – which help to insulate against the cold.
Apply a couple of inches directly to the soil surface to cover emerging growth and carefully encircle any taller stalks.
Cozy and well fed, your early arrivals will burst with growth when warm temperatures do arrive.
Clean Up and Revitalize
If you like to leave seed heads in place for the birds to enjoy over the winter, they’ll need to be removed before new growth arrives.
At the same time, clean away any winter mulches, and loosen the top layer of soil with your garden fork.
Now’s also the time to rejuvenate any plants that have become lanky, like lavender, sage, or southernwood.
Cut back woody herbs like southernwood for compact growth.
After a few years of growth in the garden, some woody herbs tend to become leggy, with new growth at the tops of tall, bare stems.
To restore a compact form and encourage fuller growth, cut back by about one-third, or to just above the lowest green leaves, or to 4-6 inches from the ground – depending on the size and growth habit of the particular plant.
Check our Guides to Pruning, Weeding, and Maintenance for more specific information on particular plants.
Cut back hard to the lowest growth.
This can seem harsh, but herbs are a tough lot and this is the best way to revitalize their growth and appearance.
Once cleaning and pruning has been done, clear the soil of any debris. Loosen the top layer gently with a fork, and top-dress with an inch or two of compost or well-rotted manure.
Divide and Repot
Many herbs do very nicely in pots, making them ideal for a container garden close to the kitchen.
However, container-grown seasonings can quickly become root-bound after a year or two, and will need to be divided and repotted.
A root bound sage plant.
Remove any root bound plants from their containers and cut away the lower quarter of the root mass.
If the roots are really packed, you may also want to cut away an inch or so around the outside. Do this with a clean and sharp tool with a serrated edge, such as a folding garden saw or hori hori.
Trim roots from the sides and the bottom of the root ball.
An alternative to cutting away the outer root layer is to divide the root mass into halves, thirds, or quarters.
This works for any herbs that form clumps – like chives – or that spread via runners – such as mint, oregano, tarragon, or thyme.
However, for plants with a taproot or primary root system – like lavender, parsley, rosemary, or sage – division by stem cuttings or seeds is the best method of propagation (more on that below).
Once the root ball has been trimmed or divided, it can go back into a pot.
Divided and ready for transplanting.
First, ensure there’s adequate drainage material. Then add about one-third of fresh soil that’s been amended with rotted compost, worm castings, or manure, and some moisture-retaining material such as perlite or peat moss.
You can get the soil formula from this article on keeping your containers looking their best.
Set the root ball in place with bone meal mixed into the potting soil.
Add a bit of bone meal to encourage root growth, set the roots in place, and top up with more fresh soil. Firm the soil gently but don’t pack it down, and settle it in place with a drink of water.
Container-grown herbs that have become root-bound can also be planted in the garden after the last frost.
To plant in the garden, dig a hole twice as wide but no deeper than the pot it came from. Mix in some fresh amended soil, add some bone meal, loosen or trim any circling roots, and plant as described above.
Eighteen-month-old stem cuttings.
If you’ve created too many divisions for your garden space, pot up the excess in containers and give them away.
They make great gifts for friends, family, and neighbors, or as a donation to spring plant sales.
If you still have too many, put them out by the curb with a “Free Herbs” sign and they’ll disappear in a blink!
Location, Location, Location
Checking individual sun and temperature requirements for specific varieties is the best way to determine location.
But as a general rule of thumb, think Mediterranean. Most kitchen herbs enjoy plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures in well-drained, somewhat rocky or sandy soil.
Most leafy types, both perennial and annual, will do best with full morning sun and some afternoon shade. An afternoon break from the heat helps to prevent leaf scorch and early bolting to seed.
Take stem cuttings for the kitchen.
There are exceptions, of course. Cilantro does best in the cooler days of spring and autumn, while basil likes the summer heat. Always check individual requirements if you’re unsure.
Herbs with needle-like or thick leaves – such as lavender, rosemary, and sage – can handle full sun all day.
In the garden, amend any thick or heavy soil with builders’ sand or finely calibrated pebbles to ensure adequate drainage – herbs will sulk and underperform if their roots are allowed to stand in soggy, waterlogged soil.
Fertilizers and Watering
These flavorful plants will produce the highest levels of essential oils, which produce their distinctive flavors and fragrances, when they are somewhat under-fertilized.
High levels of nutrients, especially nitrogen, will generate plenty of leafy growth. But this is at the cost of taste and aroma.
An organic fertilizer such as well-rotted manure or compost dug into the soil in spring, along with the occasional application of fish fertilizer, works well for herbs.
A time-release fertilizer that doesn’t flood the roots all at once with an excess of nutrients can be used as well.
Alaska Fish Fertilizer, available on Amazon.com.
The exception to this is container-grown plants.
As potted roots can’t spread out to find nutrients, a fish fertilizer or water-soluble fertilizer solution diluted to about half-strength and applied every two or three weeks will supply the food they need.
Many varieties also prefer to be slightly under-watered for the same reason – lower amounts of fertilizer and water mean greater flavor and fragrance.
But some common herbs such as red bergamot, chervil, lemon balm, meadowsweet, sweet grass, watercress, and water mint do prefer moist soil. Again, check individual requirements to be sure.
Photos by Lorna Kring, © Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos courtesy of Alaska and HydroDynamics.
About Lorna Kring
A writer, artist, and entrepreneur, Lorna is also a long-time gardener who got hooked on organic and natural gardening methods at an early age. These days, her vegetable garden is smaller to make room for decorative landscapes filled with color, fragrance, art, and hidden treasures. Cultivating and designing the ideal garden spot is one of her favorite activities – especially for gathering with family and friends for good times and good food (straight from the garden, of course)!
18 Medicinal Perennial Herbs for Your Garden
You can make a playground for your children where they can call their buddies and have fun. This is a safe option because they will be around you and you can watch them.
But have you ever thought about this before — to make your garden your personal pharmacy? Yes, a place where you can grow your own natural herbs with no toxic chemicals involved. It is possible and the following list of plants used in the preparation of meals, teas, homoeopathic remedies and medicine will prove it. Even Bear Grylls would agree with this statement.
Also called Bee Balm, is a herb used by the Indian tribes to treat cold and bronchial diseases. It has an orange-lemon scent and can be used to make a citrus flavoured tea or an addition to good quality black tea. Bergamot was used as a substitute for Earl Grey and became popular in New England after the Boston Tea Party in 1773.
The medicinal uses of this herb include antiseptic properties, nerve relaxation and relieves stress and rheumatic aches. As a tea it helps calm flatulence, nausea, insomnia and menstrual pain. Steam inhalation eases catarrh and sore throat.
- Likes sunny or partial shade spots
- Rich and moist soil
- Begins to flower in early summer
- Every 2 years, split the plants and replant the outer shoots of the original plant
This herb is famous for its leaves which can be crushed and added to whiskey. It’s a member of the carrot family and has a wonderful celery aroma. Lovage makes a great cordial.
The magical powers of Lovage can treat upset stomachs, menstrual pain, skin irritation and cystitis. The roots can cure ulcers, bronchitis and can boost alertness. On top of that it can increase your appetite and treat coughs and loosen phlegm.
- Prefers shade
- Likes deep and rich soil
- Grow outdoors
- Flowers in July
A member of the mint family and a remarkable seasoning herb. It’s used for flavouring food and decorating gardens, but has also medicinal values with its antibacterial properties.
Rosemary can treat rheumatism and circulation complications. It relieves exhaustion, headaches and water retention. This herb helps fat digestion, stimulates and tones skin. Other functions include alertness increasing and and easing podagra.
- Likes warm and well drained sunny spots
- Protect from wind
- Lime soil
An easy to grow lemon-scented plant known to slow down and help relieve the onset of “Alzheimer” disease. It’s good for people suffering from stress as they feel well when drinking it.
Lemon Balm tea calms tension, chronic bronchial catarrh, headaches and fevers. It’s perfect for people suffering from insomnia and bad dreams. Fresh leaves will help you with insect bites and sores. Lemon Balm eases gout, morning sickness and can be effective for an overactive thyroid.
- Prefers light shade
- Can grow in any moist and fertile soil
- Grow in a pot
This is a very versatile herb, member of the carrot family, used in salads, cake decoration and medicine. There are about 60 different species of Angelica.
Its medicinal uses include treatment of digestion problems usage as an oil for rheumatism and aching muscles. Crushed Angelica leaves serve as an air freshener for your car and reduce travel sickness. You can also make tea from this herb which is a tonic for colds and reduces flatulence.
- Flowers in July
- Likes moist and deep soil
- Best to be grown in sunlight or partial shade
That’s right. Your kitties also need your help.
As the name of this herb indicates, it’s favoured by all cats because it contains folic acid, minerals and vitamins. Your pet needs to eat grass every once and awhile to be well and fit. It is also said that Catgrass helps remove furballs.
- Partial shade
- Careful, leaves cut
Another plant which attracts cats. Sensing it is followed by strange behaviours like sleepiness, meowing, purring, anxiety, drooling and rolling on the ground.
As for how Catnip can contribute to your well-being — it’s a mild sedative and helps you sleep. Rich in Vitamin C, it relieves cold, fever, flu symptoms and colic in children. Catnip aids digestion, rheumatism and arthritis and is good for bruises, irritated scalp and hemorrhoid treatment.
This is a beautiful looking herb that everybody must have in their garden for its aphid repellent properties. It’s the smallest edible species of the onion family. Perfect for salads and home cheese.
Chives has not many medicinal uses except for being a source of vitamin A and C, calcium, iron and mild antibiotics. It can stimulate appetite just like onions, leek and garlic. Some homeopaths use this herb to treat colds and bronchitis. This herb also has beneficial effects on the circulatory system.
- Cut regularly
- Can be grown in- and outdoors
- Can survive all climates
- Likes both sun and shade
A herb used by the Romans for flavouring wines and sauces and a symbol of hospitality. It’s a necessary ingredient for Touareg tea popular in Arab and northern African countries. Alcoholic cocktails use Mint to flavour or garnish them. It’s also a great to spice your lamb and potato dishes.
Mint is used as a medicinal herb to treat stomach ache and chest pains. Its oil is essential for many cosmetics, and some perfumes and aromatherapy. Mint leaves can treat chapped hands and heavy colds. It’s also used in oils needed to massage affected areas for muscular and rheumatic aches, migraines and facial neuralgia.
Marjoram and Oregano
Members of the mint family and citrus flavoured herbs which are a symbol of happiness for Greeks and Romans. They’re great culinary additions to pizzas, pasta, stews, soups etc. Their miraculous power even helps you sleep.
The medicinal uses of these herbs are numerous. Marjoram helps deal with nervous disorders, flatulence and tension. It can ease colds, coughs, headaches and asthma, stomach bloating and rheumatic pains. Some homeopaths use it to treat female sex disorders.
Oregano can help with nervous headaches, intestinal problems, diarrhea, exhaustion and irritability. It helps gall bladder problems, seas sickness, swelling, rheumatism and toothache.
- Like sun
- Prefer dry, rocky and free draining soil
- Good for container growing
Another mint family representative adored by the Ancient Greeks and Egyptians. They used it in baths and to make massage oil. Greeks believed thyme to be a symbol of courage. The herb was the first to be listed in the Holy Herb Charm in the Middle Ages.
Thyme has antibacterial, antiseptic and antifungal properties. It is good to prevent dandruff and spots. It can ease bronchial catarrh, asthma and chest infections. People used it in massage oils. Thyme stimulates circulation, is good for hangovers and can relieve spasms and insomnia.
- Grow in full sun
- Alkaline well drained soil\
- When in bloom, the leaves’ flavour is best
An ingredient primarily used as an addition to forcemeat and poultry. In ancient times Sage is said to prolong life and better health.
Medicinal uses indicate that this herb can fortify your nervous system, soothe tired muscles, coughs, colds and rheumatism. It has antifungal and disinfectant properties. Sage can whiten your teeth and is used as a mouthwash.
Other uses of this herb : helps you digest fatty foods, can serve as a blood tonic, helps fight diarrhea, suppresses sweating and improves your memory.
This is a lovely plant with blue flowers that attract bees like no other. it’s a member of the mint family once again.
You can use this herb to calm your nervous system if you drink it as a tonic. If you gargle it it will help your sore throat. It can help loosen your catarrh by soothing your lungs and chest.
- Can grow in most soils
- Prefers full sun or partial shade
An aromatic herb with rich culinary and medicinal uses. Curious fact about Fennel is that it’s one of the primary ingredients of the alcoholic drink “Absinthe”.
This was one of the sacred herbs used by the pagan Anglo-Saxons to fight the forces of evil.
The Fennel’s seeds can reduce inflammation and relieve hunger. The plant itself can lower the toxic effect of alcohol in your body because it’s a liver tonic. It can help digestion, colic, wind and constipation. You can treat conjunctivitis and urinary disorders with this herb too. Breast feeding mothers should mind that it increases milk flow and can cure sore or swollen breasts.
One of the oldest herbs used in flavouring, this one is used mainly to spice up your dishes. It has charming white flowers too.
Winter Savory can help you deal with oily skin. It has antiseptic properties and can be used as a tonic after fever. It aids digestion, eases flatulence and helps you combat diarrhea. This herb also stimulates appetite and relieves pain from insect bites.
This herb has an interesting story.
Wormwood is a great repellent for moths, ants and insects. It’s used to expel worms from the human body. Also used in the making of Vermouth.
Chinese use the leaves of this herb to stop nosebleeds. It treats colds, bronchitis, fevers, bruises, sprains, epilepsy and nervous disorders, digestive disorders, liver and gallbladder problems. Wormwood is also a appetite and cardiac stimulant, spasm and pain reliever.
- Do not plant near other plants
- Cut regularly
- Light and well drained soil
- Grow outdoors
- Likes full sun
Organic growers value this herb because it can help fertilise tomatoes and potatoes. Cut its leaves and put them in a tub filled with water to create a nutritious feed for all your garden plants. This herb is not edible. Its purpose is to help you with garden care.
Comfrey has anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties. It can help stimulate new cell growth, repair tissue and cartilage. The herb heals cuts, sores, sprains and bruises. It will also help stomach ulcers and calm rheumatism, bronchial diseases and hemorrhoids.
This is a delicious herb which is great for cooking. Not as pungent as the real garlic but still it gives a nice scent to your dish. It’s easy to grow but needs regular cutting.
Garlic Chives are a good source of Vitamin C. It contains mild antibiotics and some iron, betters your digestion and helps intestinal problems.
Other medicinal uses of this herb involve reducing blood pressure, cleansing blood and clearing catarrh. It also protects you from colds, worms, dysentery and typhoid.
UConn Home & Garden Education Center
A Guide to Growing Herbs
Click on images to see larger view
Herbs, large or small, are a tasty and easy to grow addition to gardens, raised beds or containers. Many herbs are quite visually pleasing and can be grown alongside vegetables and flowers, in a dedicated herb garden or even in window boxes and containers. Herb plants are decorative as well as useful and are an inexpensive way to obtain many of your own flavorful seasonings.
- A well-drained site which receives at least six hours of sun each day. To improve an area with poor drainage, consider the following options:
- Double dig to loosen compacted subsurface soil layers.
- Work in an inch of leaf compost or peat moss to improve drainage
- Install raised beds
- Select another spot if the area is exceptionally poorly drained or located in shallow bedrock.
- Most culinary herbs grow poorly in an acidic soil and prefer the pH to be 6.5 to 7.0. Visit the UConn Soil Nutrient Analysis Laboratory site for information on soil testing.
- Limestone can be used to adjust the soil pH if necessary. Ground or pelletized limestone can be applied any time the soil is not frozen and will slowly raise the pH. Allow 6 months to a year for the limestone to act and the soil pH to be raised. Wood ashes can be used as a substitute for limestone. Check the pH level with a soil test before planting as over-application of limestone or wood ashes can result in a soil that is too alkaline for herbs.
- Herbs are most flavorful when grown on the lean side so do not over-fertilize them. Excess fertilizer will promote lush green growth with little flavor. Use a synthetic fertilizer such as 5-10-10, or a natural organic one at the rate recommended on the label unless otherwise directed by a soil test.
- To start herb seeds indoors sow seeds in a light, well-drained soil in shallow boxes in late winter. Do not cover the seeds too deeply. The finer the seed the shallower the sowing. Transplant seedlings outdoors in the spring. Water with a fine mist to avoid washing away the soil.
- Fresh leaves should be picked as soon as the plant has enough foliage to maintain growth. Only remove about one-third of the foliage at each harvest. Early morning is best to ensure that the oils are not dried out from the sun. To dry herbs for winter use the leaves should be harvested prior to flower buds opening.
- Container herbs will require more moisture than garden-grown herbs and may benefit from late afternoon shade.
- Most herbs to do not have many pest problems.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
Description: Annual. Height 1-2 feet. An accent culinary herb that is easy to grow.
Culture: Well-drained, soil in full sun.
Propagation: Seed can be directly sown after the danger of frost has passed or started indoors 6-8 weeks before planting outside. Plants should be thinned to 6-12 inches apart.
Tips: Prune periodically to maintain growth and do not allow it to flower for the best leaf flavor but know that the flowers are very attractive to pollinators so allow a few plants to bloom if possible. Usually just the leaves are harvested but the seeds may also be used in Thai foods. Basil can be used fresh, dried (flavor will be lessened) or frozen and is the main ingredient in pesto.
Bay (Laurus nobilis)
Description: A perennial tree in more southern climates, bay plants need to be overwintered indoors in the New England area.
Culture: Typically; bay is grown as a potted plant which can be placed outdoors in the summer. Keep in mind that if plants summer outdoors they may be more susceptible to scale insects. Bay prefers a fertile potting mix with a pH of 6.2 or so.
Propagation: It is difficult to propagate from seeds or cuttings. Plants are usually purchased from a local garden center. Bay can be trained as a topiary or left as a multi-stemmed small shrub.
Tips: Bay is susceptible to white wax scale which makes the leaves sooty and retards leaf growth. The best time to treat for scale is in late May when the crawlers hatch and have not developed their waxy cover. Apply a pesticide labeled for scale in early June. Horticultural oils may be used to control adults. Repeat applications are often necessary. Bay leaves, although inedible, are used in cooking to provide flavor, in herbal wreaths or potpourris, or in bath water. Remember to remove bay leaves before serving a dish. May be dried.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum)
Description: A culinary and ornamental hardy herbaceous perennial. Height: 10-15 inches. An erect plant with fine green leaves and lavender flower heads.
Culture: Chives will tolerate a wide variety of soil conditions and are hardy in zones 3-9 although it will die back to the ground in colder areas. Divide when clumps get too large. Deadhead flowers before they set seeds. Many seeds will sprout the following year and they are difficult to weed out of beds.
Propagation: Chives can be propagated by seed or division in the spring or fall.
Tips: Chives are great snipped fresh onto potatoes and in salads. Chives have no usual pests or diseases and can be deer-resistant. Do not dry chives, freeze in an air-tight container.
Cilantro/Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
Description: Cilantro and coriander are two annual culinary herbs on one plant. Cilantro is the green leaves and coriander is the seed.
Culture: Does well in any well-drained garden soil.
Propagation: Direct sow seeds into the garden. Plant the seeds one inch apart after the danger of frost has passed. Plants do not need to be thinned.
Tips: Cilantro, a main ingredient in salsa, is harvested by cutting at the base of a cluster of leaves prior to flowering. For coriander, allow the plant to flower and form seeds. Remove seed heads when they start to brown but before they shatter, about 90 days from planting. After drying, remove the seeds by rubbing the heads in your hands. Coriander seed is used in sausage, salads and bread or in potpourris.
Dill (Anethum graveolens)
Description: Annual. Height 2-3 feet. Bluish-green stems, yellow-green leaves and yellow umbrellated flowers.
Culture: Dill prefers full sun and a well-drained soil. Purchase plants and set into garden while young or sow seeds. Plants typically self-seed and once established will come back each year.
Propagation: Dill has a taproot and therefore should be sown directly into the garden. Sow seeds in the spring one to two weeks before the last frost and then make successive sowings every two weeks during the growing season. Stake the tall plants.
Tips: Both the foliage and the seeds are useful in the kitchen. The foliage and seeds can be harvested at any time, used fresh or dried. Can attract beneficial insects such as hoverflies, predatory wasps and swallowtail butterfly caterpillars. Tomato hornworms are also attracted to dill so it should be planted at a distance from tomatoes. Dill repels aphids and spider mites. Dill is a great companion to cucumbers and onions.
Fennel (Foeniculum dulce)
Description: A culinary perennial herb with an anise-like flavor that is usually grown as an annual. Height 3-4’.
Culture: Full sun. Plants may overwinter in mild winters if mulched after the first frost, uncover when new growth appears in the spring. Prefers a soil pH around 6.5.
Propagation: Fennel grows easily from direct-sowed seed in the spring. Sow in rows 3’ apart. Thin plants to 12” apart and stake when 18” tall.
Tips: Pick seeds when ripe for use in cooking, cheese spreads and vegetable dishes. The stalks can be eaten like celery and are best before they blossom. Fennel will attract beneficial insects that feed on aphids.
Lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus)
Description: A perennial in more southern climates but generally needs to be overwintered indoors as a pot plant in the New England area. 3-6 feet tall and 3 feet wide.
Culture: Full sun, warm and humid conditions. Lemongrass should be watered and misted regularly.
Propagation: Lemongrass should be planted 3 feet apart. After the final harvest or before the first frost save a 6-inch section of the bulbous shoot base with attached roots. Divide and pot into smaller containers that can be overwintered indoors.
Tips: Lemongrass is widely used in Asian cuisine. To harvest, cut the stems at ground level and use the tender inner core in cooking. The leaves can also be used to flavor teas, soups and sauces. Feed weekly with a half-strength solution of a balanced fertilizer from June through September. Lemongrass has few insect pests but is susceptible to leaf blight and little leaf. Both of these can be treated with a fungicide.
Description: Perennial. Height 1-3 feet.
Culture: Moist, well-drained soil. Does well in in shadier sites and over a wide range of soil pH.
Propagation: Divide each spring so mint does not overrun your garden.
Tips: Can run rampant over your garden and should be either placed where this habit will not be a problem or contained by annual division or some type of containment system. One option is to plant mint in a bottomless five-gallon bucket sunk into the ground with only the top couple of inches peeking out. Harvest leaves before flowering. Use fresh or dried in teas and baked goods.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum (formerly O. heracleoticum))
Description: Hardy perennial. Height 2 feet. Light green oval leaves with a downy underside, white flowers in terminal clusters.
Culture: Well-drained, medium-rich soil in full sun. Mulch after the first frost, uncover when new growth appears in the spring.
Propagation: Cuttings. Divide plant every third year.
Tips: Make several harvests in early summer. Then let plant flower to attract bees and other pollinators. For true oregano, make sure to confirm the Latin name. Can be used fresh or dried.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
Description: Annual/biennial. Produces edible leaves the first year, blooms the second year, produces seed and dies. Height 8-16 inches. Bright green leaves.
Culture: Well-drained, medium-rich soil. Full sun.
Propagation: Direct sow or in peat pots, slow to germinate. One year old parsley imparts a much stronger flavor than leaves produced the second year so it can be treated like an annual and replanted each year.
Tips: Favored by swallow tail butterfly caterpillars so, if possible, leave second year parsley as host plants.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Description: Tender perennial that should be overwintered indoors in New England. Height 1-3 feet. Dark green, aromatic, needle-like leaves.
Culture: Well-drained, medium-rich, alkaline soil. Full sun.
Propagation: Seed is slow to germinate, can be propagated by cuttings.
Tips: A strong culinary and aromatic herb. Can be used fresh or dried.
Sage (Salvia officinalis)
Description: Perennial. Height 18-30 inches. Gray-green oblong leaves, purple flowers on loose spikes.
Culture: Well-drained, medium-rich, alkaline soil. Full sun. Mulch after the first frost, uncover when new growth appears in the spring.
Propagation: Seeds, cuttings, division.
Tips: Harvest the leaves for culinary purposes. Other varieties such as silver, gold, purple or variegated sage are beautiful in the herb or ornamental garden but less flavorful and less hardy. Can be used fresh or dried.
Tarragon (Artemisia drancunculus)
Description: Hardy perennial. Height: 18-30 inches. Smooth olive-green, narrow leaves.
Culture: Well-drained, medium-rich soil. Full sun but will tolerate partial shade. Does not do well in hot, humid climates. Susceptible to powdery mildew. Needs protection in harsh winter climates. Mulch after the first frost, uncover when new growth appears in the spring.
Propagation: Cuttings/divide. Does not set seed. Divide or make new plantings every 3-4 years.
Tips: Fresh leaves have the most flavor especially when steeped in vinegar. Use fresh or freeze in air-tight containers for the best flavor.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris)
Description: Perennial. Height 6-10 inches. Leaves are small, oval and gray-green in color.
Culture: Light, well-drained, alkaline soil. Full sun. Good in raised beds. Mulch after the first frost, uncover when new growth appears in the spring.
Propagation: Cuttings, division or direct seeding. Thin plants to 8-12 inches apart. Make new plantings every 3-4 years.
Tips: Many varieties with captivating flavors. Cut leafy tops and flower clusters when first blossoms open and dry. Requires annual renewal pruning. Goes well with meats and stews. Can be used fresh or dried.
For pest and disease management please visit the UConn IPM Pest Management for Herb Bedding Plants Grown in the Greenhouse. Despite good cultural practices, pests and diseases at times may appear. Chemical control should be used only after all other methods have failed. For pesticide information please call UConn Home and Garden Education Center weekdays, in Connecticut call toll free 877-486-6271. Out of state call 860-486-6271.
Revised by the UConn Home & Garden Education Center, 2016.
Issued in furtherance of Cooperative Extension work, Acts of May 8 and June 30, 1914, in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Dean of the College, Cooperative Extension System, University of Connecticut, Storrs. The Connecticut Cooperative Extension System is an equal opportunity employer and program provider. To file a complaint of discrimination, write USDA, Director, Office of Civil Rights, Room 326-W, Whitten Building, Stop Code 9410, 1400 Independence Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20250-9410 or call (202) 720-5964.
Connecticut Garden Journal: Overwintering Herbs
Listen Listening… / 1:59
Although we’ve had an incredible autumn so far, the end is near. With temperatures predicted to dip into the low 20s soon, it’s time to protect tender plants you want to save for next year.
At the top of my list are herbs. You can freeze and dry culinary herbs for winter, or save some perennial herb plants for next year. Here’s how.
That big windstorm around Halloween wrecked my greenhouse. The plants survived, but not the greenhouse.
It left a beautiful rosemary plant exposed to the elements. Rosemary is hardy to zone 7, so it usually doesn’t overwinter in the ground in most parts of Connecticut, except along the shore.
You can try to protect in-ground plants by growing hardy varieties, such as ‘Arp’, on well-drained soil in a protected spot and mulch with bark mulch in December.
Or you can move your potted rosemary indoors. Place the plant in a 50 to 60 degree, sunny room, away from any cold drafts. Keep the soil barely moist.
Parsley is another herb that can be brought indoors. It’s a biennial, meaning it will eventually send up a seed stalk and die. But that won’t happen until late winter, so you can enjoy harvesting this herb through the holidays. Then toss it in the compost.
Lavender is hardy in our area. Like rosemary, grow hardy varieties, such as ‘Munstead’. Plant in a location with well-drained soil, protected from cold winds and mulch with bark mulch in December.
Other perennial herbs such as thyme, oregano, and sage are hardy and should come back on their own without protection.
Next week on the Connecticut Garden Journal, I’ll be talking about Asian ladybugs. Until then, I’ll be seeing you in the garden.
Temperatures may be dropping, but that doesn’t mean we have to bid farewell to our herb gardens. Cold-hardy herbs, such as chives, mint, oregano, parsley, sage and thyme, can often survive cold-winter temperatures while continuing to produce flavorful foliage, as long as they are provided with some protection or grown indoors. Even herbs like rosemary that are more cold-sensitive can survive winter using additional methods of protection. Let’s explore different ways we can prolong the herb harvest and enjoy the fresh taste of our favorite herbs throughout the cold of winter.
Herbs 1: Bachman’s Landscape Design – Tom Haugo, original photo on Houzz
Herbs 2: Home & Garden Design, Atlanta – Danna Cain, ASLA, original photo on Houzz
A glass cloche protects plants in the center of this raised bed in Atlanta.
1. Protect herbs from the cold by placing them in a cold frame or cloche. Covering herbs helps trap the heat that rises from the soil, elevating the temperature inside by several degrees. This can extend the growing season in both fall and spring.
Cold frames are topped with glass panes that slope downward and are situated so they face south. This ensures that the most sunlight will reach the plants inside, creating an environment that is several degrees warmer than outside.
Cloches are a smaller and more portable way to protect plants from the cold. Traditional ones are bell-shaped and made from glass. They can be expensive, but you can make your own by cutting off the bottom of a 1-gallon plastic milk jug or other large plastic container. Place each one over individual herb plants and nestle the bottom inch or two of the cloche into the soil to anchor it.
Herbs 3: The Room Illuminated, original photo on Houzz
2. Add a thick layer of coarse mulch over herbs. Many herbs can grow through the winter under the insulation provided from straw, shredded bark or other coarse mulch. In areas that experience moderate-winter cold, USDA Zone 6 and warmer, herbs will continue to produce some new growth despite some winter cold. Simply pull back the mulch and cut the herbs you need, then cover them back up. While they won’t produce as much new growth as they do in the warm season, you should be able to obtain a small harvest. Don’t worry if a layer of snow falls, as it will provide additional insulation for the herbs below. Once spring arrives, you can turn the mulch into the soil.
3. Pot up herbs and move them into a frost-free greenhouse or sun porch. If you’re growing herbs in the ground, you can transfer them to pots and move them to a protected spot. Select the herbs you want to keep growing over winter, such as chives, oregano, sage and thyme. Cut them back to 1 inch tall and, using a sharp shovel, divide them at their base, making sure to include the roots so each one will fit into the container. Use well-draining planting mix in the containers and plant each herb in a separate pot. They will grow back and you’ll be able to harvest their flavorful leaves until you transplant them back into the garden once spring arrives.
Related: Move Herbs to a Sunroom for Full Sun
Herbs 4: J M Interiors, original photo on Houzz
4. Grow herbs in front of a sunny window. Herbs can be grown from seed or cuttings and make a great addition to a sunny kitchen window that gets at least six hours of sunlight. If using artificial lighting, 14 hours is usually sufficient. The temperature should range between 60 and 70 degrees Fahrenheit, or 15.6 and 21.1 degrees Celsius, for best results. You can transplant herbs from the garden or begin from scratch by sowing seed.
The rewards of growing herbs indoors throughout the winter are great when the fresh flavor of summer is within arm’s reach. Chives, oregano, parsley and thyme are just a few of the easiest herbs to grow on a sunny windowsill. Use a well-draining planting mix in your container. Water deeply when the top inch of soil is almost completely dry.
Herbs 5: Noelle Johnson Landscape Consulting, original photo on Houzz
5. Extend the life of fresh herbs by putting them in water. Herbs such as basil and mint grow quickly when placed in a container of water for a few weeks. Other herbs that work well in water are sage, oregano and thyme. When placed in water, they begin to produce roots and will grow new leaves. This is a useful way to prolong the harvest, whether you bring in cuttings from the garden or buy fresh herbs at the grocery store.
The process is easy. Simply cut the ends of each stem and put them in a small jar or cup filled with water. Be sure to remove any lower leaves so they won’t be submerged in the water. Place on a sunny windowsill.
The leaves produced indoors will be thinner and slightly less flavorful than those grown outdoors but will still add welcome flavor to your favorite dishes. Refill the water as needed and enjoy the prolonged harvest for several weeks to come.
Related: Elevate Plants to Reach Sunny Windows With These Plant Stands
By Noelle Johnson, Houzz
Potted herbs ready to overwinter
Collection of potted herbs at the ready should a hard frost be in the forecast.
Winter is always unpredictable at best, and sometimes the onslaughts of unexpected hard freezes and soggy ground caused by chilly wet weather can take its toll on the more sensitive herbs in your garden. The worst case scenario is when a perennial plant succumbs to winter weather and dies.
Even more robust herbs like thyme, oregano and sage benefit from some level of protection in the garden from our sometimes cold and often wet winter weather. For Mediterranean herbs like these that like drier conditions, cold and soggy ground can make these plants more susceptible to disease or sometimes even cause their early demise, especially in the case of rosemary.
The good news is there are steps you can take to prepare your herbs for winter so that even the most vulnerable of plants will bounce back next spring. Here are some tips for both indoors and out on how to keep and protect your perennial herbs through winter.
Mulch outdoor herbs
Rosemary, sage, and thyme dusted with snow.
While most perennial herbs are relatively fuss-free plants, that’s not to say that they are always immune from any winter damage. As such, the best way to keep all your herbs intact is to add a 2 inch thick layer of shredded bark, shredded leaves, straw, or other light-textured organic mulch around plants. For marginally hardy and more temperamental herbs, spread a 3 inch to 4 inch layer of mulch around plants.
The added mulch will help protect the ground from the freeze and thaw cycles of winter. That way the roots are less likely to heave out of the ground and become exposed to additional killing freezes or desiccate and die. Herbs with shallow roots are especially vulnerable.
It’s usually best to wait until after the first hard or killing frost (28 degrees F) before mulching plants for winter. Leave a 2 to 3 inch mulch-free zone around the base of plants when applying mulch. For herbaceous perennials that die to the ground, mulch the soil to keep roots protected.
Protect plants when needed
Frigid winds and unseasonable bitter cold can take its toll on many perennial herbs, especially when it’s unexpected. Being prepared to take action quickly and protect vulnerable herbs will help them endure even the harshest of winters.
For seasonal shelter in an instant, you can temporarily cover the plant at risk with a cardboard box; a blanket, large piece of burlap, or tarp laid over a cardboard box, extra large tomato cage, or PVC frame; or Bubble Wrap stapled to wooden stakes that you insert into the ground. Evergreen boughs laid over herbaceous perennials that have since retreated below ground will also help protect plant roots from an usually hard freeze.
Some herbs do best with a light trim in fall, leaving an umbrella of branches intact to shelter the plant and crown from drying winds and protect the roots from hard freezes. Other herbs–especially herbaceous types like chives, marjoram, and oregano–fare better when cut back to within 4 to 6 inches above the ground. What may work best for you will greatly depend on your soil, plant hardiness, and growing conditions in your area.
As an example, tender herbs like lemon verbena seem to make it through most winters when cut back to within 2 to 3 inches above the ground, followed by a 2 to 3 inch layer of mulch applied over the soil. On the other hand, rosemary and sage do fine with a light trimming to tidy the plant, leaving most of the foliage intact as they often remain evergreen during most winters. If your rosemary doesn’t make it through winter it is most likely the result of very cold and soggy soil.
Enhance and amend the soil
Winter may not be the best time to amend the soil, but it is the best time to reveal trouble areas where the soil drains poorly. That way you can work in soil amendments around the plant in spring or fall. Another option is to carefully dig up the plant in early spring so you can thoroughly dig in your chosen soil amendments, and then replant when you are finished.
Organic matter such as compost, well-rotted manure, oyster shells, and rice hulls all work great for lightening clay soil and improving drainage. So do ample additions of perlite. If you still have issues with soil that doesn’t drain well in winter after adding soil amendments, then you either need to raise the bed or relocate the plant to a different area.
Potting up a rosemary plant to bring indoors for winter.
Bring herbs indoors
Digging up tender perennials in fall and then potting them in containers gives you options to quickly move your plant to a sheltered area should winter temperatures take a dive to single digits or below. That way you can temporarily relocated your herb containers to a covered patio, porch, deck, front entry, or other sheltered area, or pull them into your garage, mudroom, utility room or kitchen until the frigid weather passes. Once the temperatures settle back to more typical winter weather you can move the potted plant back to your herb bed or other location.
For a more seasonal solution, dig up tender perennial herbs in fall, pot them up into containers, and then bring them indoors to spend the winter. Pot them up from early to late September so they can spend a few weeks in a shaded outdoor area to recover from transplanting before you move them indoors. Just be sure to bring your potted herbs indoors before a hard freeze descends.
Once inside, place the potted herb in a sunny window and keep the soil slightly moist. Herbs like rosemary, sage, sweet bay, lemon grass, and lemon verbena do well as winter houseplants or even year-round houseplants given enough light. You may even be able to take a few fresh herb cuttings now and then to enjoy in a winter stir-fry or simmering stew.
How to grow a winter herb garden and store the harvest
Cooking with fresh herbs is one of the joys of having a garden. But many herbs die down and become dormant over autumn and winter. The good news is that there are tricks to keep the plants going through the colder months, and give you fresh supplies until Christmas and beyond.
Hardy outdoor herbs
Some plants grow through the colder months regardless. Mint, parsley and rosemary are all hardy plants that will survive even in the snow. However, cold weather will reduce their growth, so you should limit the harvest. If you take too much, the plant may die.
Make sure your pots have good drainage – waterlogged roots will rot and die. Lift the pot up on feet and move to a sheltered spot if the soil gets too wet.
Tender outdoor herbs
Herbs like bay, sage and thyme are hardy enough to survive the winter outside, but will not grow. If you want to harvest from them, protect them against the coldest weather. You can move plants into a coldframe, or an unheated greenhouse or conservatory. Make sure to ventilate them on milder days.
Most perennial and biennial herbs will keep growing under protection of cloches or a coldframe.
You can also keep these plants outside in a sheltered spot, and just protect from cold spells. Wrap containers and plants in a few layers of horticultural fleece – remember to protect the roots too!