What to do with my herb garden in the fall?

August 4, 2021

How To Extend Summer And

Winterize The Herb Garden-Extend The Herb Garden Season

  • Is it too late to plant herbs?
  • Did I miss my chance this year?
  • What to do with my herb garden this fall?

Depending on where you live, late summer is an ideal time to add herbs to your garden. Why? The soil will remain warm ( warmer than soil in spring) which is ideal for the development of roots. The air is cooling down, which means less stress on the plants than midsummer heat. Water is more efficiently used when it is cool. Plants do well now!

What about where I live? Take parsley, for example. In zone 9 and warmer, it will thrive through the winter, flourishing in large full plants, and providing lots of herbal flavors and garnish for the kitchen. As far north as zone 7 and with plants well covered under straw or evergreen mulch you should harvest a limited amount of green foliage and stems.

Parsley Ready For The Cook
Parsley Ready For The Cook

North of zone 7, you can cut parsley back and mulch it, and this will give you a head start on spring growth. You can also bring the plants indoors to live in a sunny window. A biennial, parsley may last all winter or until late winter, indoors. (If you plan to bring it indoors, plant some in pots; parsley has a long taproot which makes it harder to transplant than some other herbs.

I can also harvest my parsley in fall before my first normal freeze and either dry or preserve it for winter use in the kitchen.

Know These Dates

Whatever you are planting, and wherever your garden is located, it is important to know these dates.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: Enter your zip code.

My Local Frost Dates: I entered my zip code here and I see when I should expect a frost where my garden is located. I want to plant 6 or more weeks before this date.

Extend The Summer Herb Garden Into Fall

Many herbs are very slow to germinate from seeds. Fortunately, they are regularly available as small plants, and starting with these considerably shortens the growing cycle. They are decorative in the autumn garden, we can cook with them fresh throughout the pre-freeze fall and then dry or preserve for winter. (Check your local garden centers; fall availability of plants is based on climate.)

Herbs That Do Well In Fall

Some popular garden herbs are happier in the fall garden than in summer—chervil and cilantro, which bolt rapidly in the hot summer last far longer in cool weather. In the case of many other herbs, we can eat the fresh foliage and stems well into fall and then dry and preserve them.

Herbs That Root Easily In Water

During both summer and fall, you might like to take cuttings of some of your favorite herbs to grow indoors over the winter. (To be healthy they need at least 6 hours in a sunny window.) Some of the herbs we like the best produce roots easily in water. These are primarily soft-stemmed herbs. Herbs easy to start this way are basil, mint, lemon balm, and oregano.

basil plant
Basil Ready To Cook

If some of the herbs you want to create new plants from are of the woody types such as rosemary, sage. and thyme, make sure to take your cuttings from the newest green growth. These should root easily.

An Advantage To Herbs In Pots

Culinary herbs are essentially small plants and perform well in pots. This makes it convenient to grow them on the porch or patio and convenient to the kitchen door. If fresh herbs are located near where you are cooking you will use them more and your taste buds will benefit.

Culinary Herbs” on this website is a compendium of herbs for the kitchen, it will link you to specific articles on the herbs covered. if the notes tell you that the herb has a long taproot (parsley for example), this will not stop you but you may want a deep pot. (My two parsley plants are in standard pots and are healthy in their second year.) Some herbs are taller, (dill and fennel for example) and the articles suggest shorter varieties if you find that more convenient. (Both grow in our container herb garden with no trouble.

Make The Garden Attractive And Convenient For How You live

We live in a typical Florida subdivision with small backyards and part of that is committed to a screened swimming pool. That’s how we get that “indoor-outdoor” lifestyle we all brag about and without a house full of visiting frogs, birds, and snakes!

That means our gardens are relegated to small, hot, sunny spaces. Herbs work for us just outside the pool area in pots and surrounding a palm tree which allows them shade when needed. (This means that those herbs (parsley) beloved by our voracious marsh rabbits can be raised above their reach on upturned pots. Never underestimate the ingenuity in the small brains of wild rabbits!

Placing strongly scented herbs on the outer areas is also a good deterrent. Herbs the rabbits hate include chives, (onion and garlic), dill, and mint. If you have rabbits try to find Cuban Oregano, a pretty variegated plant, and very strong.

If rabbits and deer (we have both) are an issue in your garden this piece is about rabbit-resistant ground cover and includes a herbal remedy. “How to find a low maintenance ground cover that we love and the rabbits do not!.”

Get A Jump On Spring With Perennial Herbs

Why not just wait until spring?

The perennial herbs we plant in the fall will be feeding us in May. The perennial herbs we plant in May will be just as nice but we will not eat them until late summer. That is, I think, the key value of the fall herb garden.

There are other values. We will eat some of these herbs fresh in the fall. We will dry or otherwise preserve some of them for winter use. (They should last for a year.) If we have any sunny windows, we can bring them indoors for winter.

I read a gardening article by a woman who jokingly complained that her oregano plant fed the family all winter and bit the dust in early April, too early to plant it outside. Then I read her “about page” and her garden was in Ontario!

There are outdoor benefits too. We can plant fall herbs in spaces in which we have removed early-season vegetables and prevent weeds in those areas. In fall gardens the soil is drier than the same space was in spring. We have a second chance to achieve success as root rot is not usually an autumn problem.

What Are Good Perennial Herbs To Plant In Fall And See Again In Spring?

Chives

Chives are a combination of delicate flavors in a robust plant. The onion chive, with the lavender ball of flowers, is hardy to zones 3-9. Its relative, the garlic chive, this is the one with the flat leaves and white blossoms, is hardy in zone 4-9. Anecdotally, I am cooking with a full garlic chive plant three years old in my zone 10 gardens. Both chive varieties are delicious cut with scissors over a bowl of homemade soup, salad, or omelets.

In colder climates, we have potted sections of chive to grow in a south-facing window. Some experts suggest cutting them to about 4′ above the ground and covering them with straw or leaves.

Marjoram

Marjoram is a tender plant with a subtle flavor that enhances many meals. It is rated for as far north as zone 8, and that is contested. If you are in zone 8 and would like to grow this plant, look for a warm microclimate on your property or grow it in pots, You can also check with your local County Agricultural Agent who should have superior and very local knowledge.

Marjoram will live indoors in a sunny window. If you would like to bring it inside and the plant is in the ground, transplant it to a container and leave it outdoors to acclimate for a few weeks.

Mint

Mint is a sturdy plant, easy to grow, and a rapid spreader in the ground. It needs to be well controlled in an area surrounded by hardscape or in containers. It is hardy in most temperate zones based on its variety. This article includes a list of varieties and their hardiness zones. Check the label in the planter when you buy mint.

How to overwinter mint? In zones with a winter freeze, cut the plant back to about one inch from the ground, do this before your first anticipated frost date. Water the plant well, mulch well; leaves, and straw provide good insulation. It is prudent to plant mint in pots. You can wrap the container to insulate it, sink the planter in the ground, or place it in an unheated storage area. Indoors, in a sunny window, it will serve the kitchen, teapot, and cocktail cabinet all winter long.

Decorative note, if your climate is warm enough for winter pansies and you like to plant them you can add some mint to the container. They make a pretty combination together. This is a brief but informative piece on winter pansies from HGTV.

Oregano

Oregano is a Mediterranean plant performing best in heat, sunlight, and excellent drainage. Overwintering consists of waiting until several hard frosts have taken place, then cut the plant back to 4″ and cover in mulch such as straw.

Oregano will live successfully indoors over the winter. It requires 6-8 hours of sun, ensure bright light from a south-facing window or growing light. It requires complete dryness between watering. Check with your hand in the soil. Oregano would benefit from a clay pot that permits drying out as it is not sealed.

Sage

Sage is a hardy perennial, common sage is hardy to zone 4, and the variegated and purple sages are less hardy their northern cold zone is zone 6. Mulch sage plants in the ground with straw and do not cut them or harvest leaves during the winter. To continue using sage through the winter and it is a very desirable herb for hearty winter meals, you can bring it indoors.

Sage indoors, requires 6-8 hours of light, well-drained potting soil, and protection from drafts.

Thyme

Thyme is such a prolific plant that there are over 100 species, which prompts the dreadful gardener’s joke “Thyme enough for everybody.” There are in fact, thyme plants hardy in zones 2-10, a very wide range.

This article on growing and cooking with Thyme provides hardiness zones for seven broad categories of thyme. As a Mediterranean plant Thyme performs best with excellent drainage and plenty of sun. To provide drainage, amend the soil with plenty of organic matter, use raised beds or plant thyme in containers,

As long as drainage is effective, thyme will survive winter, mulched with straw or branches. Mulch only after the ground has frozen. Many northern gardeners use the branches of the Christmas tree as mulch which will protect but not smother.

Thyme will live indoors with 6 hours of indirect light from a south or west-facing window. Water it deeply but only when the soil has dried. True clay pots are ideal because they ensure that the plant can dry out. They also come at a reasonable price.

Steps To Bring Garden Herbs Indoors For The Winter

  1. Inspect The Plants-check each plant carefully for wildlife. It is important not to bring pests indoors which can damage all of the house plants. Flush the soil with water and rinse the plant itself. You can wash the entire plant including the pot with organic insecticidal soap.
  2. Digging plants- clumping plants such as oregano, thyme, and marjoram are simple to divide and pot. Rosemary and Sage are woody plants, more difficult to dig up, and are best grown outdoors in pots if you intend to bring them in.
  3. Plant the herbs destined for the house in well-draining potting soil. (Here is information on choosing quality potting soil.) For plants that prefer to dry out between waterings consider using porous terra cotta pots. This will help ensure that the plants are drying properly. This is important for oregano and thyme.
  4. Acclimate the plants- bring them indoors for the night and back outside in the day time, do this love two weeks. Do this when nighttime outdoor temperatures are 50 degrees or less.
  5. Start the plants in indirect light and move them gradually to sunny windows. It is very convenient to have smaller herbs in a kitchen window. ‘
  6. Humidity- heated homes tend to be dry, this is negative for the plants. Turn the plants, weekly to keep even amounts of the sun on the whole plant. Mist the foliage, you can also wash plants in water. You can allow the plants to sit on trays of stones to ensure good drainage.

Annual And Tender Perennial Herbs

Many of these herbs will be valuable in your winter cooking. Who wants to miss pesto all winter? Take cuttings of basil, and rosemary for your indoor garden. In the case of dill, cilantro, and chervil you will need to start with new plants.

Dry And Preserve Herbs’ For Winter Use

In our warm climate, we do not dry herbs. I am, though, an active maker of preserved herbs in several ways. Herbal oil and vinegar, herb salts, and I particularly love to make herb butter. I soften my favorite Irish butter add chopped herbs, form logs to wrap for the freezer. This means that no piece of fresh fish or meats cannot be delicious no matter what the pantry offers.

Recipes are included in the reports on specific herbs on this site. Just search for a herb by name or click the links previously included in this article.

Drying Herbs

Drying herbs works best for those herbs with lower moisture content, this would include thyme, oregano, rosemary, and sage. The major issues in drying are these;

  1. When to harvest herbs to dry. Anytime that the herbs are edible, they can be dried. Peak flavor is available, however, just before the plant produces flowers. Since this should vary by planting date and herb type you should be able to do a few throughout the growing season and avoid the mad harvest we all have with other crops. This is the period when the essential oils that produce both scent and flavor are highest. The production of flowers and seeds, while nice, does result in less distinct and usually more bitter flavor. There is always a trade-off!
  2. Pick herbs in the early morning just after the dew has dried. The sun’s heat will cause the oils in the herbs to dissipate, we will want to capture as much flavor as possible.
  3. To wash or not to wash? If you wash them, dry them thoroughly, or mold will result. If you do not wash them ensure that you check for damaged leaves and any wildlife.
  4. Dry the herbs in whatever method used out of the sun. The sun will damage the herbs.
Three methods

There are three major methods of drying herbs. Each has its own advocates. Try them out.

Hang The Herbs To Dry

Hang them to dry-make a small bunch of each herb, not too dense, tie them together with butcher twine, and hang upside down in a dark spot such as a closet. You can enclose each bunch in a paper bag with holes in it or in the kitchen cheesecloth. This will prevent dropping leaves. This should take ten days to two weeks and you can tell they are done when they crackle like corn flakes.

Store them in sealed glass containers where they should last as long as one year.

Oven Dry Herbs

Dry them in the oven-use a flat cookie sheet and a low oven, separating the leaves from the stems, this produces a product that looks more like the dried herbs you buy. The criticism of this method and herb dehydrators is that the heat will cause the essential oils to dissipate and the resulting dried herbs will be less flavorful.

This article discusses both methods.

Herb Dehydrator

Herb Dehydrators-I watched some videos regarding these. The arguments on both sides are either that this is the cleanest, easiest way or that it produces something flavorless. There are many free videos online. Try them out if this idea interests you.

Freezing Herbs-Firm herbs such as chives can be frozen. Wash, dry, and dice the herbs and freeze on a platter or cookie sheet overnight. Use a piece of waxed paper to prevent sticking. Fold up the paper or use a baggie or container. Remember to label them especially if you make several batches of herbs.

Freezing In An Ice Cube Tray-herbs such as mint, parsley, and cilantro freeze well in ice cube trays. Label them and store them in containers and baggies. They are convenient to use in teas, soups, and stews.

Do I Let My Herbs Flower

The first answer is no, keep pinching off buds to extend the life of the plant and preserve the best flavor. The second answer is yes, because the flowers are beautiful in the garden, on the table and in salads and soups. Another yes is that wildlife love them.

Perhaps plant a few for cooks, looks, and wildlife!

Florida Winter Herb Gardens

We are a family of northeasterners who having lived in a variety of climates have landed in Florida. We have gardened for many years in two distinctly different parts of Florida. This year-round warm climate has benefits for herb gardeners. There is no month of the year without herbs in the garden.

Our climate extremes, with a dry sunny season and a hot and wet season, do create limitations. There are herbs in the garden every month, but they are not always the same.

This fact affects the garden but also the kitchen. Fresh local vegetables create a winter bounty. In summer our tomatoes come from Georgia, then Tennessee then New Jersey, Those tomatoes are bred to travel but in our hot wet summers, our only local alternative dependable for summer is the historic Everglades tomato. Tiny fruits on a sprawling bush.

It is late summer right now, hot and wet. We have rosemary, parsley, oregano, basil, two kinds of chive, several mint varieties, and thyme.

Cilantro, chervil, and fennel are gone. I just lifted the last of the dill and tonight’s salmon will need to be cooked without it. Marjoram is hanging on and the delicious French tarragon is done.

What can the cook/gardener do? Adjust the menu, we learn to use tropical vegetables and flavors with the fish our coastal community has to offer.

We are considering substitutions previously rejected. So far when I see cilantro in the garden center it seems too strong. But without cilantro for some of the dishes, we love I might plant some culantro and just use it sparingly. The same substitutions might be done with Mexican Tarragon. The Jury is out on that one.

The trade-offs seem balanced to me. In my cold climate homes, I found sunny windows for my cooking herbs all winter and now I need to be a flexible cook/gardener to be active and eat well in our stormy summers.

As the creative designer, Gertrude Jekyll said

“Gardeners are energetic, optomistic and never satisfied.”

Using The Winter Bounty

However, you use the product of your herb garden, fresh, dried, or preserved keep them convenient. The options they give you will make you a more creative cook.

On this site use the links to “Culinary Herbs” or to any of the individual herbs for recipes and ideas.

One thing I seem to keep learning is that the garden and the table can, with a little diligence be a great enhancement to life.

“No one is born a great cook.

one learns by doing”

-Julia Child

“…For our family table, I am still devoted to the garden,

but tho’ an old man,

I am but a young gardener.

-Thomas Jefferson