We all have trouble getting through the winter, some of us more than others. The weather has stayed gentle this fall and most of our tender herbs are still kicking it. It is time to bring those babes inside so they can stay warm and toasty all winter long and you have something delicious to snack on.
This week we’ll take a look at the tender herbs that need to be inside in order to survive, and some tricks to keep them happy. Next week we’ll look at the tougher herbs and how to handle them.
Three Types Of Herbs
In your garden you likely have herbs that fit into three main categories, annuals, tender perennials and hardy perennials.
Your annual herbs would be plants such as your basil and cilantro which you replant every year. These have likely gone to seed and/or been killed by the frost, gone until you plant them again next spring.
Then there are your tender perennial herbs. These are the ones you’ll want to bring inside (aka the plant babies), which we’ll be talking about here.
Lastly there are your cold hardy perennial herbs. You can leave these ones out and they will be fine (maybe give them a generous layer of mulch), but you can also take cuttings, or divide them and pot them up to add to your indoor winter herb garden. We’ll cover these next week.
So lets start with the tender herb babies, your perennial plants who don’t like the cold. These include:
- Sweet marjoram
- Some herbs in pots.
Bringing Them In
Moving your herbs inside can be a shock to the plants. Try to do this gradually by placing your herbs in a shady spot for a few weeks before they come inside. This gives them time to grow leaves that are better at photosynthesizing in low light conditions so that they be ready for the low levels of light in your house.
Once you are ready to bring them in, check the plant well for pests and make sure it is healthy. If they look diseased don’t bring them inside. It’s good practice to give them a little shower as well just to make sure they are spic and span.
Potting Them Up
If your herbs aren’t already in containers you will want to pot them up in containers that leave sufficient room for root growth (think 6″ bigger than the root ball). Use soil mixtures with good drainage and lots of nutrients. I like to add perlite to a good compost, and for more moisture loving plants I will add some peat moss, but you can also used a store-bought mix of potting soil for a quick and easy solution.
If you are new to potting plants and want the basics, there are lots of great resources on the internet on the topic.
These herbs all prefer to be in cooler temperatures than we might normally keep our house, somewhere between 15-19 degrees celsius. If you have a sunny window in a room that tends to be cooler that is the perfect spot. If all of your sunny windows tend to be in well heated rooms, you can also try to turn your thermostat down at night to give them the cooler temperature while you sleep cozy in your bed.
In general, you should water your herbs less often but more thoroughly. A good rule of thumb is to only water when the soil is dry, which you can asses by sticking your finger into the soil a little bit to feel for moisture. If it is still moist, don’t water it yet! Overwatering is one of the most common ways we kill our plants. Water the plant until water comes out of the bottom of the pot. If you are giving your plant a good amount of water and it’s not coming out the bottom, it’s likely you have a drainage problem with your soil or your pot.
Place your herbs in sunny south-facing windows. The winter sun is weak and sun doesn’t reach our plants indoors nearly as much as it would outside. Place your plants directly in the window and try to avoid placing them below or to the side of the window where the light intensity drastically decreases. A great system is to put shelves in your window and place your herbs there or place a small table for your plants to rest on in the window. If you don’t have a sunny window, you can also use fluorescent lights as an alternative light source.
Our houses are quite dry due to our heating systems. To keep your plants happy try misting them with a spray bottle or give them a little shower by placing them in your kitchen sink or bathtub once a week when they first move in. This also helps to keep your plants clean of dust which helps them to breathe better and makes ‘em look good.
Different people have different theories on fertilizing your herbs. Feed herbs once a week when plants are actively growing, but not when dormant.
If you use store-bought fertilizers there are some great organic fish and/or seaweed fertilizers available at Halifax Seed or Planet Organic.
You can also use fertilizers that happen to be around your house. Some homemade fertilizers include discarded water from a fish tank, worm compost from the worm bin, water from steamed vegetables and menstrual blood diluted with water. (we can talk more about homemade fertilizers in another post maybe).
That’s all you need to start on the road of super local super delicious winter herbs. Enjoy!