Cold Hardy Herbs

So it’s looking like winter might finally be on its way. This is your last ditch chance to make sure you have what you need inside before its time to close up shop. If you have some cold hardy herbs outside you can just leave them be, or you can divide them, take cuttings and pot them up.

These sorts of herbs like to have a period of cold temperatures (min. one month of near freezing temperatures), this is their dormancy period and they need it to survive. So now that they have had that, we can bring them in to snack on all winter long.

Cold Hardy Herbs

These winter hardy herbs include:

  • Chives: Cut these back hard
  • Mint: You can dig this up and pot it if you have too much, or simply pot up some stolons, place an inch of soil over them and watch them grow.
  • Catnip: A great snack for your kitties
  • Beebalm: Pet rabbit snack
  • Lavender
  • Tarragon
  • Parsley
  • Oregano
  • Lovage
  • Sage
  • Thyme

North Carolina University has a great chart outlining the winter hardiness of most herbs, and some further tips on how to overwinter these plants outside if you prefer.

You may also want to bring in almost anything in a pot. Pots are a such a small amount of soil, and are so much more exposed than in ground gardens and so they will freeze and thaw much more than your plants in the ground and so your plants may not survive they way they would in the ground. If you don’t want to bring these pots inside you can also bury and mulch your them outside if you have the space and they should do fine.

You will want to cut your chives back quite a bit.

Dividing and Potting Up

When you’ve picked out the plants you’d like to bring inside you are ready to divide them and pot them up. First dig up the entire clump of the perennial cold hardy herb. Then with a sharp spade or knife, divide the amount you’d like to bring inside from the rest. Try to do this gently if you can. Then pop the outdoor part back into the ground and take the indoor clump with you to pot up.

When you are potting up your herb make sure you choose a pot that gives room for the root ball to grow and use a potting soil that is nutrient rich with good drainage. Cut back any dead or unhealthy parts of the plants, and water well.

…Like this!

BringThem In Slowly

You will need to acclimate plants gradually. Once your herbs are in pots place them in a shady spot outside for a couple of weeks. This allows them to grow the leaves they will need to survive inside.

Conrad Richter explains why very well in his article Growing Herbs Indoors:

Plants produce two kinds of leaves in response to strong or weak light. High-light leaves are thick, strong, and narrow. Low-light leaves are thinner, more delicate, and broader than high-light leaves. But narrow high-light leaves are less efficient in converting light energy into food than low-light leaves. High-light leaves are accustomed to an abundance of light, so they don’t have to be as efficient at food production.

A plant that is adapted to abundant light often turns brown and drops leaves indoors. This is because it can’t produce enough food to maintain itself. The plant tries to make food by shedding the inefficient leaves and producing efficient leaves higher up and closer to the light source. When you bring herbs indoors, this leaf drop and increased leggy growth can happen within weeks, or even days. Some herbs cannot make the transition fast enough to survive.

Rosemary is a case in point. This slow-growing evergreen doesn’t have the chance to adjust to changes in light before the plant slowly starves itself. By January, February, or March, the leaves dry up, and the plant dies. This sudden death is by far the most common complaint about growing rosemary indoors. Here’s what to do: Gradually adjust the plant to lower light. Place it in partial shade for two to three weeks, then in deeper shade for another two to three weeks before bringing it indoors. When plenty of new growth appears, the plant is ready to go into the house.

Futher Care

As these herbs don’t mind the cold, they will be happiest living in a sunny cool spot in  your house around 18 degrees celsius, with a slight drop in temprature at night. Take a look at our previous post Bring The Herbs Inside for an outline of how to care for your herbs once you have them inside, including light needs and fertilization.

Happy snacking!

Written by: Garity Chapman

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Bringing the Herbs Inside

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.

Tender Herbs

So lets start with the tender herb babies, your perennial plants who don’t like the cold. These include:

  • Rosemary
  • Sage
  • Thyme
  • Sweet marjoram
  • Some herbs in pots.

It’s time to bring these babies inside and here are a few tips to help you keep them alive.

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.

Temperature

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.

Watering

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.

Light

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.

Humidity

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.

Fertilizing

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!