Garden Guide

Preparing your herbs for the winter
Nov. 06, 2013 @ 04:58 AM

Having an herb garden is a wonderful sensory experience. Herbs are easy-to-grow and add flavor to meats, sauces and breads. When temperatures start to drop, it is time to provide some winter protection for your herb garden.   

Some herbs are annuals and some herbs are perennials. Annual herbs include basil, dill and parsley; these plants will die after completing their life cycle. Perennial herbs include lavender, oregano, mint and thyme; these plants will live for many years, each year setting flower and producing seed. Perennials will last through the winter and are called “hardy.”

There are some perennials that are considered “marginally hardy” such as rosemary or lemon verbena. These plants will survive the average winter, but may not last through a cold winter. Marginally hardy plants need extra protection to help them through the winter or, if they are in pots, they can be brought inside for the winter.   

Deciduous herbs lose their leaves over the winter; evergreen herbs do not. Rosemary is an example of an evergreen herb. Evergreen herbs will have a tendency to dry out quicker during the winter, especially if they are exposed to a lot of wind.

Mulch will help increase the survivability of herbs through the winter. After the first hard freeze, apply a 3-to-6 inch layer of organic mulch around herbs. Be sure to wait until after cold weather has occurred to apply the mulch since applying it too early could decrease winter hardiness.   

Winter winds may injure some marginally hardy herbs. Place evergreen branches (pine, cypress, etc.) around more cold-sensitive herbs.

In order to prepare herbs for the winter, do not fertilize or heavily prune after early August. Pruning and fertilizing will promote late growth, which may be winterkilled. You can still lightly harvest herbs into the fall for use in your cooking.   

Herbs will need to have adequate water through the fall. If the plants are drought-stressed going into the winter, they may be more susceptible to winter injury. Evergreen herbs may need to be watered during the winter since they lose water through their leaves during the winter. Make sure herbs have adequate drainage – herbs do not like excessively wet soil.

Herbs are a great addition to the garden and knowing how to care for your herbs during the winter is important for their survival. With proper maintenance, herbs will continue to season your life for many years. For more information on herb gardening or preparing your herbs for the winter, reference HIL 8112: Winterizing the Herb Garden or contact our Center at (919) 775-5624.  

Want more pertinent horticulture information delivered directly to your home computer? Subscribe to the Lee County home horticulture e-mail list. Simply send an e-mail to mj2@lists.ncsu.edu with subscribe leehomehort in the body of the message. You will then be a member of leehomehort@lists.ncsu.edu.