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by Brian LeDuc

So the season is coming to an end and you’ve gotten use to having fresh vegetables and herbs on hand for cooking.  Salads with sprigs of fresh parsley and roasted potatoes with rosemary become a thing of the past as you prepare yourself for the winter mode of bland, dried herbs.  But what if you can have a variety of these herbs on-hand year round to brighten up the flavor palette of your standard winter meals?  You CAN and it’s Easy!

This winter, pot your herbs and bring them inside to add fresh aromas, color and versatility to your winter kitchen and recipes.  There are many herbs used regularly to cook with that can be transplanted and with little effort kept alive for the winter.

Common herbs fall into three Categories: annual, biennial, and perennial.  The two categories we are most interested in when it comes to having fresh herbs all winter is biennial and perennial.  Many perennial herbs such as chives, lavender, oregano and thyme will winter-over in your garden, while many biennials may not survive.

If you live in a zone with deep freezing (3-5), in order to aid the plants in coming back the following year follow these steps:

  • Wait for a couple hard frosts
  • Trim them to 4-6” of growth
  • Cover with bark mulch or straw(stay away from hay as it contains seeds and may introduce non-wanted species to your garden)
  • If you live in an area with extreme snow or cold temps it can also help to cover with an upside down basket staked to the soil, or a gallon clear milk container with the bottom cut off and the cap removed(a stake can then be placed though the top hole and into the ground to keep in place
  • You can also follow the below directions and to bring them inside for the winter

Steps for brining herbs inside are all very similar so we’ll touch on a common perennial and biennial and what you can expect from each.

Parsley (biennial): whether curly leaf or Italian, Parsley is quite simple to bring in for the winter and should provide fresh herbs for around 3 month. Simply follow the 4 steps below:

1. Dig the Plant: BEFORE there is chance of the ground freezing and the plant is still showing healthy signs of life, dig it out of the ground trying your best not to disrupt(chop) any of the root system

2. Pot the Plant: Get an appropriately sized pot.  Ideally this is one with the circumference larger than the root system itself.  Fill the pot with around 3 inches of soil then add the parsley plant and then top off so the pot is filed to around 1” of the rim.  The best soil for this is a sterile potting mix—you wouldn’t want to introduce any insects or disease into your other houseplants by using the soil from your garden.  I always use organic for anything I am growing and will be cooking with, but the choice is yours.  Water the plant thoroughly.

3. Recovery: Let the newly potted plant sit outside for several days in a shady place to recover from the transplant shock and acclimate to its new “surroundings”.  It can be left out as long as there is no frost in the forecast

4. Move Inside:  Bring the plant indoors.  Set in a warm, sunny position.  Keep soil damp, but do not over water.

If left alone, there will come a time when the parsley sends up tall shoots looking like mini celery and starts to go to seed.  If this happens, the plant’s leaves will start to have more of a fibrous texture with less-flavor; it is time for the compost pile!  BUT, this process can be prolonged by proactively pinching off any of this growth and yellow leaves/branches.  This will promote new young growth and make the plant bushier for use.

Rosemary (perennial): This is a little hardier than the parsley, but you still want to pot before the first hard freeze.  Follow the same first three steps as Parsley, then:

1. Move Inside:  Place in a cool place (50-60 degrees F) preferably with high humidity.

2. Mist Regularly:  Using a spray bottle, mist the plant regularly.  Also, make sure to keep the soil moist.  Growth will slow, but the plant should remain looking healthy.

If cared for properly, the Rosemary should last the whole winter.  When planting conditions allow in the spring, move the plant back to the garden. 

Don’t be afraid to experiment with other herbs.  Oregano, Thyme, Lavender, and Mint all transplant well and will keep you with fresh herbs the entire winter.  If health is faltering, try moving positions in your home.  Once you find the right place for a specific variety, remember it for the following year.

Happy Growing and Bon Appetite!