by Matt Gibson
Many of the most popular garden herbs are native to the mediterranean, which is a warm climate area. If you are trying to grow these herbs outdoors in the winter, they will not be able to withstand the icy winds and frosts that will inevitably sweep through your area. Luckily for herb loving gardeners, there are ways to protect these herbs during the winter, or you can simply choose from a large selection of herbs that are cold hardy and well suited to surviving winter weather in cold climate areas.
Another option for growing warm weather herbs during the winter is to start an indoor herb garden. Whether your herb garden resides indoors or outdoors, growing your own herbs will greatly enhance your cooking, as you will have instant access to lots of flavor enhancing plants that can add a taste-bud-popping zing to any dish you make!
What herbs can survive winter outdoors?
Thyme – Thyme fares far better in cold climates than many other herbs, and is able to survive harsh winters more often than not. Add a four to six inch layer of mulch to thyme plants in the late fall and remove the mulch in the early spring.
Lemon Balm – Cut back lemon balm in the fall leaving about two inches of stem above ground. The plant may freeze during the winter but its underground roots will survive anyway and regrow like new in the spring.
Oregano – In zones eight and below, oregano is evergreen. In zones seven and up, protect oregano plants with mulch or cover with a cold frame. Alternatively, oregano plants can be potted and moved indoors during the winter to insure survival. Cut out dead stems in the early spring before the plants begin to restart their growth cycle.
Catnip – In the late fall, cut catnip plants back to just a few inches. Remove any new growth, as it will not survive the freezes. Give catnip plants one last deep, long drink of water and then do not water at all during the winter dormancy period.
Sorrel – Cut sorrel plants to the ground in late fall. Cover with soil and mulch and remove mulch in early spring before new growth begins.
Mint – Trim mint to the ground just before winter to prevent disease and pest issues. Use a light mulch for protection from winter frosts. Remove mulch in early spring when mint plants start to shoot back up.
Parsley – Cut parsley plants back in early fall and apply two to three inches of a lightweight mulch around them. Remove mulch as soon as threat of frosts have passed as parsley shoots will have trouble growing through heavy layers.
Chives – Chives do not need any additional winter care. They will go dormant on their own and return in the spring once the soil has thawed.
Horseradish – Horseradish is usually harvested during the winter. If you want your horseradish to grow back next year, just leave some of the bottom parts of the roots in the ground and they will grow back on their own.
Lavender – Lavender plants may go dormant for a few months during the winter or they may stay evergreen. If you are growing your lavender in poor draining soils, dig it up in the early winter and improve the soil before replanting. Add mulch in cold climate areas or gravel in warm areas. Slow manual watering routine, only watering lavender during prolonged droughts and dry periods. Divide old, larger plants. If plant has gone dormant, do not harvest. If it is staying evergreen, harvest throughout the winter. If your winter is especially wet, pot up your lavender and bring it inside until the spring. Save heavy pruning for spring.
Tarragon – In zones two and below, lay down a two to three inch layer of straw or dead leaves for protection. Tarragon needs fast-draining soil to thrive, so check drainage capabilities and improve soil drainage if needed.
Caraway – Caraway dies back in autumn so you only need to worry about protecting the root system, as the stems and leaves have all disappeared by winter time. Add a four to six inch layer of mulch in late fall to protect roots. Remove mulch at the beginning of spring when new growth begins.
Sage – Sprinkle a layer of straw mulch around the lower stem of sage shrubs before winter sets in. Organic manure also works as a light mulch for sage. Sage is prone to freezing in the lower stem and the exposed areas of the roots, so adding a light mulch is essential to winter survival.
Can you start an herb garden in winter?
Starting an herb garden outdoors during the winter season is certainly possible, but you will be limited as to which herbs you can grow successfully outdoors. Because of these limitations, starting an indoor herb garden during the winter is an excellent idea. You can also start an indoor herb garden for the more popular herbs that aren’t frost hardy, and expand it by dedicating a full bed or a portion of a bed to cold-hardy herbs outdoors. Depending on where you live, you may be able to harden off your indoor herbs and move them outdoors in the spring. Even if you get complacent and decide to keep an indoor and an outdoor space for herbs, what’s not to love? Two herb gardens are better than one!
What do you do with garden herbs in the winter?
Generally, stop manually watering your herb garden during the winter unless this year’s winter is especially dry. If you are experiencing a dry winter, you will want to occasionally deep water your herb garden bed when the ground isn’t frozen, at least 24 hours before the next expected freeze.
Never use fertilizer after August. Fertilizing your herbs during the winter is too late in the season to encourage new growth, as that tender new growth will most likely not survive through the winter freezes.
Chives, Thyme, Tarragon, Mint, Fennel, Oregano, and Lavender just need a good pruning. Cut them down to around four to six inches after the first few freezes. In climates five and below, add a three to six inch layer of mulch after the first hard freeze. If you don’t have wood chip mulch, leaves, pine needles, or straw will work just as well. Remove mulch just after new growth starts to appear in the spring.
Rosemary, bay laurel, and lemon verbena should be cut nearly to the ground after the first frost. Then, cover the plants with soil and cover the soil with a four to six inch layer of mulch to protect the plants through the winter. If possible, add a layer of evergreen boughs to protect your perennial herbs against harsh winds. Rosemary will survive outdoors in zones six and up with these protective measures. In colder climate zones, you may want to pot up your rosemary and attempt to overwinter it indoors. Provide overwintering rosemary with cool temperatures, lightly moist soil and full sunlight.
Annual herbs such as dill and coriander will perish at first frost, so pull them up immediately when the temperatures drop so they do not become infested with pests. Parsley, basil, and other tender perennial herbs should be potted up and moved indoors in the fall and placed back in the beds the following spring.
Can you leave herbs outside in the winter?
Cold-hardy herbs can be left outside if provided with a little bit of protection, as discussed in the previous section of this article. Tender perennials typically need to be potted up and overwintered indoors. Specific care needs depend on the particular plant and the USDA hardiness climate zone you live in. Some gardeners decide to house all of their herbs indoors, while others prefer an indoor/outdoor mix, and some keep their herb garden an outdoor-only operation.
What herbs should you grow indoors in the winter?
Bay leaves, oregano, chives, thyme, chervil, parsley, sage, tarragon, chocolate mint, rosemary, and basil are all great herbs to grow indoors. Click here to learn what herbs are best for growing in containers indoors.
Want to learn more about winter herb gardens?
Better Homes & Garden covers Growing Herbs Indoors in Winter
Gardening Know How covers Herbs that Survive Winter
Gardening Know How covers How to Overwinter Herbs
Good Housekeeping covers Indoor Herb Garden
Good Housekeeping covers Winter Herb Garden
HGTV covers Winter Herbs