Winter doesn’t have to spell the end of your own supply of fresh herbs. While many herbs do prefer warmer temperatures, there are ways to help extend the harvest into the cooler months so you can enjoy your kitchen creations year-round.
Here are the top eight herbs to grow through the winter season, followed by your essential guide to cold-weather gardening.
Bay tree (Laurus nobilis): This hardy Mediterranean herb grows into a large shrub or small tree. Grow in a warm, protected spot in cool/cold climates.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare): A hardy, low-growing herb that can be grown year-round. Looks great in pots or along garden beds.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): A classic herb for winter roasts and stews. Position in full sun and allow soil to dry before watering.
Italian parsley (Petroselinum crispum var. neapolitanum): An easy-to-grow herb that prefers full sun and moist soil. Ideal for both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Mint (Mentha spicata): A reliable year-round performer, even if it does grow more slowly through winter. Give it a dedicated pot to prevent it from becoming weedy.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum): Ideal for growing at this time of the year, when it is less likely to bolt or go to flower. Give it a warm, sunny spot and water regularly.
Dill (Anethum graveolens): Grows well during the warmer months and requires less care during cooler weather. The ferny foliage is attractive, too. Position in full sun and harvest regularly.
Thyme (Thymus vulgaris): This small but mighty earthy-flavoured herb is the perfect kitchen companion. Position in full sun and well-draining soil.
Have you ever noticed pockets in the garden that are warmer than others? These microclimates may occur naturally (for example, created by warmth radiating from a wall). For growing success in the cooler months, plant in one of these areas – perhaps in a sunny spot next to a brick wall, fence or shed. These surfaces absorb heat during the day but release it at night, so plants stay warmer than in the rest of the garden.
Where possible, horticulturist Bonnie-Marie Hibbs (The Gardener's Notebook) recommends rearing herbs in containers. “Growing herbs in pots allows you to have better control over their environment,” she says. “They can be moved indoors to a brightly lit area or under shelter where they are less likely to be exposed to cold elements.”
Bonnie-Marie also advises watering less in winter. “As temperatures drop, plants naturally start to slow down and require less feeding and watering throughout the season,” she says. If rainfall is unusually high, move potted herbs to a more protected location.
Herbs can also be successfully grown indoors for a short period of time. “Placing pots near a warm, bright window will keep them healthier and growing for longer,” says Bonnie-Marie. “Another solution is to invest in a greenhouse, where plants can be left to establish and thrive all year round.”
Horticulturist Dana Bolton of Mr Fothergill’s suggests using an indoor hydroponic system. “With the flick of a switch, you can grow cold-sensitive herbs like basil during autumn and winter,” she says. The Veritable range by Mr Fothergill’s is equipped with everything you need, including an LED light and growing media.
Many herbs are tolerant of mild winters, but in areas where the mercury really dips, they can succumb to cold damage. Choosing ones that are tolerant of cold conditions is a good start. “Tough perennial herbs such as rosemary, chives, sage, oregano and thyme can be overwintered in the garden,” says Dana. Coriander, parsley, dill and winter savoury will also grow well in cool conditions - but don’t over pick. “Growth is slower at this time of the year, so spread out the harvest to help prolong the season,” adds Dana.
In cold climates, it’s best to avoid planting cold-tender plants such as sweet basil or lemon verbena. Leave them for spring and summer, or try in a warm spot indoors.
For cold-tender plants in established beds, provide some form of frost protection. “Cover them with frost cloth when a cold snap is expected,” says Bonnie-Marie. “This will help prevent frost from settling on the foliage.” If any plants are affected, she suggests gently hosing foliage with tap water before it is exposed to sunlight: “Doing this will melt the ice off plants, leaving minimal damage.”
A thick layer of organic mulch can also help reduce cold damage. Apply it generously around plants, keeping it away from stems to avoid rotting, and rake it back during the day to allow the sun to warm the soil. Replacing it at night ensures the heat remains trapped, keeping the roots cosy.
Tip: If you’re caring for potted herbs indoors, position on a north-facing windowsill for maximum winter sun.
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Photo Credit: Michelle Holden and Getty Images
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