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Growing Herbs in Texas: Protecting Herbs in the Winter

12/3/2010 4:47:42 PM

Tags: Cynthia Meredith, Growing Herbs In Texas, Texas, Winterize, Cold, Herb Covers, Winter, Tips, Basil, Pesto, Easy Basil Pesto

c.meredith2Cynthia Meredith has been gardening with herbs, reading about herbs, and discussing herb gardening in Texas for more than 20 years. She has owned The Herb Cottage (www.theherbcottage.com) for over 10 years, selling herb plants to people all over our state. 

There have been many changes in my Texas garden over the last month or two. We've had one freeze so far. I'm always so pleased with how well most of the herbs in the garden handle the cold. Aside from basil and lemongrass, the herbs barely notice the cold. I try and remember to water them in the afternoon before freezing temperatures are predicted.

12/3 oregano
Oregano 'Santa Cruz' and rosemary 'Arp' held up well during a freeze.
Photo by Cynthia Meredith
 

Moist soil holds more heat than dry soil. If you feel the need to cover certain plants, the cover will help trap the heat and hold it closer to the plant. Gardening Tip: We've learned never to cover with plastic for several reasons. One is that any place where the plastic touches the plant can cause freeze damage. Another reason is that if you're not home to remove the plastic and the sun comes out, the plastic traps too much heat and the plant can be damaged by that. So, always use a permeable cover such as a sheet, old bedspread or blanket.

The light freeze we had over Thanksgiving damaged a few landscape plants, but I'm surprised at how the well my basil survived. The specialty basils—the Indian and African varieties—sustained some damage, but are still growing. They are so large, I decided not to cover them as I have been collecting seed. As you can see, there are still lots of seed heads on the plants. I expected them to be completely frozen, but they are not.

12-3
These basil seed heads survived the cold and are just ripe for collecting!
Photo by Cynthia Meredith
 

Of course, my rosemary, oregano, parsley, thyme and mints were undamaged by the brief freezing temperatures. I know this is just the beginning of the cold weather. Our coldest time comes in January and February when the winds sweep down from the north bringing Arctic air masses to settle over us. Even then, rosemary, oregano, thyme and parsley survive with no cover or protection. Mints often freeze to the ground, but return in spring, especially if kept watered. These plants are in the ground, however, not containers.

One plant that surprised me with its vigor is the pineapple sage. It is planted in the ground under our big oak tree, and is still blooming.   

12-3-2
Pineapple sage is still blooming in partial shade, sheltered by a large oak tree.
Photo by Cynthia Meredith   
 

Container plants generally need more protection because the roots are more exposed. I've seen articles about wrapping large pots in bubble wrap to protect them. Good idea, I think!   

If you live in the southern half of Texas, you can rest assured most of the herbs in your landscape and gardens will be hardy this winter. If you can't live without your basil, you can, of course, grow it indoors. Just give it lots of light and be careful not to overwater. I made pesto last week to preserve my basil. I've been tending several large pots of basil in the greenhouse just for pesto. The plants are so big, I still have more basil to use.  

Easy Basil Pesto   

• 2 cups clean basil leaves, divided
(You can use all one variety or mixed varieties, according to your taste.)  
• 1/2 cup olive or other vegetable oil
(The amount of oil can vary depending on how much cheese and nuts you put in.)
• 1/4 to 1/2 cup nuts
(Pine nuts are traditional, but youcan use pecans, walnuts or cashews for a different flavor.)
• 1/2 cup grated hard cheese (such as Parmesan or Romano) or a blend 
• 5 to 8 cloves garlic, according to your taste

FOOD PROCESSOR PREPARATION:
This is the easiest method. 

1. Add all ingredients in food processor and blend until you have a smooth, well-mixed pesto. The consistency should be similar to that of mayonnaise.  

BLENDER PREPARATION:
This takes a little more work, but makes an equally delicious pesto. 

1. Place about a quarter of the basil leaves in the blender jar  and add olive oil, nuts and cheese; blend. (I use the puree or the high setting.) 

2. You'll need a wooden spoon or rubber spatula to push the mixture down onto the blades fairly often.

(Don't do what I did one time and stick a wooden spoon in the jar before the blades stopped turning. The spoon was jerked from my hand, bounced out of the jar, sprayed oil and basil everywhere and broke the spoon inside the jar. I threw the whole mess away and had to start over so I didn't have splinters in the pesto. In other words, wait until the blades have stopped turning before sticking the spoon in!) 

3. After you have that first mix pretty well blended and the nuts are well ground, just keep adding the basil leaves about a handful at time until all the leaves are used up. If the mix is too thick, add a little oil to thin it down.  

It doesn't have to be perfectly smooth. In fact, I like the pesto a little coarse so I can see the leaves, but the nuts should be well ground.  

TO PRESERVE THE PESTO: Fill ice cube trays with the mixture and freeze it overnight. The next day I remove the pesto cubes and store them in a plastic bag or tub in the freezer. One cube is one serving.



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