Wintering Herbs Indoors

Rosemary’s journey from garden to pot: How to choose and take care of the “in” crowd.

| October/November 1993

September. The harvest of herbs is winding down, and the frenzy of trying to keep ahead of the weeds has abated. There’s an overwhelming tendency to give up, relax, and forget about gardening until the new seed and nursery catalogs start arriving in January. Herb gardeners who live where winters are frost-free may be able to get away with this, and those in more rugged climates whose only herbs are annuals such as dill or tough perennials such as garden sage can get away with it, too.

But that leaves a lot of gardeners unaccounted for, including those who grow rosemary, tender lavenders, or other plants that will die if the temperature goes below 15°F, and those who have a yen for fresh herbs all winter. Those people (and I’m one of them) need to make some decisions now.

What Not to Bring In

Perhaps you love all the herbs in your garden equally, and you’d like to bring them all indoors. I suggest you don’t, even if you have a huge house with dozens of south-facing windows.

First of all, forget about the annuals, such as summer savory, chervil, cilantro, borage, and dill. Their lives are about over; if you want them indoors in winter, you can start new plants from seed. I include basil in this group because it’s usually grown as an annual, even though it’s technically a short-lived tender perennial.

Don’t bother bringing in tough perennial culinary herbs whose dried leaves have good flavor—I’m thinking of sage, oregano, and thyme—unless you think you can’t get along without the fresh leaves. Consider the size of the plants, too, and how many smaller plants you could put in their place in front of the window.

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