Mother Earth Living

Tending to the Fall Garden: Is it too late for fall chores?

You can check out the Lemon Verbena Lady at her blog   

Fortunately it is not too late for fall chores in the herb garden. Some of you got hit hard by the east coast snowfall last week. I hope this posting will give you some last minute tips for getting organized. The Herbal Husband and I are always rushing around at the last minute trying to get things done in the fall.

I am so lucky to be blogging for The Herb Companion, but I enjoy sitting down and reading back issues with a cup of herbal tea. I was bored with TV the other night and reached around to my Herb Companion back issues and just picked one out at random. It happened to be the October/November 2001 issue. I opened it up and it had an article by Doree Pitkin called “Fall Chores.” You can access it online now. You don’t have to have the back issue! Magazine websites are one of the great things about the digital age.

Doree and I have lots in common. We both love our herb gardens and want to take care of them in all seasons, we both need a rest at the end of the gardening season, and we are both master gardeners. If you ever have the chance to participate in the master gardener program in your area, do it. It is a wonderful program that benefits you and the community you serve. You get to work with wonderful dedicated staff and learn from the best universities in the country.

Know your frost date. Doree talks about knowing your frost date. I really have become a weather watcher especially when herbs needed to be harvested. If you are unsure of your frost dates, call your local county extension office and ask. You should also be keeping your own records of when frost has occurred. It is really helpful. One of the herbs that I am always intently watching at the end of the season is the pineapple sage. It is a great barometer of the last days of fall. I love the red flowers and pineapple-flavored leaves for pineapple sage jelly. You can find the recipe for my Pineapple Sage Jelly in my post Herbal Harvest: Pineapple Sage Jelly.

First steps toward winter. Doree says stop fertilizing and watering so that new growth will not be harmed by colder weather. You should be cutting back those herbs that are rampant self-sowers like lemon balm and garlic chives. I never seem to get to the lemon balm fast enough!

Also gather seeds of herbs you want to continue growing. We tend to leave the seeds of the coneflowers for the birds during the winter. I also leave the seed heads of the calendula to fall where they may to always have them in the garden. If you do collect seeds, be sure that they are completely dry before putting them in a container. Place the dried seeds in an envelope with its name and date and if they need cold storage place them in a jar in the refrigerator. A wonderful reference book on propagation is called Seeds by Jekka McVicar.

Bargain herbs, anyone (and amending soil)? The bargain herb step is one I usually do at the end of July if necessary. If I am doing my job to keep the economy going, I am buying lots of herbs from several different herb farms. This season because we were away in July, the herb garden needed help. Here were my bargains in July.

If you pick up herbs as late as September or October, be sure they are perennial herbs that can survive. It is also the perfect time to amend soils if you are going to be starting a new herb garden or just a new bed in the spring. Contact your local extension office and for a nominal fee, you can test your soil and get those amendments working for next spring. This is more of a September or October job for those of us in the northeast. Further south you still have time to amend your soils.

Bring in container herbs. We are always digging herbs at the last minute and bringing in containers. Make sure you check for insect pests that may try to find a cozy spot on your herbs. Isolate your plants to make sure they are pest free. If you do find pests, insecticidal soap or a strong shot of water may get rid of them. You might have to repeat doses of either treatment. If that does not work, you may have to get rid of the herb. One of our favorites to bring inside is the lemon verbena. We have two inside this year. Here is my post from several years ago on how to take care of lemon verbena indoors called The Lemon Verbena Lady’s Favorite Herb. I will admit that this herb can be killed inside even by the Lemon Verbena Lady!

To prune or not to prune? I do most of the important pruning in July when the herbs have time to get growth before the frost comes. In the fall, you should clean up annual herb flowers like nasturtiums and calendulas. Also removing annual herbs like basil and borage will help clean the garden up. We do leave a lot of our flower stalks and seed heads for the birds. The goldfinches are very active in our gardens with the coneflowers and black-eyed Susans. You should discard diseased plants and compost healthy plant materials in the compost pile. Here we are pruning the sage plants after they have bloomed and you may get a second bloom after that is completed.

A down comforter for herbs. Doree talks about mulching your herb garden. This is particularly important if you have snowy weather where you live. Mulch is also important if you have strong winter winds that can be harmful to your herbs. We do use the leaves of the Japanese maple as a covering in my herb garden.

Photos by Nancy Heraud

Without mulch, the winter weather can make your herb plants heave up and freeze the crowns of the herbs and kill the roots. You want to add mulch once the weather is consistently cold. We are still in the 60s here in the daytime. If you mulch in this weather, the mulch will keep the soil temperature warm and prolong the plants from going dormant. If you mulch too late, it may damage the crowns and roots of your herbs. Mulch your herbs once the weather reaches the freezing temperatures and stays cool or cold. Once the snow is here, it stabilizes soil temperatures, protects crowns and roots from drying winter winds and adds moisture to the soil. I did a post on our snow blanket in my post Snow Garden: Growing Herbs in the Winter.

The final cleanup. Doree talks about measuring your garden and I suggest trying the Herb Garden Planner tool on The Herb Companion website. You get 30 days free and that is more than enough time to get your garden mapped out. Maybe you’ll get hooked like me. I wrote a post about it, Addicted to the Herb Garden Planner. I have not used it as much as I thought and I hope I will get some time in the next few months to use it because I am planning a renovation of my herb garden. It will be wonderful to see it all mapped out in front of me on the computer before I plant it.

Organize and arrange your garden supplies. Every gardener has a stash of items that you have “lost” during the season. I love to get into that stash and look to see what I missed using. Gloves are an especially big deal for me and I buy several pairs and then “lose” them to the many boxes of gardening stuff we have. So really look before you buy again.

Mark your calendar for winter watering. There can be very harmful winds during the winter and that will create a dry environment for your herbs. Be that weather watcher and when the January thaw comes like 40 degrees or more get out and water your plants in general. Make it at least once a month if you can. 

Check your seed-starting equipment. We don’t have a great detail of space to start extra herb plants. We usually just direct seed at appropriate times our herbal flowers and plants. If you do seed a lot of herbs, now is the time to check out all of those supplies and replace them if necessary. Then you will be ready to go next spring.

The herb gardener’s rest. This was one of my favorite parts of this article. Doree talks about keeping up a stretching and exercise routine. I use a series of Leslie Sansone DVDs when the weather gets bad and I do walk outside when it is possible. Whatever you can do for yourself is good for your mind and spirit.

She also talks about signing up for seed and plant catalogs. I am a catalog geek. I can’t believe I haven’t done a post about it for The Herb Companion yet. Well, I got an e-mail from Nichols Garden Nursery just recently, one of my favorite catalogs saying they were going green! No more paper catalogs. I may go into herbal withdrawal. Here are some of my favorite herb seed and plant catalogs (online and paper) in no particular order: Renee’s Garden Seeds from California (online), Johnny’s Selected Seeds from Maine (online and paper), Richter’s from Canada (online and paper), Well-Sweep Herb Farm from New Jersey (online and paper), Mulberry Creek Herb Farm from Ohio (online and paper), Mountain Valley Growers from California (online and paper), Goodwin Creek Gardens from Oregon (online and paper) and Sandy Mush Nursery from North Carolina (online and paper handbook for $5), Lily of the Valley Herb Farm from Ohio (you can get a paper catalog if you are three hours away from the nursery; they have a listing of some of their plants but not all are online) and Companion Plants from Ohio (online). Besides Richter’s, I have to give you a link for Jekka’s Herb Farm from England (online).

This is just a small selection of the many herb growers around the United States and a couple from outside the country. With the right paperwork, you can bring plants back from Richter’s. I am going to go there some year soon. Leave a comment and share your favorite herb farm with me. I am always interested in new herb farms to explore. Keep buying from these great herb growers. They are all passionate growers of the plants we love. I think Doree Pitkin’s article will inspire you as well. You still have thyme to do some of those fall chores. 

As always, if you have a comment or question about any of my posts, please write to me here with a comment or my e-mail at lemonverbenalady@hotmail.comand put in the subject line “Herb Comment or Question.” Talk to you soon.

  • Published on Nov 2, 2011
© Copyright 2022. All Rights Reserved - Ogden Publications, Inc.