Green Patch: Improve The Winter Survival Of Your Herbs

| December/January 2007

Q: Every spring I lose several herbs that are supposed to be winter hardy. Sometimes sage and lavender plants make it until spring and then collapse, and I’ve watched this happen with tarragon, too. Other plants growing a few feet away will look just fine. What can I do to improve the winter survival of these herbs?

A: When hardy herbs fail to emerge from their winter rest, or begin to grow and then wilt to death, the cause is usually some type of root rot. Numerous types of soil-borne fungi can enter plant roots and destroy them, but several easy steps prevent these problems.

Take phytophthora (fi-top’-thor-a), for example. This common troublemaker’s name is Greek for “plant destroyer,” and various species of phytophthora fungus have played important roles in human history. One strain led to the Irish potato famine of 1845 to 1847, and another is the reason azaleas and rhododendrons sometimes wither to brown. At least two species infect sage and lavender, and you could probably blame the loss of tarragon on phytophthora as well.

Fortunately, it’s fungi against fungi down in the soil, so enriching the soil with a diversified range of microorganisms — which you can do by digging in compost before planting or using it to mulch established plants — often suppresses phytophthora. In soil that is regularly amended with compost, beneficial fungi and bacteria out-compete troublemakers in the struggle for moisture and nutrients.

Buy compost in bags or make your own. Either way, the important thing is to use compost that has cured for several weeks. The final stage of decomposition is an important one, because many of the most beneficial strains of fungi and bacteria emerge as compost cures.

Even if you enrich your soil with compost, problems still can arise if the plants’ roots are forced to sit in waterlogged soil, which weakens the roots and favors many types of root-rotting fungi. The superior drainage provided by raised beds can make a huge difference, but in heavy clay soils herbs may need even more help. As you plant perennial herbs, try placing a handful or two of small stones or gravel under them, about 12 inches below the surface. This technique creates a drainage pocket for each individual plant, and it can make the difference between life and death for lavender and tarragon, which must have perfect drainage.

Mother Earth News Fair Schedule 2019


Next: April 27-28 2019
Asheville, North Carolina

Sit in on dozens of practical workshops from the leading authorities on natural health, organic gardening, real food and more!


Subscribe today and save 58%

Subscribe to Mother Earth Living !

Mother Earth LivingWelcome to Mother Earth Living, the authority on green lifestyle and design. Each issue of Mother Earth Living features advice to create naturally healthy and nontoxic homes for yourself and your loved ones. With Mother Earth Living by your side, you’ll discover all the best and latest information you want on choosing natural remedies and practicing preventive medicine; cooking with a nutritious and whole-food focus; creating a nontoxic home; and gardening for food, wellness and enjoyment. Subscribe to Mother Earth Living today to get inspired on the art of living wisely and living well.

Save Money & a Few Trees!

Pay now with a credit card and take advantage of our earth-friendly automatic renewal savings plan. You’ll save an additional $5 and get six issues of Mother Earth Living for just $19.95! (Offer valid only in the U.S.)

Or, choose Bill Me and pay just $24.95.

Facebook Pinterest Instagram YouTube Twitter

Free Product Information Classifieds