| October/November 2004

Rooted for Winter Growth

As winter approaches and the outdoor herb garden’s seasonal show winds down, many devoted dirt gardeners go into hibernation, to emerge in the spring eager once again to get their hands dirty. Winter is an essential period of rest for both plants and people.

Or not. Some of us don’t want the show to be over, no matter how bad the weather is. So we turn to pots. Containers are essential tools not just for the urban apartment-dweller growing parsley and basil on a kitchen windowsill, but for herb gardeners of any stripe, especially at this time of seasonal change.

A container herb garden is more than just a way to bring a piece of the outdoor perennial garden inside; it also can be insurance. Our most treasured plants — those that were given to us or have a special memory attached, unusual cultivars that are difficult to find or expensive to purchase, ones that are barely hardy enough for the climate, slow-growing plants we’ve had for a long time — will outlive the winter if we grow a piece of them in a container on a sunny porch or windowsill, or under lights in the basement or spare room.

The easiest way to do this is to root cuttings of the plants in question. Do it right now, while the plants still are growing vigorously and before they’ve been hit by the first frost. Once a plant’s growth slows in response to shorter days and cooler temperatures, stem cuttings will root less readily — sometimes not at all — so don’t delay.

Unlike seed propagation, a stem cutting guarantees that the offspring will be exactly like the parent plant. This is a necessity with cultivars that offer a particular fragrance or color variation but don’t breed true from seeds.


Few people have enough adequately lit space indoors to winter over every plant they have outside during summer. And some plants just aren’t worth the effort, even if you do have the space. So when you take your cuttings, discriminate.

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