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Cultivating a winter herb garden

By Patricia Bailey
Posted 12/27/17

What a lovely mild autumn we experienced! I recall the day before Thanksgiving it delivered a warm rain complete with thunder and lightening. The next day we deep fried our turkey and were grateful …

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Dig In

Cultivating a winter herb garden

Posted

What a lovely mild autumn we experienced! I recall the day before Thanksgiving it delivered a warm rain complete with thunder and lightening. The next day we deep fried our turkey and were grateful for sunshine and sweater-weather.

Our meal was made complete by a wide variety of vegetables freshly harvested from the garden. Celeriac and parsnips made a delightful soup. The brussels sprouts and leeks were sweet and flavorful. I’m grateful to have grown so much produce for my family.

As the first frost threatened, I spent the following days putting my vegetable garden to bed. Any remaining annual plants were pulled and added to the compost piles. The perennials and hardy herbs stay in place and are beginning their winter slumber. Garlic bulbs were planted and the kale and parsley were left to enjoy over the winter months. The beds are covered with a blanket of leaves from our fern leaf beech tree.

Potted herbs like rosemary and lemon verbena will not survive the cold winter so they were brought indoors. I also take stem cuttings and/or divisions from my herb plants to begin my indoor herb garden.

I love fresh herbs in the winter. They add fragrance to my home and when I want a sprig or two for cooking they’re close by. After all it’s baking and soup season!

Growing herbs inside requires a sunny or well-lit area, water and humid conditions. Herbs grow well in groups, as they respond well to the microclimate that groupings create. If space is limited, think of creating a dish garden with three or four different herbs that are compatible in one container.

I find the sunniest window in my home, preferably one with a wide windowsill, add a few shelves or a table in front, maybe a hanging basket and then decide which herbs I’d like to enjoy over the winter. You may find that you have the best conditions in a sunny window right above your kitchen sink. It’s an easy place for watering and to keep a watchful eye.

If you are fortunate enough to still have herbs living in your garden, an easy method for propagating is by dividing them. You can do this with mint, oregano, tarragon, chives, thyme and sage. Simply pull a clump away from the parent plant. Use a sharp blade to cut away a section from the root clump. Ensure you get enough roots to increase your chances of successful propagation. Re-plant in a container with good drainage holes using a high organic potting soil.

Rosemary and lavender will root from stem cuttings. Strong new tip growth is best. Cut just below a leaf bud or node. Each cutting should be three to five inches long and have good foliage. I like to cut four to eight cuttings just in case some of them die or get moldy. Immediately pot up your cutting in a shallow container with good drainage. I use a good propagation soil mixture with vermiculite and/or perlite. I’ll dip the end of each cutting in a hormone powder. This stimulates quicker and stronger root growth. Provide a warm moist environment. You may consider loose plastic or cloche to cover as well as occasional misting. Be patient, these cuttings may take several weeks before developing new roots. You can tell if the roots are forming if you begin to see the leaves getting a brighter green color or if you give a slight tug and feel some resistance. Once you have a substantial root you can re-pot.

If you would like to enjoy your favorite annual herbs such as basil and cilantro you can start from seeds. Begin with a seed starting mix or neutral, porous soil. Sow seeds generously and dust with vermiculite. Keep the seeds on a heating pad or warm surface. A cookie sheet works well when placed on a large radiator. Give them plenty of light and keep the seeds moist until they have germinated. You can cover with plastic to create a moist humid environment, but be sure to lift the plastic often to provide fresh air and prevent mold.

Don't be afraid to experiment and always remember to keep pinching and snipping to keep bushy. Herbs want to be enjoyed.

Patricia Bailey is the Community Outreach Horticulturist at Green Animals Topiary Garden in Portsmouth, where she has managed the Vegetable Garden since 2013. Having a deep appreciation for the quality of life a good garden can bring to those in need, she spearheads school programs, mentors young people and provides local charities with fresh organic vegetables. 






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