It doesn’t matter if you’re growing herbs in pots on the balcony of your city apartment, or in the luxuriously fragrant garden of your country home: they’ll need some special attention to survive the winter months. Get it right, and they’ll not only look nice, you’ll even be able to harvest some for those hearty winter stews.
The start of autumn is the ideal time for pruning because your herbs will get plenty of water over the coming months, which means they won’t dry out. Cut away any dead or woody segments around the base of herbs like sage, oregano, rosemary and thyme so there’s room for fresh growth in spring.
Take the time to remove or prune any dead leaves and flowers. Leaving these on for extended periods, particularly in winter months, can encourage bacterial and fungal infections that could damage or kill your herbs. You can also trip the tops of herbs like sage to encourage healthy, bushy growth.
At the same time, you can harvest summer herbs like basil, French tarragon or mint, which will die back if you leave them outside over winter. They won’t start to suffer until the cold weather really hits though, so this isn’t the most urgent task.
Growing herbs outdoors also requires some attention to their environment. While you’re harvesting, try to clear any weeds from around the herbs. They may keep extending their root network over winter, ready to compete for nutrients come spring, and that could hinder next year’s crop.
Hardy herbs like Rosemary, thyme and sage can survive winter outdoors. Even some softer varieties like Fennel, will appear to die back over winter but burst back into life in spring. In temperate climates, it’s usually enough to keep them in the rain shadow of a wall, sheltered under porches or tree cover.
If you’re growing herbs outdoors in particularly cold or wet climates you may need to add extra protection. For smaller plants, a coldframe can provide extra cover, and serve as an attractive garden feature in its own right. To protect larger shrubs like Bay, avoid plastic, glass or plywood and use horticultural fleece or hessian. They’re more breathable, and leave the natural lines and colours of your garden intact.
Herbs like Rosemary also hate getting their feet wet; use terracotta feet to avoid waterlogging. They come in a range of attractive shapes and sizes, so you don’t need to sacrifice form for function.
Many of the Mediterranean herbs we plant in our gardens will struggle in cold weather. To give them a chance of reviving come spring, or even of continuing their growth through autumn and into winter, you could consider potting them up and bring your home herb garden indoors. Chives, parsley and basil will all thrive on a sunny windowsill, giving you continued access to fresh herbs to add delicious flavour to your winter recipes .
It’s not just the herbs that need attention this autumn. Visit our blog for more information on outdoor living in the colder months. Our favourite is a winter barbecue on the terrace. It’s the perfect way to enjoy your herb harvest, especially if you have fennel.