Garden herbs all winter


There’s nothing like fresh herbs for flavour…and there’s nothing like the flavour of home-grown herbs. Unfortunately, like other plants, herbs stop growing at the end of the summer and some die down for a winter rest – so how can you get fresh supplies for Christmas and beyond? By thinking ahead and making preparations now, there are a number of tricks and techniques you can employ to extend the herb season into the New Year.

How to get herbs all winter

  • Covering growing crops in the garden
  • Lifting and potting-up herbs
  • Moving container-grown herbs indoors
  • Sowing late crops of herbs
  • Preserving through freezing or drying

Keep them growing

Many herbs naturally die down in autumn to lay dormant all winter ready to re-sprout again in spring. You can delay or prevent this dormant period by keeping the plants growing throughout the winter. The easiest method is to delay dormancy by covering herbs in the garden with cloches or an unused coldframe. Cosseted under protection, the plants will then keep growing for a few weeks until the really cold weather sets in. Hardy souls, such as mint and parsley, will re-sprout again every time there is a mild spell, providing fresh leaves to harvest. It makes sense to plan your herb planting, so you can cover a range of herbs with your cloches or coldframe. Many herbs can be encouraged to continue growing if they are potted up and brought undercover before the onset of cold weather. If you do this now, the herbs will have time to settle into the containers and put on new growth for autumn harvests. In addition, perennial herbs can be left until the end of the summer, given a hair-cut and potted up using loam-based compost. New growth will be delayed, but will emerge in time to provide some welcome festive flavourings. Large shrubby herbs, such as bay and rosemary, in permanent containers, can be moved into a frost-free conservatory or greenhouse to keep ticking over all winter. Or you can leave them outside in a sheltered spot and protect them during cold spells. This is particularly important for bay, which isn’t reliably hardy. For full protection, give prized specimens a complete body-armour by bubble-wrapping the pot and covering the top with several layers of garden fleece.

Start afresh Hardy annuals and biennial herbs, such as parsley and chervil, can be sown in containers from now onwards to be ready for harvesting in just a few months. Sow in trays, pot-up into individual containers as soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle safely, and repot again into larger pots once the herb plants are well established. Keep them outside in a sheltered spot or cover with cloches to ensure quick growth and establishment.

Methods to try

  • Under cloches and frames outdoors – best for caraway, chervil, chives, oregano, parsley, sage, winter savoury, sorrel, thyme, but also try borage, coriander, dill, lemon balm, lovage, marjoram and mint.
  • Potted-up and brought indoors – best for chives, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, but also try parsley, tarragon and thyme.
  • Permanent containers brought indoors – best for basil, bay, lemon verbena, rosemary, thyme, but also try lemon balm, marjoram, mint, sage and tarragon.
  • Late sowings brought indoors – best for clary, coriander, dill, summer savory, but also try basil.