How to Overwinter Herbs

Although herbs are relatively fuss-free plants, they need protection from frost, ice and snow. Here are a few simple ways to help them survive the winter.

Overwintering Woody Perennial Herbs

Potted Rosemary
Potted Rosemary | Source

Bringing Potted Herbs Inside

Woody herbs like rosemary, lavender, sage, sweet bay and tarragon make fine houseplants in winter. Lemon verbena can also be overwintered indoors, although it will probably drop its leaves.

Washing

Whether you pot them before the first frosts of winter or simply move previously potted herbs indoors before cold weather sets in, be sure to give each of your herb plants a good washing before bringing them inside. Washing will remove not only dirt and debris, but it will also dislodge any pests and their eggs.

To wash herb plants, first mix up a solution of warm, soapy water, using a mild dishwashing liquid like Method or Palmolive.

Sponge the herb plants down with the sudsy water. (If the plants are relatively small and lightweight, you can simply dip them into the sink.) Then rinse the herbs well with cup fulls or sprays of clear water. Short, strong bursts are particularly effective for dislodging insect eggs.

Before moving them indoors, prune woody herbs by up to 1/3. Pictured: rosemary clippings.
Before moving them indoors, prune woody herbs by up to 1/3. Pictured: rosemary clippings. | Source

In regions with harsh, icy winters, it's easiest to grow tender perennial herbs in pots year round. Herbs that are dug up in autumn, potted, overwintered indoors and then replanted outside year after year experience repeated stress due to root loss, which could stunt their growth or, in cases of extreme root loss, kill them.

Planning to move your potted herbs to larger containers? Repot them before moving them inside for the winter.
Planning to move your potted herbs to larger containers? Repot them before moving them inside for the winter. | Source

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Re-potting

To accommodate next year's growth, you can re-pot herbs before moving them inside, placing them in larger containers and adding fresh soil mixed with compost to assure good drainage.

Acclimating

Suddenly moving potted herbs indoors can cause them undue stress. It's best to acclimate them slowly to their new home.

First, prepare them for the move. If you fertilize them, stop feeding your potted herbs in early autumn. Also give them a good pruning.

Then place the herbs in a sheltered outdoor location, such as a covered porch, deck or breezeway, for one or two weeks before bringing them inside.

Winter Indoor Care

Once they're inside, place the potted herbs in a sunny location that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day. Recommence fertilizing, applying it every two weeks at the most. You may also prune your herb plants again if you like, snipping off up 1/3 growth.

Usually, woody herbs like rosemary like to be well watered when grown indoors, although they don't like soggy soil.

Lemon verbena is an exception and should be watered sparingly when overwintered indoors.

Overwintering Herbaceous Perennial Herbs

Culinary thyme will down to the ground in harsh winter weather & reemerges in spring.
Culinary thyme will down to the ground in harsh winter weather & reemerges in spring. | Source

Chives can be overwintered by a combination of potting and mulching.

First, dig up clumps of them from your outdoor herb garden in late summer/early fall and pot them. Bury the pots to their rims and cover them with leaves or straw. Dig the pots up in late fall/early winter and then acclimate them to the indoors over a period of several weeks. You'll have lovely green chives for the New Year.

Protecting Herbaceous Herbs Outside

Common herbaceous perennial herbs include catnip, chives, fennel, lemon balm, lemongrass, mint, oregano and thyme. In climates where winters are harsh, herbaceous perennials will die down to the ground when hit by hard frosts and reemerge from their roots in spring.

Straw

Mulching herbaceous perennial herbs is an easy way to protect them from the frosts and thaws of winter. Straw is a good mulch choice. Unlike peat and pine bark, it will not acidify the soil as it breaks down.

Evergreens

Boughs from evergreen trees may also be placed over herbaceous perennial herbs to shelter them from frost, ice and snow—and it's a great way to recycle Christmas trees. The boughs, which will not decay very much over the winter, are easy to remove once the threat of frost has passed in spring.


Overwintering Annual Herbs

Basil can be grown from cuttings.
Basil can be grown from cuttings. | Source

Common annual herbs include basil, borage, chervil, cilantro, dill, parsley and salvia.

Although annual herbs can't actually be overwintered, it is possible to grow them indoors from seeds. Basil is also fairly easy to grow from cuttings. Take the cuttings at the end of the growing season, before the first killing frost.




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© 2012 Jill

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Comments 20 comments

The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 7 weeks ago from United States Author

Hi Dolores! I'm in Maryland too! Some of my herbs do overwinter, but I've found it depends on the location of the plant. Our woody herbs in more protected locations-- like along a fence-- will overwinter, while those planted in more open areas-- like the middle of our herb garden-- have a rough time of it, so . . . I bring in some and leave others outside. I also like a pot of herbs in the kitchen over the winter, so that's another reason I like to overwinter some of them. Thanks so much for commenting. All the best, Jill


Dolores Monet profile image

Dolores Monet 8 weeks ago from East Coast, United States

Hi Jill - in Maryland, I have left rosemary, lavender, and thyme outdoors through the winter. They usually make out just fine except for one winter that got super cold and killed the rosemary. The following Spring I noticed everyone buying up rosemary plants at a local plant fair!

I wish I had room to bring some indoors but, like Lillyeth above I have way too many houseplants. Trimmed rosemary plants make lovely Christmas decorations and the scent is wonderful. Your pictures are awesome!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 8 weeks ago from United States Author

Thanks, Rebecca! Yes, it's about that time. Where did the year go?


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 8 weeks ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

A good refresher! Thanks!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 3 years ago from United States Author

Hi ExpectGreatThings--You'll be amazed at how hardy some of them are. Our rosemary plants and sage have all developed hard wood, and one of the rosemary plants, despite the cold rain & snow, is still blooming. I'm wondering if the little flowers are frozen in place!


ExpectGreatThings profile image

ExpectGreatThings 3 years ago from Illinois

Pinned this. I am relatively new to growing herbs and did not realize they might survive the winter if I knew how to care for them. I have just been replanting every spring!


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hi rebeccamealey! I have one rosemary plant in a pot, the other in the ground. Like you, I leave the in-ground one alone in the winter--except for pruning. Since it's the size of a shrub now, I'd have a hard time moving it successfully anyway! Despite worrying about tender perennials, however, I'm sort of hoping for a good cold spell this winter. Always good to hear from you! --Jill


rebeccamealey profile image

rebeccamealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

Thanks so much for this great information on winter care for herbs. I have a sunny spot that I'll bet will make a great nook for growing some herbs indoors. I usually leave my big rosemary bush outside all winter. I may check on bringing her in if it gets too awfully cold.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Thanks, aviannovice. Seems weird to think about overwintering anything today. It's unseasonably warm here, sort of like a spring day! Glad you stopped by and commented. Take care, Jill


aviannovice profile image

aviannovice 4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

Another wonderful and useful piece on our important herbs. Awesome and up.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hi bobbinson. Thanks for your kinds words. Appreciate them! --Jill


bobbinson profile image

bobbinson 4 years ago from England

A very entertaining and informative hub.Many thanks.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Oh no, savingkathy!! It's hard to keep track of everything, isn't it? We need personal assistants! (: Jill


savingkathy profile image

savingkathy 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

Great hub! Thanks for sharing your helpful tips. Last year I moved my rosemary onto my covered porch but then forgot to bring it inside or water it. I ended up with dried rosemary ;)


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hi Eddy. I'm moving our potted rosemary indoors today, too--or at least onto the porch. It's a good day for taking care of the garden here--not too hot, not too cold & not too wet. Hope you have a good day, too. --Jill


Eiddwen profile image

Eiddwen 4 years ago from Wales

This one is so useful and I am going to prepare bringing those herbs in now. Thanks for this gem and enjoy your day.

Eddy.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Good luck with your rosemary, Kris. Acclimating it to its new location gradually is even more important than pruning. (: Thanks for commenting! --Jill


Kris Heeter profile image

Kris Heeter 4 years ago from Indiana

Thanks for these tips. I going to try and overwinter rosemary and it's good to know now that I should prune when I bring it in.


The Dirt Farmer profile image

The Dirt Farmer 4 years ago from United States Author

Hey Lilleyth. Sounds like we have a lot in common! My husband and I recently bought a 50-acre farm. Can't wait to move there!


Lilleyth profile image

Lilleyth 4 years ago from Mid-Atlantic

Beautiful photos. Gosh, I have so many houseplants, I just don't have room for my herbs. I just buy new ones every year since my son works at Lowes. Good advice though. I'm a North Carolina certified Master Gardener by the way and grew up on a 65-acre farm with my parents and Italian grandparents who always had a huge garden too. Can't get that garden-bug out of me, but I'm slowing down.

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