Real Men Sow

Tips for Protecting and Preserving Herbs Over the Winter

herbsI sit writing this at 7:30pm, and its dark outside. The weather is chillier and wetter. I think the proper term is ‘distinctly autumnal’. The time is coming when we tidy up and think about winter.

One of my favourite pre-winter jobs is sorting out my herbs, or ‘winterising’ them as I like to call it when I’m feeling particularly geeky.

Here are some things that I do during September and October to protect and preserve my herbs, as well as extend the growing season.

Dry and Freeze Leaves and Sprigs
If you get a few warm days, hang individual sprigs out in the sun until the leaves are crinkly. I use my washing line, but anywhere warm and dry will do. Store the dried out herbs in airtight containers.

Leafy herbs such as mint can be frozen in some water as ice cubes. Perfect for winter cooking, or a Pimms in front of the fire…

Invest in Some Horticultural Fleece
I’m lucky to live in a mild area of the UK, where many of my established herbs such as sage, marjoram and thyme generally tend to survive the Winter. However, but I do cover plants in fleece during very cold weather, and depending on your average temperatures you might want to semi-permanently drop some fleece over exposed plants.

The fleece will raise the temperature a degree or so to not only protect the plant but keep the supply going for a little longer.

Deadhead, Weed and Cut Out the Dead Stuff
This is one of my favourite herby jobs, and reminds me of some excellent advice I picked up from an old book: ‘remember, during Winter you’re keeping the herbs alive, not encouraging them to grow.

A good weed never hurt any plant, and this is certainly the case with herbs. Whilst I’m weeding, I’ll also cut any dead wood branches and snip off dead flower heads to encourage bushy growth.

Once the plants have been tidied up, I like to mulch around the base too.

Sage, oregano, rosemary, marjoram and thyme all benefit from some tender loving care like this.

Divide Plants
I like to divide large plants such as chives, mint, oregano, lemon balm, sage and marjoram into smaller clumps in Autumn as this helps stop them getting too big and bidding for herb bed domination.

I’ve found you can be pretty rough with this, and in fact a good division invigorates a plant no end. You can replant a clump and sell the rest outside your house to help pay for next year’s seeds.

Now is also a useful time to take cuttings of rosemary, lavender and thyme. Put the cuttings in a pot of multipurpose compost and cover with a clear plastic bag to keep in the warmth and moisture. Some people use rooting powder when planting cuttings, but I’ve not found this necessary if the compost is of good quality (mixing some of your own in is always advantageous). Transfer to the greenhouse until the weather gets really cold and then rehome the cuttings on a bright windowsill.

Consider Container Planting
Next Spring, when your cuttings and clumps have rooted, consider putting spare ones in pots rather than the ground. Many herbs, such as chives and mint will survive quite contently in a greenhouse, so once the weather turns you can shift them inside and extend the harvesting season well into winter.

Although parsley is only an annual, it is also fairly hardy, so try and pot sowing in summer with a view to moving undercover in Autumn.

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  1. elaineSeptember 14, 2013 at 7:44 amReply

    Good sound advice – I am already getting out of gardening mode but realise there are still loads of jobs that need to be done – will have to chivvy myself up and get cracking.

    • Jono

      JonoSeptember 14, 2013 at 6:52 pmReplyAuthor

      Me too Elaine. just been standing out there looking at everything that needs doing. There’s a lot of tidying up to be done for starters!

  2. RyanSeptember 14, 2013 at 9:07 amReply

    Completely forgot about the splitting of the herbs into more pots – thanks for the reminder. BTW, what do you think is better for taste: herbs in water or olive oil before freezing?

    I was going to go the oil way just so I can throw a herb cube into the pot when cooking.

  3. Jono

    JonoSeptember 14, 2013 at 6:53 pmReplyAuthor

    Hey Ryan – I’ve never thought of that. Do you freeze in olive oil?

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meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope. However, over a decade later, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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