Thursday

Battening Down for Winter in the Herb Patch - Are We There Yet?

You may not have to tie many of your herbs in place to help them survive the winter, but there are a few things you can do before the first killing frost to help make winter -- and next spring -- easier in the garden.

I love spring and fall -- but I also really like winter. It can be a cruel time, but it scours the landscape clean in some ways. We can start fresh -- or at least fresher -- in a few months, because a generation of insects has died off, and sickly plants have lost their place in the relentless cycle of life in the garden.

Before you say goodbye and keep cold for the season, review your winter checklist -- and not just to make sure you've turned off the water to exterior faucets.

Tips for Winterizing Your Herb Garden


Harvest seeds (and possibly stems) from annuals for spring starts. Label them well first, though. There's nothing like thinking you've planted pickling cucumbers only to discover you've cultivated 20 birdhouse gourd plants instead.

Trim back hearty perennials by about two thirds. This will help keep them warmer, safer from insects, and it will also make the best use of their root systems to sustain and later nurture topside foliage.

Remove dead growth and put down a nice layer of insulating mulch. I like to use dead leaves as a mulching medium because it's natural and inexpensive. Just run leaves through the mower to shred them into smaller bits that will breakdown easily, and layer them onto your herb patch and flowerbeds. By spring they'll be soft and ready to turn under.

Rinse vacated pots and take them indoors for the duration. This is especially important for any porous pots that may crack in a hard freeze. Your lawn decorations (and furniture) will fare better in a garage or shed, too. Those mirror globes or lawn sculptures may have been marketed as all-weather, but they'll look better longer if you pamper them a little. If you have room for them in a protected location, move them now.

As you work, check foliage for insect activity like egg sacks. This is the time to get rid of any overwintering pests you see.

Bring old friends indoors. Whether it's the rosemary on the deck or the aloe vera by the front door, don't risk killing your frost sensitive plants by leaving them out too long. We've all made the mistake of thinking we could postpone moving day to the weekend by just draping a protective covering over plants when a light frost is expected. It's probably best not to risk it, though. If your beauties are still outdoors, bring them in today. (To make sure you aren't bringing spider mites or other insects indoors with your plants, spray them one more time before transporting them.)

If you plan on keeping plants indoors during the winter months, take an afternoon to trim the shrubbery around your windows. This will let more illumination into light challenged rooms and make your home winter friendly to plants, pets -- and humans.

Take a peek into your gutters. If there are leaves on the ground, chances are that a few are clogging your gutters and downspouts. If you don't have those nifty gutter guards, check out the condition of your home's gutter system before the temps get too brutal to pluck leaves out of your gutters without risking frostbite.

Disconnect and stow the rain barrel. Rain barrels can freeze, too. So dismantle yours and put it away for the winter if it isn't insulated or buried underground. If you modified your downspout, switch back to the longer one.

Take a minute to look around. The minimalist aspect of your fall garden is likely a far cry from its July glory; mine certainly is. There's winter wisdom in the machinations of its lean grasses, trees and shrubs, though. Putting everything to bed is sad -- no doubt -- but it's good, too -- like cleaning out the closets or donating the kids' old clothes to a worthy cause. Time marches.

By January we'll have our curious noses buried in spring seed catalogs, raring to go for another year of sprouting seedlings and drawing battle lines against squash beetles and leafminers. That's just the way of it.

My next few blogs will be about holiday matters, from special herb based recipes to a few inexpensive, homemade gifts. Stay tuned.

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