Putting Tender Herbs to Bed in the Fall

By Glenna Sheaffer

One way to keep herbs for years – especially tender perennials and shrubs – is to dig them and pot them up and bring them into the house over the winter. Of course, this works best for smaller plants that do not take up too much room. Clean off all the old discolored and dead leaves and flowers so they look tidy. This is now a houseplant in your home so it should look nice. You can cut off some far-ranging stems so the plants are more compact and will fit well on your windowsill. Try to leave about 2” of foliage left on the stems. The plant can be further cut back as it puts out new growth lower down the stem. Finish with a plant that has good foliage and maybe flowers to carry it through the winter. Herbs need direct sunlight in the winter so setting them in a South, East or West window would be ideal. Sunlight is weak in the winter so the longer you can have them in the sun the better.


Larger plants require you to take cuttings. Colorful Salvias are easy to start from cuttings. The perennials basils like “African Blue”, “Lesbos” or ‘Pesto Perpetuo”. The cutting should be approximately 5” tall, but taken preferably from a side shoot that has not flowered. These are started in a light soil mix in a warm place out of the sun. They will need misted and the soil kept moist [not soggy wet] until they send out roots. Once well rooted they can go into their own pot and find a sunny place to sit.

Rosemary will be a large plant over time. It needs a cool room in the sun like a back unused bedroom. This plant goes pretty far toward dormancy although it still photosynthesizes all winter long. Watering becomes an issue from November through to March. The soil needs to be kept barely moist, so check the soil with you finger for moisture. If it has good moisture, do not water it, but do not let it dry out or it is gone. When you water set the plant in the sink and give it a drowning drink. This re-hydrates the complete ball of soil. Do not let it sit in water. Rosemary is a touchy one that doesn’t drink too much water in the dead of winter. Beginning in late February and March you will notice new growth and an increase in water absorption. This is when you can increase the watering back to approximately once a week. Cuttings can be taken but they are not so easy to root as Salvias. Rooting hormone is recommended.

Of course, having a good sunny window near your kitchen for culinary herbs is a popular idea. The sprigs can then be snipped off for use in dishes. A lot of culinary are single season annuals that need to be started from seed. Plants which are not tender are a good choice for a winter windowsill, like chives or sage. Turn the plants toward the sun regularly for even growth.

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