There’s nothing more rewarding than using fresh herbs you’ve grown in your cooking. While summer is the prime time for herb growth, there’s no reason you can’t enjoy fresh herbs in the winter too. In this article, we’ll break down what it takes to start your own winter herb garden. We’ll look at tips for doing so both indoors and outdoors, and by the end you’ll be able to enjoy fresh herbs and seasonings all year round.
First things first though, before you plant anything you need to understand hardiness zones.
What is a Hardiness Zone?
You’ve probably come across information discussing growing plants in certain zones. These categories were created by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish agricultural zones all over the nation. Note that while these are USA specific, if you live in a different country you can convert them to get a rough idea of where you fall.
The categories are classified as 13 hardiness zones, with 1 being the coldest and 13 being the warmest. Each zone differs from the other by 10 F. Furthermore, each zone is divided into two categories: A and B, with A deemed colder than B.
For example, if you live in an area designated as USDA Zone 8A, there are certain herbs you can grow that are best suited for your particular zone. This is especially true if you want to grow them from seeds.
Hardiness zones dictate what you can grow outdoors, so they’re important to understand. They don’t really play a role if you’re gardening strictly indoors, but can influence the ability to use greenhouses and similar structures effectively.
Growing Herbs Outdoors versus Indoors
There are some gardeners who prefer to grow everything outdoors. Others like to bring some of their choice plants indoors to overwinter. Some even grow herbs indoors all year round.
If you plan to cultivate and harvest herbs even during the coldest winters, then having them indoors is your best option. You get to grow more varieties without risking cold exposure and frost damage. Having herbs indoors not only brings greenery in, but you also get to control their growing environments. This includes better pest and disease prevention.
Outside, however, offers a lot of benefits as well. Plants will typically grow larger and faster under natural sunlight, and you often have more room to work with. Herbs are quite hardy, so there are a number you can grow even in some of the cooler climates. Winter doesn’t mean you can’t grow outdoors if you plan correctly.
Basic Indoor Winter Herb Garden Care
Growing herbs indoors during winter is actually easier than you think. All you need to do is provide your herbs with the right growing conditions, and they will easily thrive all throughout the year. As many herbs are quite hardy, this is often fairly easy to do.
Here are some techniques you need to keep in mind to grow herbs successfully indoors during the winter season:
- Reduce watering during winter, and water only when the topmost inch of the soil is dry. Overwatering is going to be your biggest issue with herbs, especially in winter.
- Avoid using fertilizers around this time and start back up in the spring. Most plants will slow their growth or go dormant in winter, and therefore need less nutrients to survive.
- Be mindful of where you place your herbs, especially in areas that receive sunlight. Many herbs prefer indirect sunlight and can be burnt out by direct light.
- In case sun exposure is low, you can always supplement with plant grow lights.
- Keep temperatures warm and regular, which should be around 65 F to 80 F during the day and 55 F to 65 F at night.
- Increase the humidity around your plants by misting, placing water trays, or using humidifiers.
- It’s normal for plants to grow a little slower or drop a few leaves during the winter time.
- Keep all indoor plants, including herbs, away from cold drafts.
- Practice good gardening hygiene by keeping plants clean, watching out for pests or diseases, and keeping gardening tools clean and sterilized.
- Refrain from repotting your herbs during the winter season. Wait until the spring to do so.
- These are all just basic tips that should apply to the vast majority of herbs in your garden. It’s also important to learn about your plants so you can provide the targeted care they need to thrive.
Basic Outdoor Winter Herb Gardening
If you live in an area where it is warm all year long, then you can grow your herbs outdoors easily. Typically, USDA Zone 6 and higher are ideal areas for cultivating herbs outdoors. Some herbs are hardier than others. These are the ones that thrive in cool weather, which usually starts around fall:
If you live in a mild climate, then these are all good choices for outdoor growing. They won’t survive in truly cold climates that get lots of hard frosts, but a handful per year should be doable.
Cool Weather Herbs You Can Grow
While many herbs are considered hardy, some are a bit more so than others. This is important when discussing winter growing as only the strongest, most cold tolerant plants will survive. This is less of a concern indoors, but still can factor into your decision as any of these plants are great for indoor growing as well.
Here are some of the hardy, cool weather herbs you can grow:
Thyme is ideal for USDA Zones 5 to 9 because it is a hardy perennial herb. Thyme typically remains evergreen in most warm weather locations. Indoors, thyme will thrive in most conditions.
Planted outdoors, thyme may need to be covered with a protective structure during winter. While it may not survive harsh winters, thyme can live through mild winters.
There are many varieties of thyme you can choose from, each with its own different subtle flavors. You can harvest the leaves all throughout the winter, although you need to be careful not to take too much.
Chives grow well in USDA Zones 3 to 10. They are extremely popular to grow for culinary uses as this fragrant herb imparts a subtle but transformational flavor.
Chives are definitely some of the easiest herbs to grow. A member of the onion family, chives can be quickly snipped off and added to omelets, salads, and baked potatoes.
Grow them in clumps to enjoy their flavorful foliage. This way, your chives can grow during the winter season without experiencing any shock from severe pruning or foliage removal.
Rosemary plants do exceptionally well when grown in USDA Zones 7 to 10. These plants prefer warmth over cold because they are originally from the Mediterranean, growing abundantly in Portugal and northwest Spain.
This plant will find it hard to survive harsh winters, so keeping it potted will make it easier for you to bring it indoors during winter. When grown in the ground, it is best to insulate your herbs with protective structures and materials.
If you have a greenhouse, you can place your rosemary plants inside to help it survive through the winter.
Oregano is suitable for USDA Zones 5 to 9, especially Greek oregano. This variety offers the best flavor compared to its other relatives and is quite hardy.
This flavorful herb usually prefers warmer regions as it is a Mediterranean plant. Planted indoors, oregano thrives without any issues. When placed outdoors, it can perish when exposed to light frost.
It is preferable to keep your oregano plants in pots if you plan to bring them indoors when temperatures go low. You can always try insulating them against the cold with protective structures, but they may not always work against extreme cold.
Mint grows prolifically in USDA Zones 3 to 8. Due to its quick growth, this refreshing herb can be considered invasive by many gardeners. This is why it’s often recommended to contain it to its own pot or garden location. Otherwise, it can sap nutrients from its neighbors.
There are many varieties of mint, but all of them should be ideally kept in containers. Potted mint plants will help your garden stay organized while making it easy for you to bring your herbs indoors during the winter.
You can harvest your indoor mint plants without any fear of them dying on you. Regular harvest, even during winter, can encourage more foliage growth.
Sage easily grows in gardens located in USDA Zones 5 to 8. If you’re lucky enough to live in these areas, then your sage can be left outdoors without any fear of them perishing from the cold. Even out of these zones, it’s possible to keep your sage alive with a little work, even during a frost.
This beautiful and aromatic herb is a hardy winter plant that you can easily grow indoors. Due to its strong flavors, sage is often used in many holiday dishes.
While sage plants tolerate mild winters, they can easily perish from extreme cold. If your area experiences harsh winters, it would be prudent to bring your sage plants indoors during the cold season.
This is definitely one of the easiest herbs to grow, especially if you live in USDA Zones 4 to 9. It is not very fussy, even if planted outdoors, as long as the winter is mild.
Some gardener-chefs grow this herb not just for garnishing but as one of the main ingredients in sauces, salads, soups, main courses, and baked dishes. Most cooks agree that adding parsley can quickly brighten up the taste of any dish.
Parsley can be grown indoors without any problem. However, if you live in an area that experiences temperatures below freezing, you may need to insulate your outdoor plants extremely well. That said, parsley is very hardy, and can survive some light frosts and cooler temperatures outdoors with proper care.
Whether you grow your winter herbs outdoors or indoors, they need a bit of special care during the colder season. By keeping them well-protected from the elements, you ensure their survival for the next growing season. Here are some tips for providing the best care during the winter for your herb garden.
How to Protect Your Herbs Outdoors
Protecting your herbs doesn’t need to be complicated as long as you know what to do. Before winter comes, make sure you are prepared to overwinter your herbs by practicing the following techniques: Remove any weeds that are growing around your herbs.
Prune winter hardy herbs by trimming away the flower heads, uppermost leaves, and any dead parts. Protect your herbs with a thick layer of mulch, ideally four inches, to insulate them from harsh winter temperatures.
This is also the time to amend and improve your garden soil by adding nutrients, such as compost, to produce healthier plants in the next growing season.
Protecting Herbs From Frost
The biggest issue you’ll face with an outdoor herb garden during winter is likely frost. Frost is a common occurrence in most areas during the winter, and quickly kills most plants. Here are a few tips specifically to deal with frost.
- Choose hardy plants that can either survive a light frost or temperatures in the freezing range.
- Use mulch as insulation, as noted above, mulch will help trap heat keeping the area around your plants warmer.
- Use plant covers or even baskets/sheets to help trap heat. Place these on your plants before the sun goes down to trap the most heat.
- Plant your winter crops near your house or another source of heat. This radiant heat will help keep your plants warm.
- Consider setting up a greenhouse to keep your plants alive in the cooler weather.
How to Overwinter Your Herbs Indoors
Bringing your herbs indoors to overwinter is actually very easy. All you have to do is to keep the following tips in mind:
- Make sure that your herbs can be easily brought indoors by planting them into movable containers.
- If you have forgotten, you can still repot your herbs during early fall.
- Do not bring newly transplanted herbs inside immediately.
- Allow your plants to slowly adjust from outdoors to indoors by placing them in a slightly shaded outdoor area for a few weeks.
- Bring your herbs inside once they have adjusted.
- Place your herbs in an area where they can receive adequate lighting.
- Follow the basic indoor plant care guidelines, as outlined in the early part of this article.
Growing Your Winter Herb Garden
With the above in mind you’ll be in perfect shape to grow your own winter garden. Whether indoors or out, having herbs on hand is perfect for those culinary inclined, and can help take your dishes to the next level.
Can you grow herbs in the winter?
You can definitely grow herbs during winter as long as you provide them with the right amount of light, temperature, and water.
What herbs grow best during winter?
You can look into growing thyme, oregano, sage, chives, parsley, mint, and rosemary for your winter herb garden.
How cold is too cold when growing herbs?
Most herbs can tolerate temperatures as low as 50 F, although some can survive at 40 F.
Will herbs grow back after winter?
Most perennial herbs that are suited for their respective USDA Zones will come back after spending winter protected and insulated by mulch and other protective structures.