Cold Climate Gardening: How To Grow An Herb Garden In Any Season

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Herbs may be some of the hardiest plants that can be grown in a garden. Herbs are naturally resistant to many insect pests and diseases. Also, herbs can survive in less than favorable growing conditions. Because of the hardiness of many herbs, herbs are a perfect addition to gardens growing in cold climates.

When purchasing herbs for the garden, look for plants that are suited for your hardiness zone and for the growing conditions of the garden. There are many herbs that are ideal for cold climate gardens including basil, chives, cilantro, dill, French tarragon, marjoram, mint, oregano, parsley, rosemary, sage and thyme.

Getting Ready For The Fall Cleanup

Fall in a cold climate is the time to finish harvesting summer crops and put the herb garden to bed until spring. Some plants can survive outside during the cold weather. Others will not survive being outdoors in the cold weather because of their shallow roots.

  • Tender perennial herbs, such as rosemary and marjoram, may not make it through the winter. These plants can be dug out of the ground before the first freeze, transplanted into pots and stored indoors during the winter.
  • Herbs that will be left outdoors during the cold winter months should not be pruned or fertilized in the fall. Pruning removes foliage that the plants use as insulation against the cold and snow. Fertilizing causes new growth that is too tender to survive the fall frosts.
  • Plants left in the ground should be covered with 4 inches of mulch after the first freeze. Use a loose mulch such as evergreen branches, straw or leaves. Choose a mulch that will not pack down or become water logged.
  • Another option is to take cutting from herb plants, put the cuttings in a well-drained rooting medium such as vermiculite and let the cutting grow roots over the winter months.
Ready for Planting Finished Product

Winterizing The Herb Garden

Winter is the time to begin planning for the next gardening season. It is a time to curl up with a good gardening catalog and find some new and unusual herbs for your garden. It is also a good time to pore through landscaping magazines to find interesting ways to design herb gardens.

Winter is also a good time to start herb seeds indoors. This will give the herb garden a head start on the spring growing season. Here are some quick tips for sprouting herb seeds indoors:

  • Fill seed starting pots with a potting soil formulated for seed starting. The soil should be damp but not soggy.
  • Place 3 or 4 seeds in each pot.
  • Place the seed pots in a sunny window or under grow lights.
  • Keep the soil evenly moist and do not let the pots sit in water.
  • When the plants have 3 sets of true leaves, transplant into larger pots.

Preparing For Spring Planting

Spring is the time to get the herb bed ready for the new growing season, plant seeds and transplant those herbs that have been growing indoors during the winter. In early spring, herbs that were covered with mulch should begin sprouting back. Do not remove the mulch from last fall until new growth appears above the mulch.

Before planting any herbs outdoors, make sure that garden beds are free of weeds and that compost has been added to the garden soil. Here are a few garden practices that will keep herbs healthy and productive throughout the growing season:

  • Plant herbs in well-drained soil and where there is plenty of air circulation. Allow the soil to dry out between waterings to prevent root rot. Good air circulation prevents fungal problems.
  • Aphids are a common pest problem with herbs. Use a strong spray of water to remove the aphids or use an insecticidal soap.
  • Use herb seeds that are suited to the growing region. Some seed varieties are naturally resistant to certain problems such as verticillium wilt.

Enjoying The Summer Harvest

Summer in the herb garden is all about maintaining the plants and enjoying the harvest. The most important part of maintaining an herb garden is to inspect the herb plants every day. While wandering around the garden, look for signs of pests and diseases. If these problems are dealt with quickly, the pests will not be able to spread throughout the garden.

Here are a few more tips to keep an herb garden healthy during the summer:

  • Water herbs regularly. Make sure that the ground does not stay dry too long or else the herbs will wilt. If the ground is too wet, the herbs will succumb to root rot.
  • Use a time release fertilizer to keep from over-fertilizing. Too much fertilizer also diminishes the flavor of the herbs.
  • Most herbs should be harvested before they flower. Flowers cause the leaves to turn bitter. The best time to harvest is in the morning before the heat of the day.
  • Flowering herbs, such as borage and chamomile, should be harvested before the flowers are fully open.
  • Herbs that are grown for their seeds, such as dill and coriander, should be harvested just as the seed pods change color.
  • Harvest herbs frequently to encourage new growth.

Growing herbs is a satisfying and rewarding activity. With careful planning and regular care, herb plants will produce for many years. In cold climates, it is important to protect plants from frost and freezing. To extend the growing season, start transplants from seeds or cutting indoors during the winter. And, to keep an herb garden exciting, grow an assortment of herbs to add color, fragrance and diversity to the garden.

Last Updated: December 19, 2011
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About Coletta Teske Coletta Teske has 25 years' experience in tech journalism, as well as home and gardening topics. She has freelanced for Fortune 500 companies such as Boeing and Microsoft, published more than two dozen computer books for Prima Publishing and Macmillan, and worked as a freelance correspondent for West Hawaii Today. Coletta has been an avid gardener since she was 2 years old. While living in Hawaii, she achieved a lifelong dream of becoming a certified master gardener.

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