Herbs beneath the snow

Carla Allen
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We're now in the heart of winter but tongue-teasers for summery days are closer than you think. If you have herbs growing outdoors you may already be aware of their potential, even during the "dormant season".

Dig beneath the snow and in some cases you’ll garnish perennial herb leaves that persevere or have been nudged into an earlier than normal growth spurt.


In the past, when I co-owned a large nursery with an extensive herb garden, it was common for me to trot outside in the dead of winter to brush the snow off a clump of parsley and snip a few handfuls for a recipe.

It was easy to do the same with thyme. The upper branches were often leafless, but once parted, green tips could be scored beneath.

During the winter, flavours and scents of perennial herbs intensify. Some of the overwintering herbs to snip include oregano, sage and winter savory. It's even possible to snip a stem, bruise it with a mortar and pestle and immerse it in a bit of oil to reap the benefits. If you don't have them already planted near your back step, you might want to consider moving a few of these herbs to a more convenient location next spring for winter use.

Yesterday I noticed the creeping thyme between my flagstone walk was green and vibrant. Even snippets of these tiny branches can be added to a dish to remind the diner of warmer days ahead.

If you're really into using your herbs during the winter, prune them back in mid-September to encourage the creation of new branches carrying young, tender leaves. You can spread a 4-6 inch layer of dried leaves on top of your herbs to help protect them from freezing. The stalks and forgotten dried seed heads of anise or dill are a valuable find - chop them up for flavouring and just remember to fish them out before serving.

For those lucky enough to have received a rosemary tree for Christmas, feel free to trim them extensively. Rosemary is extremely difficult to overwinter indoors. The secret is to keep it cool and to mist daily. Don't overwater the pot.

Growing annual herbs like basil and marjoram indoors over the winter without grow lights is a challenge. They require lots of light and humidity. Provide them with this and you've got a much better chance of success. Cover them with plastic during the germination process and don't overwater when they begin to grow.


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Recent comments

  • Ginger Sanders
    August 09, 2012 - 10:06

    Thanks so much for the post! I keep all my small plants indoors during the winter, with the help of grow lights. It's amazing how well they can do with enough sunlight. I just love using herbs in the wintertime, and this makes it easy.