It's the end of the gardening season. Your perennial herbs are ready for harvest. How do you prepare them to withstand cold winter temperatures to produce again next year? What are some things you can do now to ensure their success next spring and summer? Sure, herbs are hardy. That doesn't mean they'll always thrive if left to their own devices.
Let's start with the harvest
Herbs are one of the last things to be harvested in the garden. That's because harvesting them isn't quite as urgent as harvesting vegetables. They won't spoil if you wait a few weeks. That being said, once you're done maintaining other crops, you should cut back your herb plants and dry the clippings. The first freeze will often wilt their leaves and render them unusable.
Why do herbs need to be cut back?
Cutting your herb plants back allows them to absorb more concentrated nutrition during cold winter months. It gives them room to breathe. Needless to say, it also provides delicious herbs for those winter soups and sauces. When you cut back your herbs, save any seeds they have produced for next year's planting or to share with fellow gardeners.
Fertilize herb plants well after cutting back
Right after cutting back fall herbs, surround them with several inches of organic compost for fertilization. Spread the compost evenly around the plants without letting it touch the stems. Even organic fertilizer can damage plants with direct contact. Using a trowel or small spade, dig the fertilizer into the earth around the herbs.
Give herbs a good watering
During fall and winter, your mind may not be focused on the garden. Chances are, you'll forget a watering day here and there. In drought years, there won't be a lot of snowfall to keep perennials hydrated. So while you're thinking of it, give those herbs a good soaking to start the season off right. After that, you should check on their water needs weekly through fall and winter.
What about herbs that aren't technically perennial?
Certain herb plants, such as cilantro and basil, will not survive winter outdoors. Some people choose to pull them up and replant them next year. While this will certainly work, there is a better solution. Plant warm weather herbs in pots, instead. This way, they can be brought inside so your family can enjoy fresh herbs all winter. Once summer comes, simply bring the pots back outdoors to be cared for alongside their hardier counterparts.
Portions of this article were previously published by this author on a now closed Yahoo property.