IT'S OUR GARDEN ' By Elizabeth and Crow Miller

Winter Care For Your Herb Garden

Given a few simple protective measures, combined with good cultural and growing conditions, herbs should breeze through the winter and eagerly greet the spring.

There is nothing like a permanent mulch to keep an herb garden happy. In summer the mulch conserves moisture, keeps the foliage clean, and keeps down weeds. In winter this same mulch helps maintain a more uniform temperature around the roots, and provides protection against heaving cause by frequent freezing and thawing of the soil. A good mulch for herbs is to use coco bean shells.

During the first year of growing herbs, at Spring Meadow Organic Farm, we lost some perennials by being greedy and trying to harvest them shortly before the frost. This is wrong, since late harvesting prompts the plants to put on a spurt of rapid, tender growth just prior to winter, making them candidates for winter kill. The rule now, is to stop all major harvest) about one month prior to the first expected killing frost.

The following herbs should fare well to temperatures of 20· below zero, with no more protection than a few inches of mulch around their base : Anise-Hyssop, Bergamot, Burnet, Caraway, Catnip, Chicory, Chives, Comfrey, Costmary, Feverfew, French Sorrel, Foxglove, Garlic, Horehound, Lady's Mantle, Lemon Balm, Mints, Oregano, Rue, Sage, Southerwood, Sweet Woodruff, Tansy, Thyme, Valerian, Wormwood and Yarrow.

After an extra severe winter a few of these, such as Rue, Sage, Thyme, and Southernwood, may appear brown and dead. But in time new growth should appear. Harsh, drying winter winds can prove as fatal as cold temperatures to some of the more tender perennials. Wind-breaks are proven lifesavers for many varieties that don't take kindly to below-zero temperatures. The herbs that need protection from the icy-winds of winter are: Mint, English Pennyroyal, French Tarragon, Germander, English Lavender, Roman Chamomile, and Winter Savory.

While some species of Creeping Thyme can withstand 20· below readings, others such as Silver and LEMON Thyme may require a few evergreen boughs to prevent dying over the winter.

Tender perennials include Lemon Verbena (it's deciduous and will lose it$ leaves while wintering inside), Scented Geraniums, Sweet Bay and Sweet Marjoram. Rosemary is normally treated as a tender perennial and moved inside. Under certain conditions, however, it has been know to survive winters.

In addition to these suggestions, several more will prove helpful to seeing members of perennial herbs through cold winters. Obtain plants from a climate as cold as, or colder than the one it will grow into ensure the hardiest possible stock. 2) The more cold-sensitive herbs have a better chance if given a sheltered spot in your garden. 3) Most herbs demand a well-drained soil, and if subjected to heavy damp soils, may perish from rot, or mildew damage over winter. All the Thymes, Lavenders and French Tarragon are especially sensitive. 5) Slopes, or rocky sites usually have good drainage. 6) Amend poorly drained soil by tilling in lots of compost and humus, making it lighter. 7) If you have only damp, poorly drained soil for an herb garden, choose among herbs that will adapt to it, including: Bergamot, Flax, Lovage, Mints and Pennyroyal.

Copyright · 1996 / Crow Miller, "IT'S OUR GARDEN, Syndication |HERBS/