Ask a Master Gardener: Thinking About Cool Weather Herbs
BY: Nancy Adams, Mobile County Master Gardener www.mobilecountymastergardeners.org
So, you have had about enough of summer temperatures pushing one hundred degrees and are wondering about planting an herb garden for fall. According to Annie Daniels, former president of the Gulf Coast Herb Society, and current coordinator for maintenance of the Sybil Burnette Herb Garden at the Mobile Botanical Gardens (MBG), any plant that is useful can be considered an herb. By this definition, it is not too surprising to learn that several familiar flowers, such as violas, pansies, violets, and roses qualify as herbs.
The Gulf Coast Herb Society is a volunteer organization established in 1985 and dedicated to education about herbs and maintenance of the herb garden. Annie and other members have recently upgraded the herb garden at MBG (located directly behind the Artful Garden Gift Shop), making it a pleasure to see, feel, and smell the variety of herbs – both cool weather and others – beautifully displayed in seven separate and individually-named beds.
These beds and some of the herbs therein are:
FRAGRANCE – perennials that come back, such as rosemary, sage, and lavender
CULINARY – mint, oregano, thyme, basil, parsley
SPIRITUAL – lamb’s ear, artemisia, nigella
MEDICINAL – onion, garlic, plantain, Jerusalem sage
HOUSEHOLD – bronze fennel, tickseed (coreopsis), wandering catmint
HISTORICAL – bee balm, rosemary, lemon balm, antique pansy
NATIVE TO ALABAMA – Stokes aster, pink skullcap, blue false indigo
There is also an inviting gazebo in the garden where members and visitors can relax and visit in the shade or even have lunch when weather permits.
Some of the most dependably hardy cool weather herbs are cilantro, parsley, sorrel, fennel, garlic, marjoram, thyme, oregano, sage, chives, mint, rosemary, and dill. Cool season herbs are best planted in the fall. Seeds are best planted in September, small plants in October. Bay laurel, chives, and rosemary will thrive year-round and can be planted in spring or fall.
Covering the herbs during cold weather improves their chances for survival by holding in heat from the soil. One way to create a cover for herbs is to cut off the bottom of a one-gallon milk jug and place it over the plant, working the bottom of the jug securely into the ground, allowing sunlight to keep the plant warmer.
Alabama’s coastal zones six through eight make it possible to use mulch to protect the herbs planted directly into the ground. Simply pull back the mulch to cut the herbs you need and then adjust the mulch to protect the remaining plants.
Another way to enjoy fresh herbs such as oregano, sage, chives, and thyme throughout the winter is to cut them back to about one inch tall (above the roots) and plant them each in a separate container, which can be moved to any sunny spot such as a sunroom, sun porch, a greenhouse, or a sunny window (with an average of at least six hours of sunlight).
Herbs are always interesting conversation starters. Some die back and some come back. And it is good to leave the deadheads for pollinators. It’s a perfect time to plan your cool-weather herb plantings.