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In the Garden

Bring your herb plants indoors to enjoy all winter

All summer we have been enjoying using the herbs from our garden. Nothing beats freshly snipped basil, thyme or oregano.

Now that summer is winding down, it is time to think about bringing some of our favorites indoors to enjoy all winter.

Everyone has some herbs they love and can’t do without. I’m a big basil, rosemary and oregano fan. What do you use the most? Here are a dozen herbs that will grow well on your sunniest windowsill or under lights:

∎ Greek oregano is a perennial best propagated by root division. If you have an established plant, just separate off a chunk and pot it up to bring indoors. New plants can be started from seed, but they take a few months to get to a harvestable size.

 Basil is an annual, so it is best to start new plants from seed or take cuttings from an established plant. Small-leaved, compact growers, like dwarf Greek basil or “Finissimo Verde” are best for windowsill culture, but I still grow a big pot of “Genovese” and keep the size down by cutting it often. It’s not hard to do when you like basil on everything except oatmeal!

∎ Thymes, like caraway, lemon, narrow-leaved French and English garden, are all good culinary types. They are perennials (though some may not be winter hardy here) and new plants can be divided from the parent plant.

∎ Parsley is a biennial plant, which means that it goes to seed its second season. If you pot up an existing plant, use a deep pot to avoid injuring the tap root. New plants can be started from seed.

∎ Summer savory is a quick-growing annual, so it is easy to start a new plant from seed.

∎ Winter savory is a perennial so you can grow it by dividing an established plant.

∎ Sage is a perennial and can be grown from a softwood cutting or by division. If you want a more decorative plant than ordinary garden sage, try a tricolored or golden one. Their flavor is not as pronounced, but they grow better indoors.

∎ Lavender is not considered a culinary herb, but is well worth growing for its fragrance. It can be grown from a cutting or started from seed. If you are buying a plant, look for one of the tender varieties like “Goodwin Creek” or Spanish lavender. Tender perennials grow better indoors over the winter than hardy plants that might need a rest.

∎ Rosemary is a tender perennial that hopefully you have been growing outdoors in a pot so you can bring it indoors easily when frost threatens. If not, try taking some cuttings from your established plant. It will need bright light, a cool room, lots of air circulation, and frequent misting, but the extra pampering is worth it, especially if it rewards you with its delicate blue blossoms.

∎ Tarragon is a perennial that needs a rest period. Cut back your plant and put the pot in an unheated area for a month or two. When you return it to the warmth of the house it should put out some new growth. Newly rooted cuttings, though slow to grow, might do better in your windowsill garden.

∎ Chives and garlic chives are both easily grown from divisions or you can look around your mature plants for some newly seeded ones to pot up and bring inside.

∎ Cilantro is best started from seed, but it grows fast. Use it before it flowers for the best flavor. Keep starting more plants from seed as needed.

Cut back any plants that you are digging up to bring indoors. They will suffer a bit from shock and may take a while to adjust and start to regrow. Be sure to use a large enough pot to accommodate the rootball and remove as much of the old soil as possible to get rid of any insects or their eggs. Isolate plants you bring in from outside from your other houseplants for a few weeks and spray them every 3 to 7 days with a soapy water solution to kill off any hitchhiking pests. To encourage new growth, begin fertilizing the plants once you move them to your sunny windowsill.

If you are interested in learning more about herbs make plans to attend the Herbalist’s Garden program at Strawbery Banke in Portsmouth on Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. John Forti, Curator of Historic Landscapes, will present an illustrated talk on the roots of herbalism, including herb garden design and growing and using herbs for health and to add beauty to the landscape.

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