You can keep many herbs going from year to year by relocating them to a warm, sunny spot in your home for the winter, especially if you live where it freezes. Lemongrass, ginger, and lemon verbena, for example, are perennials but require protection from freezing temperatures to survive. Hardier herbs like lavender, tricolor sage, and thyme can overwinter outdoors in most regions, but they can be grown indoors as well. Use our tips for bringing various herbs indoors so you can have easy access to their fresh flavors and scents all winter long.
1. Inspect and Transplant Garden Herbs
Before you bring any plants indoors, inspect them thoroughly for hitchhiking insects. Flush the soil with water and rinse off the foliage, using a blast of water from the garden hose to chase away any pests and avoid later problems. Then, you can gently dig up herbs from the garden that you'd like to bring indoors, anytime before the ground freezes.
Perennial herbs that grow in clumps, like oregano, marjoram, and thyme can be divided into well-rooted clumps at this time. Herbs that are woody and more shrub-like (think sage and rosemary) can be awkward to dig up. Instead, it's best to grow these kinds of herbs in containers year-round if you plan to move them indoors and out again. Annuals like dill and cilantro usually go to seed in mid to late fall. If you spot some volunteer seedlings already sprouting in your garden, you can move them into containers to bring indoors.
2. Pot 'Em Up
Select a container large enough to accommodate each herb's root ball as well as a little room for growth. Place a layer of potting mix on the bottom of the pot, then set the herb on top of that. Fill in the spaces around the roots with more potting mix. Press the soil firmly down around the plant's roots, leaving about an inch between the soil and the rim of the pot. For smaller plants, try placing several together in a window box that fits on a sunny sill. After settling your herbs into their new containers, water until it drains out the bottom of the pot.
3. Help Herbs Acclimate to Your Home
When bringing your herbs indoors, they'll need a little time to adjust to their new surroundings. You might notice that they drop a few leaves and grow more slowly. Ease them into life on the inside by setting them in a spot with indirect light (don't put them in bright sun right away). After a couple of weeks, you can move the pots to a spot that will get at least four hours of sun or bright light.
Editor's Tip: If you don't have a window that provides plenty of sunlight, you can also grow your herbs under fluorescent bulbs or with a grow-light setup.
4. Give Your Plants Some TLC
Turn pots once a week or so to help all sides of your plants get enough light. Water when the soil feels dry to a depth of 1 inch. Mist the leaves daily to boost the humidity level. You can also tilt the pots over the sink and gently rinse their foliage with tap water every once in a while to keep them clean and deter any pests that might show up.
Editor's Tip: Boost the humidity around your plants by placing their pots in a pebble-filled tray. Water the pot regularly, allowing excess water to overflow into the tray.
5. Take Cuttings
To make sure you always have access to fresh, soft-stem herbs like basil, lemon balm, and mint, take cuttings of each plant throughout the winter. Place these cuttings in a small vase of water and they will soon develop roots. When the roots are a couple of inches long, pot the cuttings to expand your supply of fresh herbs. Or you can snip sprigs whenever you need some fresh herbs for your favorite dishes. Either way, this will encourage your plants to produce new growth and stay compact until you can move them outdoors again in spring.
With a little preparation, nearly all of your herbs can come indoors for the winter. Growing them in containers will give you a fresh supply for cooking all year long, and you'll be able to take them back outside and replant when spring arrives. Easy-to-grow herbs can also make a great addition to your houseplant collection—you might even decide to keep some of them indoors year-round!