Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Autumn Care of the Herb Garden

Good day gardening friends!

The autumn weather has sure been mild and beautiful. Last weekend we had some blustery rainy storms, but this week has been magnificent. The sunshine super inspired me to do a little seasonal tidying of my herb garden.

As you know one of my four raised beds is solely dedicated to herbs. In addition I grow more herbs in about 20 containers. I love harvesting, pruning, and handling all of my herb plants because they release delicious aroma that sticks to my skin and my clothes. Herb gardening is soothing and relaxing.

At this time of year I am harvesting the last of my summer annual herbs like basil. Basil suffers with night temperatures below 55 degrees and we are currently averaging in the 40s. Time for basil plants to go! Harvest all the leaves and enjoy a fresh batch of pesto or chop and freeze basil leaves in an ice cube tray for winter use. An Italian inspired meatloaf with lots of fresh basil leaves is a comforting autumn dinner.

By now my dill is long past production so I pull out the brown stalks. Marjoram is considered a tender perennial typically grown like an annual, unlike her hardier cousin, oregano. I am harvesting a lot of marjoram these days before colder temperatures soon will be her ending. Marjoram freshly chopped added to mashed potatoes is divine. And goes well with the basil meatloaf I mentioned.

Remember some annual herbs prefer the cooler weather of autumn and are harvestable into the winter. Now is an excellent time for planting parsley, cilantro, and chervil.

My winter savory, thyme, and hyssop were all looking raggedy so I gave them a clean up by pruning them back by about 1/3-1/2 including all brown unproductive stems. Remember to utilize your herb clippings by drying, freezing, or using them fresh in recipes, tea, and infused water.

Chives are an herbaceous perennial herb, one of the first to sprout in the earliest of spring. My chives were looking pretty ratty so I sheared both the garden chives and garlic chives to the ground. I look forward to their return around April. If your chives are several years old and very big clumps, you can divide and transplant them now in the autumn.

Oregano is also an herbaceous perennial herb. Have you noticed that oregano's stems flop over and then root into the soil? Oregano is not as aggressive as mint, but it can be a bad neighbor in raised beds. To keep oregano in check, this week I pulled up any of those rooting stems, cut them, and brought inside for cooking. Periodically utilizing this technique will keep your oregano plants a more polite size if your garden space is small.

Autumn is the perfect time for pruning your lavender. Lavender is a woody evergreen shrub that benefits from an annual pruning in autumn. Prune back about 1/3 of the entire plant. Any wonky leafless brown stems can be pruned completely off down to the center of the plant.

Due to my small urban garden space I grow several varieties of lavender in pots. Container grown lavender really benefits from this annual pruning to keep in good looking shape and abundant flower production.

Rosemary is a hardy woody evergreen shrub that grows in both upright and trailing varieties. My 'Arp" rosemary just started blooming in October and last year this courageous plant bloomed the entire winter! Hungry hummingbirds that live year round in Portland will even come sip nectar from the tiny pale blue flowers during the cold winter months. I typically do not prune my rosemary in the fall. I don't want to interrupt the winter blooming and the plant is harvestable all winter for fresh culinary use.

Mint and related lemon balm are herbaceous perennials and soon will be dying down for the winter. Due to their aggressive spreading via underground runners I always recommend growing mint ONLY in pots. I grow 7 varieties of mint in pots. This week I trimmed back all the leaves and stems to dry for tea. Mint is very hardy, but since it is growing in pots I like to move these clustered into a sheltered location on my deck for the winter. Even in pots, mint plants will send roots out of the drainage holes and runners tumbling out the sides of pots. That is why I like to remove mint pots from their spot in the garden, pull up any roots, and interrupt their spreading. I store them on a solid surface like my deck or potting bench for the winter.

Much in my herb bed has been harvested or faded away. I gather up all my herb containers and place them directly into empty spots inside my herb raised bed. The exception is my mint pots. Any bare soil I am careful to cover with decorative rocks to prevent marauding squirrels from burying their winter nut storage! In November when the temperatures dip to frost and the rainy season is really upon us, I cover the herb raised bed with a layer of fallen autumn leaves (I have maple and gingko trees). This provides an insulating mulch over winter that I remove and compost come spring. By December I usually cover the entire herb raised bed with a frost blanket to help protect all those containers.

Herbs that are too tender for our winter frosts, like scented geranium and lemon verbena, I grow in pots. Come autumn I take them to the greenhouse where I work to overwinter. I can keep the heated greenhouse temperature at least 45 degrees even on the coldest winter days.

It just wouldn't be autumn in the herb garden without mentioning pineapple sage Salvia elegans. Pineapple sage is an herbaceous perennial herb that is borderline hardy in Portland. Being so tender most winters it dies in my garden. It is a quick grower and I always replant it early the next spring. As its name indicates, the fuzzy leaves are saturated with succulent pineapple fragrance. The bright red tubular flowers bloom in mid-autumn and in my experience continue all winter until a killing frost. Hummingbirds adore this nectar plant!!

Happy autumn gardening my friends. Take time to smell the herbs and savor the season. Please let me know if you have any questions.


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