Question: "I have taken herbs into the house in the fall many times but they do not seem to do well. Can you tell me what would assist me to keep them for use in my kitchen all winter? I’m particularly interested in different types of basil, rosemary, thyme, oregano, bay leaf and sage."
Answer: Well, Ruth that depends on what you mean when you say you have “taken herbs into the house.” If you dig herbs (or any other plants for that matter) directly from your garden and bring them indoors with the same soil, you will have problems. Garden soil gets too heavy and compacted for roots to get the oxygen they need. As well, insects and disease often come along for the ride. I recommend you carefully wash off all the soil and re-pot the plant in fresh, commercially prepared potting mix. If your herbs are already in containers they too will benefit from re-potting.
The main problem with bringing herbs inside after they have summered outdoors is the change in growing environment — that is, light, temperature and humidity. Outdoors, the plants are used to a much higher level of light and humidity. As well, there is a greater difference in daytime and night time temperatures.
For the best chance of success indoors, place your plants in the highest level of light that you can provide. A south or west facing window works well. You can use fluorescent lights if you don’t have a sunny window. You’ll need to place the plants fairly close to the lights, 12 inches or so, and keep them on for about 10 to 12 hours per day.
Though the plants won’t look very pretty afterward, I suggest pruning them back to about one third. As the new leaves emerge the plants acclimatize in an easier fashion to their new indoor conditions. As for watering, more often than not, we tend to over water. A good guideline is to only water when the soils feels dry, and then give the plant a good soaking. It’s a good idea to feed once a month with a fertilizer labelled safe for use on edibles. Once your plants are growing well, snip the leaves often to keep the plants bushy.
Answer provided by Veronica Sliva, Regional Director, Garden Writers Association.
This column was originally posted on the Foodnetwork.ca Eating Well site.
Gardening Advice is featured on Style Sheet on Tuesdays.