copyright o 1994


Your Winter Herb Garden

You can start some herbs from seed in late summer. Best to include annuals such as basil and chervil, as well as parsley, a biennial. Sow them in a light, seed-starting mix in flats, water gently, cover with plastic wrap and put them where temperatures will stay warmer than 60°F. When the seeds sprout, remove the plastic, and when the seedlings have their second set of true leaves, put them in 4-inch pots; then, as they outgrow these into 6-inch pots. Those should hold them nicely until next spring.

You also can propagate new plants from established ones by cuttings or layering. This works well for rosemary, thyme, oregano and sage. Take a 4-inch tip cutting, strip off the lower leaves and stick the stem into moist soiless mix such as perlite and/or/ vermiculite. To ensure good humidity, cover With glass or clear plastic, and keep the growing medium moist.

To propagate by layering, select a branch near the base of a parent plant. Strip the leaves where it touches the soil when you bend it over, and pin it down with a bent piece of wire. Keep the soil moist until roots develop. When this new plant begins to grow, cut the connecting stem and pot it up.

Before the first fall frost(While the weather is still on the mild side) It's time to start moving your potted herb plants toward their winter home. Move them to an area with lots of sun (south-facing windows are the brightest), But protect them from heat and dryness. Most herbs prefer daytime temperatures of about 65° to 75°F, although they can withstands climbs into the 80s. It's especially important that night temperatures drop at least 10 degrees, down into the 50s would be better, to simulate outdoor conditions.

Most herbs like to be well-watered, but don't like wet feet. That's why good drainage is important. Water when the top of the container feels dry, or learn to judge the moisture in the soil by the weight of the pot. Add sand or vermiculite to the potting soil to ensure good drainage. Learn to juggle water, light and temperature. An herb in a south window in a clay pot will need more water than one in a plastic pot in an east window

If the light is low, keep the temperature low. Temperatures that mimic May combined with the low light levels of a short December day will make for unhealthy plants. Choose the soil for your indoor herb garden carefully. and for a good soil mix blend 1 part potting soil with 1 part compost, and 1 part perlite, vermiculite and sand. Keep transplants separate from your other house plants while you're gradually acclimating them to the indoors. If you see insects on a plant during this quarantine, leave it outside.

If, despite such defenses, your indoor plants do end-up under insect attack, help them stay healthy by providing the correct mix of light and temperature, and spray them once a week with liquid sea-kelp. A plant weakened by hot, dry indoor conditions is even more susceptible to spider mites, whitefly or aphid damage than a healthy one.

If you choose to control these with insecticidal soap spray, remember that the wet spray must come in contact with the insect to be effective. It takes 3-spray treatments <at 5-days intervals> to eradicate soft-bodied insects. Spray in the evening (and never in bright sunlight) to prevent rapid drying, and wash off residues the next day.

Treat your herbs like a mini-garden, hold back on the water and organic fertilizer through December, but when the days start getting longer in mid-January, feed them with liquid seaweed-fish spray. Even potted soil gets compacted as you water it, so cultivate it with a little fork, them topdress it with compost.

February is usually a great month for indoor plants, because of all the bright light, By March, they are starting to get buds, and in April, be sure to put them outside on a warm day.

Copyright 1995 Herbs