Tips for wintering my herbs indoors?
November 7, 2014 9:41 AM   Subscribe

Three of the hardier herbs we had been growing in our back yard--sage, mint, and lavender--survived our absent-minded neglect and made it through the summer. As the temperatures drop, we've taken them indoors for the winter. We can provide either 1) warmth and artificial light, or 2) cold protection from the elements, but natural light all day long. What's better?

I can put the herbs in my basement, where they would be warm--but would get no natural light whatsoever. I'd put them under this grow light (which I've used to some moderate success as plant life support in the past).

Alternatively, they can live our sun room, where they'd get, er, sun all day (such as it is in the Massachusetts winter). But the sun room is not heated. It's warmer than outside, for sure, but I don't know whether it would fall below freezing on a very cold day (this is our first winter in this house). Regardless, it is definitely cold--I periodically pop in there in the morning, and it's not somewhere you'd like to linger.

Warmth and artificial light, or cold and natural light for wintering herbs?

And do you have any tips on wintering herbs indoors generally? Thanks!
posted by Admiral Haddock to Home & Garden (8 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
The mint should be fine either place - really, it is hard to kill mint! I think I'd be inclined to put it under the grow light and hopefully have fresh mint leaves to use during the winter.

The sage and lavender I would put in the sun room, in whatever spot will afford the most sunshine. The lavender in particular is a hard plant to grow successfully indoors, but I think that mimicking outside conditions as closely as possible would be best.

Regarding the possibility that said sun room may not be above freezing - can you wrap the pots in some old fabric or something to provide a bit of extra insulation for the roots?

Keep in mind that the sage and lavender are prone to get fungus / rot is over-watered, so ere on the side of too little if you aren't sure...
posted by PlantGoddess at 9:55 AM on November 7, 2014

FWIW, I live in Maine in hardiness zone 5 and we just leave our sage and lavender in the ground outside all winter with no problems. With the sage, it depends on the variety... we have some Russian sage that dies back and dries up, but then comes right back the next year. I'm not sure if you are trying to keep the herbs growing usable produce year round.

Otherwise I would say the sun room, since the herbs are pretty hardy but will benefit from sun.
posted by selfnoise at 9:57 AM on November 7, 2014 [2 favorites]

If by "sunroom" you mean something like an enclosed (but unheated and uninsulated) room attached to your house, I'd certainly chance all 3 there. I grow all 3 outdoors in eastern MA, and they've done OK.
posted by mr vino at 10:06 AM on November 7, 2014 [1 favorite]

I asked a similar question many years ago. I ended up purchasing this seed house and have been using it every winter since for keeping my herbs through the season on my outdoor terrace. I trim down the plants so only the heartiest stems are left, then just place the containers in the seed house. I water them maybe once or twice over the couse of the winter, but it's not something I really think about or plan. The sage keeps really well and I can use what's there throughout the season (but no new growth) and the plants thrive once spring returns. The mint does get kind of sad and useless after a month or so of freezing weather, but also rebounds nicely. Same for thyme and oregano.

Using this method, I've kept the same thyme, oregano, sage, and mint plants over 3 winters. Basil and rosemary do not do well in the cold, in my experience.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:31 AM on November 7, 2014

Make sure they're not in the path of blowing air. Too much dryness (from, say, heater air) is very bad for them.
posted by amtho at 10:37 AM on November 7, 2014

Aren't sage, thyme, oregano and mint perennials anyway? At least, all four of those are in my New England garden and they come alive again every spring. (Of course, I'm not harvesting anything from them during the winter...)
posted by chowflap at 11:39 AM on November 7, 2014

Unless you are desperate for fresh mint and sage in the middle of winter (the quality of which will be compromised because these are not plants that love being potted up inside) I would leave all of them outside. I'm in MA too and my sage and lavender are small healthy shrubs, while my mint dies back to the ground in the winter and grows back lush in the spring.
posted by lydhre at 11:46 AM on November 7, 2014

Response by poster: Thanks, all. It sounds like the sunroom is where it's at!
posted by Admiral Haddock at 1:21 PM on November 7, 2014

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