winter herb garden

Herbs to grow in winter: 9 choices for cold-season harvesting

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I may have written the book The Year Round Vegetable Gardener but that doesn’t mean that I don’t also enjoy having homegrown herbs to harvest all year long, even in winter. Some of my favorite culinary herbs – parsley, thyme, and chives – are cold hardy, and I grow them in my raised garden beds as well as beneath season extending devices like cloches, mini hoop tunnels, and cold frames. Below you’ll find nine of my top herbs to grow in winter as well as information on how to protect the plants from winter winds, cold, and storms.

Parsley is one of the best herbs to grow in winter.

This curly parsley plant is still looking great in January tucked under a mini hoop tunnel. The fresh flavor of parsley is essential in pastas, salads, and so many other dishes.

9 herbs to grow in winter

You just can’t beat the flavor of fresh herbs like parsley, chervil, and chives. The dried versions are a pale comparison flavor-wise, and I therefore want to enjoy fresh herbs for as long as I can. The good news is that there are many herbs that are cold hardy and can be harvested during the winter months. Of course you can also grow herbs indoors in winter. For more information on the best herbs for a winter windowsill, check out this article.

Even small-space gardeners who grow herbs in containers don’t have to be left out. Many hardy perennial herbs can be overwintered successfully in pots by placing the container inside a greenhouse or cold frame. Or, you can sink the pots into the soil of a garden bed or a pile of mulch to insulate the roots.

Here are nine of my favorite perennial and biennial herbs to grow in winter.

Perennial herbs to grow in winter

Perennial plants are those that are reliably hardy and return year after year. What’s hardy in my zone 5 garden, however, may not be hardy for a gardener in zone 3 or 4, so be sure to choose plants that can withstand your specific climate.

Thyme plant growing under the snow

Thyme is a hardy perennial herb with foliage that stays evergreen in most regions. Cover with a protective structure in cold gardening zones to harvest all winter.

Thyme (zones 5 to 9)

Thyme is a low-growing woody shrub with tiny grey-green leaves that persist throughout winter. There are many types of thyme you can grow, each with subtle flavor variations. I’m a big fan of lemon thyme as well as English thyme. The plants grow up to a foot across and six to ten inches tall. This compact size makes thyme a good choice for a glass or plastic cloche in zones 4 to 6 for a bit of extra winter protection. You can also dig up a garden plant in early autumn and move it into a cold frame or greenhouse.

Chives (zones 3 to 10)

No food garden is complete without a couple of clumps of chives. Chives, a member of the onion family, are perhaps the easiest herb to grow, and the grassy foliage can be snipped all winter to add flavor to scrambled eggs, baked potatoes, and salads. I keep a sizable plant in my polytunnel, but I’ve also grown it beneath a mini hoop tunnel and in a cold frame too. You can use a cloche but it should be a fairly large one – like a 5-gallon water bottle. The unprotected chives in my garden die back by early winter, but the protected plants continue to offer tender green shoots from January through March.

Chives is a hardy perennial herb that can be harvested into winter

No food garden would be complete without a clump of chives. This onion cousin is also easy to grow and can be harvested into the winter months.

Rosemary (zones 6/7 to 10)

Rosemary is a tender perennial hardy to about zone 7, although a few varieties, like ‘Arp’ can winter over in zone 6. I’ve never had rosemary survive the entire winter in my garden, but I’ve been able to extend the harvest into January using a cold frame. If you’re in zone 6 and up, you can winter harvest rosemary using a cover like a cold frame, mini hoop tunnel, cloche, or greenhouse. You can also insulate around garden plants with evergreen boughs or straw to protect from cold weather.

Mint (zones 3 to 8)

Mint has a well-deserved reputation for being invasive and therefore should only be planted in containers. While there are many varieties of mint to grow with a range of flavors, most types are hardy to zone 3. In my own garden we continue to pick mint until late November, but when a cloche or other protective device is popped over top, the season is extended for at least another month. To keep the mint harvest going all winter, I sink a pot of mint into the soil of my cold frame – don’t plant directly in a cold frame or the mint will take over. I leave the pot in place, harvesting as needed, until early spring when it’s removed and placed back on my sunny deck.

Greek Oregano (zones 5 to 9)

While there are several types of oregano you can grow in a garden, Greek oregano offers the best flavor. The size of this Mediterranean herb depends on the season. For example, in summer, my Greek oregano plants are about two feet tall. By mid-autumn those tall shoots have defoliated, but if you look closely, you’ll see fresh growth growing at the bottom of the plant (check out the image below to see the low growth of winter oregano). This ground-hugging foliage eventually grows about six inches tall and can be picked throughout winter. Greek oregano is hardy to zone 5, but I find it doesn’t survive my northern winter unprotected so I top my bed with a mini hoop tunnel in late autumn to ensure I see the plants again in spring.

Greek oregano in January

The main stems of Greek oregano die back in late autumn, but look closely and you’ll see new growth hugging the ground. When covered with a protective device, that tender growth can be used throughout winter.

Lemon balm (zones 4 to 9)

Like mint, lemon balm is a bit of a garden thug and is best grown in a container. In my garden it mostly dies back in late autumn, but if covered with a cloche, mini tunnel, or cold frame it begins to send out low growth throughout winter. These lemony leaves make an excellent tea or add citrus flavor to fruit salads.

Sorrel (zones 5 to 9)

Part herb part green, sorrel is a great choice for a winter garden. There are several types but the most common ones are garden sorrel, French sorrel, and red-veined sorrel. This is a hardy perennial plant often used to add a lemony tang to salads. The leaves persist well into winter but even longer with protection. Red-veined sorrel is a gorgeous plant with bright green leaves and deep red veins and perfect for adding bold color to winter salads.

Red veined sorrel is a beautiful herb with a sour, lemony flavor

Red veined sorrel is a beautiful herb any time of year, but particularly in winter when the bright green leaves and deep burgundy veins add color to cold-season salads.

Biennial herbs to grow in winter

Biennial plants are those need two years to complete their lifecycle. In year one, they produce leaves and stems. In year two, they flower, set seeds, and die. Here are two biennial herbs that can be harvested in winter:

Parsley

Of all the herbs to grow in winter, parsley is my favorite. I love both flat-leaved Italian parsley and its curly counterpart, which have a fresh flavor that enhances pastas, soups, salads, and pretty much everything I cook. Parsley is a biennial plant that produces dense foliage the first year and flowers in its second season. Because both types of parsley grow about eighteen to twenty inches across I use larger garden covers for winter protection like a cold frame, mini hoop tunnel or polytunnel.

Parsley is one of the easiest herbs to grow in winter.

I always plant Italian parsley in my cold frames and polytunnel for winter harvesting. When the temperature drops far below freezing in mid-January, I often add a second cover like a row cover for added insulation.

Chervil

Chervil is an under-appreciated culinary herb with delicate, parsley-like foliage and a mild licorice flavor. I’ve been growing it in cold frames and my polytunnel for over fifteen years and marvel at its winter hardiness. Like many herbs chervil is best used fresh. I chop it into salads and sprinkle it on scrambled eggs, but it’s also wonderful mixed with butter and drizzled over steamed vegetables. In its second year chervil flowers and sets plenty of seeds. I planted it once, about fifteen years ago and I’ve never run out.

Sage is a beautiful and aromatic herb to harvest in winter

Sage is a strongly flavored herb with grey-green leaves that persist into winter.

Bonus herbs to grow in winter

While the above list shares many winter hardy culinary herbs, there are more you can plant in season extenders or open garden beds, especially if you live in a mild climate. Sage, majoram, and cilantro are packed with flavor, and while they don’t last all winter in my zone 5 garden, we do enjoy them into early winter.

Mini hoop tunnel covering winter herbs

A mini hoop tunnel is an easy and inexpensive cover for winter herbs. This tunnel is made with half inch diameter PVC conduit hoops covered in greenhouse plastic.

How to protect herbs in winter

In mild zones (7 and above), you’ll likely not need any protection to keep harvesting hardy herbs all winter. In my zone 5 garden I use covers to extend my harvest into the snowy season. In my latest book, Growing Under Cover, I write about the many ways you can use simple garden covers to enjoy a homegrown harvest twelve months a year. Here are six types of covers I use to grow herbs into winter:

  • Row cover – I use row covers extensively in my large food garden often floating them above my beds on hoops. Row covers can extend the harvest of cold hardy herbs for weeks or months, depending on your climate and the type of herb. I like to cover herbs like thyme, lemon thyme, and Greek oregano with a low tunnel covered in row cover. If left uncovered, these Mediterranean herbs can be damaged in cold winter winds or buried beneath snow making harvesting difficult.
  • Shade cloth – Ok, ok, I know this cover is typically used in summer, but hear me out. Shade cloth, a loosely woven material that offers varying degrees of shade, make a handy garden topper when frost or cold weather is in the forecast. In fact, 30 and 40% shade cloth – the material I typically keep in my garden shed – is more insulating than row cover. It’s not a long-term cover, but it sure is handy in late fall and early winter to protect my parsley, thyme, and oregano. 
  • Cloche – Cloches were traditionally bell-shaped jars that were placed on top of plants. Today, I usually DIY cloches from milk jugs, juice containers, or large jars. They act as mini greenhouses around individual plants and are useful for covering compact herbs like thyme, oregano, and curly parsley. 
  • Cold frame – Cold frames are a game-changer in the winter garden. They offer ample space for growing kitchen herbs like chives, oregano, Italian parsley, and marjoram. While some herbs are directly planted into cold frames (like cilantro), others are dug from my main garden beds and moved to a frame in early autumn. In zones 6 and up you should also be able to overwinter tender rosemary in a cold frame and enjoy the fresh foliage throughout winter. 
  • Mini hoop tunnel – Mini hoop tunnels are small greenhouses that are quick and easy to build, especially over raised beds. I build mine from half-inch diameter PVC conduit and cover them with row covers or greenhouse polyethylene. Poly is my cover of choice for protecting winter herbs. 
  • Polytunnel (or greenhouse) – When I built my polytunnel a few years ago I knew I would grow winter vegetables like carrots, lettuce, and spinach, but I also wanted a non-stop supply of my favorite hardy herbs too. The unheated tunnel offers plenty of space for clumps of chives, thyme, oregano, parsley, and chervil. 

For more info on growing herbs, be sure to check out these articles:

What are your favorite herbs to grow in winter? 

Discover the best herbs to grow in winter

 

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