Extension Educator, Horticulture
Some years the weather has provided an excuse for not planting spring flowering bulbs, cleaning up the vegetable garden, planting trees and shrubs, and all the other fall chores. No excuses this year. All that is left is the dog ate the directions. However as nice as the weather has been, I can guarantee it won't last. So if you want to bring a little of your garden into the house for the winter, herbs are good candidates. Herbs can be attractive as well as tasty in the home.
Some herbs such as basil have already succumbed to the cold. Many still look nice in the garden and can be dug for use indoors. Some herbs such as rosemary, bay and lemon verbena are tender perennials and must be brought indoors for the winter. Other herbs such as chives and thyme will also live indoors as houseplants.
It is not too late to dig a bit of thyme, or chives for use during the winter or to rescue the rosemary.
To bring some living herbs into your home, dig a small portion of the herb. Wash the leaves and roots with a gentle stream of water to remove any unwanted creepy crawly hitchhikers. Don't use the garden soil in the pots. It will quickly turn into a brick. I often use soilless mixes such as Sunshine mix. Or you can mix potting soil with peat moss and perlite or vermiculite in a one-third mix of each.
Chives are a common herb relative of onions. Chives grow to about 12 to 18 inches tall. They produce a lovely round lavender flower in the summer. Both the leaves and flowers may be eaten. Although chives won't flower this winter, the bright green hollow leaves can be chopped into sour cream, yogurt or salads for a mild onion flavor. Garlic chives have flat leaves and add a hint of garlic to dishes.
There are many different varieties of thyme. One of my favorites for fragrance, cooking and beauty in the home and garden is lemon thyme. The small leaves have a distinct lemon fragrance. Leaves may be green or variegated green and yellow. The evergreen plant will grow to about 8 to 12 inches high. It enjoys a well-drained spot in the garden, since it tends to die out in wet areas. In the home, it can be grown for use all winter. Place a few washed sprigs on chicken before baking. You will look like quite the gourmet.
Rosemary has a lovely distinctive fragrance of pine. Just rub your hands over the plants periodically to perfume the air. The Greeks and Romans once used it as a strewing herb. Herbs were thrown on the floor so as people walked, the air was filled with the fragrance of the herbs. Rosemary was thought to have disinfectant properties. You may not want to throw sprigs of rosemary on the floor but throw a few sprigs in stews or meat dishes, in potpourris or on a wreath.
Rosemary needs well-drained soil, high humidity and a cool sunny spot in your home. Rosemary really doesn't like the dry air of our winter homes, so any way you can add some humidity will help. Humidifiers help our plants and us. Plants may be placed on pebble trays with water to increase the humidity in small areas. Grouping several plants together will also help.
Enjoy the remaining nice weather and bring a few herbs indoors for a winter treat. Don't forget to apply for the Master Gardener program. Check your local Extension office to see if they have a program. In Champaign County, call 333-7672 for an application or more information.