Henrico County VA

In the garden

Planting perennials

Fall is the time to plant perennials including herbs. Because some favorites like basil and parsley are annuals planted in the spring, it’s easy to forget that many herbs can be planted in the fall and enjoyed until Thanksgiving, or if the weather is mild like last year, all winter long. And herbs can always be planted in pots and brought inside.

“Now is a very good time to get perennial herbs in the ground,” says Nicole Schermerhorn, co-owner of A Thyme to Plant at Lavender Fields Herb Farm. “It’s cool enough that you want to be outside working in your garden, but still warm enough for the herbs.”

“Typically we’re also getting enough rain at this time of the year,” adds Schermerhorn, “and you’re home from vacation now so you can take care of your herbs and begin using them.”

Hardy perennials to plant now include rosemary, sage, thyme, chives, fennel, mints, and parsley. The fennel and the mint will die back over the winter but come back in the spring.

“Planting now allows the herbs to establish roots over the winter,” says Schermerhorn. “They’ll flush out new growth in the spring.”

Herbs can be planted in dedicated herb gardens, mixed with vegetables, or added to flower beds and borders. Their various textures and colors can be very attractive, and many people enjoy putting fragrant herbs along walks or driveways where they can easily be touched to release their scents. Culinary herbs should be planted near your kitchen so that harvesting them is easy and convenient. You’ll use them more often.

In choosing a site, remember that most herbs require full sun, from 4 to 6 hours a day minimum, good drainage, and good air circulation. Good drainage is so important that Schermerhorn recommends planting herbs in raised beds.

“Clay soil,” she says, “does not provide good drainage.” She recommends a planting medium of one-third organic matter such as compost, one-third topsoil, and one-third builders’ sand.

“Make sure it’s builders’ sand,” says Schermerhorn. “It won’t compact like play sand so it adds drainage.”

Don’t mulch herbs. “We put a handful of organic compost around our plants to dress them up and improve the soil,” says Schermerhorn.

“Herbs do not like wet feet, and all mulch does in winter is keep their feet wet.”

In fact, most herbs are considered drought-tolerant, though some moisture is needed during dry spells to keep the plants growing. In general, annuals require more moisture than perennials.

Herbs also don’t require much fertilizer. Over-fertilizing an herb can produce growth that is too rapid, making the plant more susceptible to disease or insect problems and diluting the concentration of essential oils that produce the taste in culinary herbs. Herbs in pots are the exception. They should be lightly fertilized once a month during their growing season.

Using your herbs is important to keeping them healthy. Evergreen herbs can be cut and enjoyed in recipes or vases all winter.

“Herbs are designed to be used,” says Schermerhorn. “Cutting them encourages new growth, so keep using your herbs.”
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