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Department of Horticulture and Landscape Architecture

Yard and Garden News

Propagate Herbs Now For Yearlong Enjoyment

B. Rosie Lerner, Consumer Horticulture Extension Specialist

Herb gardeners can snip fresh herbs throughout the winter by propagating their garden plants now.

There are several approaches to overwintering plants. One easy method is to dig up a plant, or a portion of one, and pot it up. Plants such as chives, lemon balm, mint, burnet and sweet woodruff can be lifted and divided into sections to create more plants. Dividing is a fairly foolproof method of propagation because both roots and shoots are already formed. Leggy plants should be pruned back about halfway to encourage new growth.

Many herbs can be propagated by cuttings for rooting indoors. This method works especially well for plants too large to move in their entirety. Plants such as basil, oregano, lavender, rosemary, thyme and sage root easily from shoot tip cuttings. Take the cutting at a node on the stem (where the leaves attach), because this is where root formation is more abundant. Remove the lower leaves and insert the cut end of the stem into moist media such as soil mix, vermiculite or perlite. Cover the container with plastic to help increase relative humidity. If the plastic lays on the foliage, it can decay. Place the pot in a warm, shaded location.

Some herbs, including mint, lemon balm and thyme propagate easily by layering. Bend a stem to the ground, remove leaves from that stem section, cover the section with soil, and water gently. The new plant will be nourished by the mother plant until it is ready to survive on its own. Leave about 6 inches of the upper portion of the stem above ground and upright. If necessary, stake stems to hold them in place, or put a rock or other heavy object on top of the mound. To help stimulate faster rooting, cut a wound just below a node on the stem portion to be buried. Once rooted, the new plant can be severed from the mother plant and potted for indoor growing.

Herbs can be grown indoors, but will need a well-lit location, especially when they are first brought inside. Even a sunny window may not match the light intensity of a lightly shaded outdoor location. Indoors, a sunny southern exposure would be ideal. Supplemental or artificial lighting may be needed. Special plant-growing light bulbs can be purchased, but the same results can be achieved by using a combination of warm white and cool white fluorescent lights.

Most herbs thrive in infertile soil and do not require extra fertilizer in the garden. However, if planted in one of the soil-less potting mixtures commonly used today, some fertilizer may be necessary. A balanced, low-analysis fertilizer such as 5-10-5 or 6-10-4 should be sufficient. Read the product label for application specifics.

Although herbs differ in their moisture needs, your finger can be a guide. Water when the top inch of soil feels dry (crumbles) when pinched. Apply enough water so that some drains from the bottom of the pot, thus washing away any excess salts.

Last updated: 10 April 2006
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