Using Herbs in the Fall Garden

Parsley and pansies in a fall container

Parsley and pansies in a fall container

Along with the well-known choices of pansies, mums and flowering cabbage, why not try adding herbs to your fall garden and container plantings?  Herbs add great colors and textures that complement “traditional” fall plants.

For container or garden use, choose herbs that perform well in fall and even through winter.   Not all herbs are suitable for fall planting outdoors.  Tender herbs like basil and cilantro are annuals that will sustain damage at the first frost, so save them for a winter windowsill garden.  Tougher perennial and biennial herbs like rosemary, lavender, parsley, sage, oregano, and thyme will survive early frosts, and in a mild winter can look almost as good in February as in October.

Rosemary has a pine needle-like texture and is very aromatic when touched. Here it's a centerpiece to a large fall container

Rosemary has a pine needle-like texture and is very aromatic when touched. Here it's a centerpiece to a large fall container

Upright rosemary makes a beautiful centerpiece “thriller” in a container or can add height in a garden bed.  Try ‘Arp’, one of the hardiest upright varieties.  The creeping variety of rosemary (‘Prostratus’) works as a “spiller” in containers, or softens the edge of a planting in the ground. 

The silvery-gray tones and finely textured leaves of lavender look particularly nice with blue or purple pansies or purple flowering cabbage.  For best results with lavender, allow for good air circulation by not planting surrounding plants too close.

Curly parsley’s crinkled texture can garnish a container as well as it can a plate, and is a wonderful (and unexpected) contrast to other plants.  

Sage provides not only great texture to fall plantings, it’s often available in several leaf colors also.  Along with the common gray leaf, you can also find purple, yellow and green variegated, white and green variegated, and tricolor (green, pink and white) varieties of sage.

Although any hardy oregano will work in a container, golden oregano or green and white variegated oregano are showier choices.  Both golden and variegated oregano are low-growing and suitable as a “spiller” or even as a showy groundcover.

Silver thyme and violas make up this simple mini garden.

Silver thyme and violas make up this simple mini garden.

Thyme, particularly variegated varieties like ‘Doone Valley’, silver thyme and lemon thyme, works nicely in fall plantings, where their fine leaves and low-growing habit works best at the front of your design.

Success with herbs planted in fall depends on providing them with good drainage.  It’s usually soggy soil, not winter cold that causes problems with herbs.  Container plantings are ideal for herbs since potting mix drains better than garden soil.  When planted in the ground, be sure to amend the soil well with soil conditioner and/or PermaTil to help improve drainage and avoid planting herbs where water may collect.

As an added bonus, you can harvest small amounts of your herbs from fall plantings to use in cooking; a tablespoon or two’s worth of trimmings shouldn't hurt an otherwise happy herb plant.