The Best Herbs for Winter
By Justin Butts
By: Justin Butts Photo by: Rachel Benavides
The best home chefs have quick and continuous access to fresh herbs. Herbs bring flavor, nutrition, and medicinal properties to the diet. Fortunately for us, winter is a great time to grow herbs in South Texas!
A small 4’x8’ bed close to the kitchen door is plenty of space for an herb garden. This space can easily evolve from winter herbs to heat-loving herbs in the spring.
Plant herbs in rich, well-tilled, well-drained soil. Use high-quality organic compost as fertilizer. Most herbs are difficult to start from seed, so plant the herbs below as well-grown transplants from a trusted local nursery.
These cold-loving herbs thrive in cool weather. They can even take a light freeze if grown in heathy, well-watered soil. They will “go to seed” very quickly in the spring. That means they grow tall and leggy with few leaves and many flowers and seed heads. Harvest the seeds to use year-round and the flowers to eat or for edible bouquets, then plant basil, mint, and oregano in their place.
These herbs require 7 to 8 hours of direct sunshine per day. Water the soil beneath the herbs when it is mostly, but not completely, dried out – usually about twice per week. Mulch the bed heavily (at least 4” thick) with raked-up native leaves to insulate the soil and prevent weeds.
Spacing, 12” Height, up to 36”
Easy to grow. Take frequent cuttings at tips of plumes to promote lush growth. Goes to seed in warm weather. Clip flower-heads and hang upside down over paper to catch seeds as they dry and fall, for use all year. Attracts caterpillars (swallowtail butterfly); simply pick them off and relocate them away from the garden.
Spacing, 12” Height, 24”
Easy to grow. Take frequent cuttings. In warm weather, small white flowers form, making an aromatic, edible bouquet. Save all seeds as they turn brown – seeds are the best part of the plant.
Spacing, 12” Height, 12” to 24”
Easy to grow from transplants; seeds very slow to germinate. Clip all seed heads to keep plant lush and leafy. Don’t cook leaves, which destroys flavor and nutrients; sprinkle fresh just before serving. In warm weather, beautiful and delicious white flowers form. Grows bushy in warm weather with few leaves. Save all seeds for year-round use.
Upright spacing, 12” Height, 12” to 15”
Two types, creeping or upright. Upright best for herb garden. Thyme is a diminutive plant with robust flavor. Grows slowly. Prune often to keep compact. Gorgeous, fragrant, delicious star-shaped flowers form in warm weather. Can clip entire stems and freeze.
Spacing, 6” Height, 12” to 18”
Onion chives or garlic chives, both grow easily and well in The Bend. Grow rapidly once established. To harvest, clip or pinch bunches of chives at the base; they will regrow. In warm weather, onion chives produce purple flowers and garlic chives white flowers. Clip at base and place into vase for gorgeous table presentation.
Spacing 12” Height, up to 36”
Considered a salad green, but grows like an herb in South Texas. Gorgeous yellow flowers that are delicious and spicy. Sprinkle flowers over salads or use as garnish. Arugula greens are slightly bitter, wonderful in salads. Packed with nutrients. Bolts in warm weather, makes for gorgeous and aromatic edible bouquet.
Spacing, 12” to 24” Height, 24”
Can take months to become established, but then grows hardy. Don’t prune until it reaches 24” in height, then prune top four inches of stems often. Clip all flower heads before blooming to concentrate flavor in the leaves.