The Q&A Archives: Overwintering Herbs in Pots

Questioner's Location: Thornton, KY
Date: August 22, 1999

Question: I live in the mountains of Southeastern Kentucky. I've been growing the following outside in pots this summer: lemon balm, sage, orange mint, ginger mint, spearmint, and citronella scented geraniums. Will they survive the winter? What do I do to prepare them (and when)? I don't have lots of sunny windowsills, but I have plenty of space to bring them indoors if that is necessary.

Answer: Of the plants you mentioned, all would be reliably root hardy if planted in the ground with the exception of the geranium. Since they are in pots, you can either plant them in the ground for the winter, bury the pots in the ground, surround the pots with a heavy layering of mulch or try to somehow insulate the roots while keeping the pots in a sheltered spot. The geranium will need to come inside regardless. To do this, once the weather begins to cool move it gradually into a shadier location over a period of weeks to acclimate it to the reduced light level indoors. Check it for insects, too, before you bring it inside. Reduce watering and fertilizing as the plant slows down with the season, then increase again next spring as the plant begins to grow more. It should winter well on a sunny windowsill. If it becomes very leggy over the winter, simply trim it back next spring when you begin the acclimation process in reverse. Move it gradually back into the sunlight to avoid "sunburning" it. Alternatively, to conserve space you could root cuttings from the large plant and overwinter them instead.

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