For some, the first autumnal chill heralds their favorite season. For me, the early-morning sound of the first schoolbus bumping along the road between the first coloring leaves is a tiny death knell. I can never let go of summer without a fight. If you fall into the latter camp, you’ll want to drag every herb plant inside to prolong the growing season, because who can easily forgo fresh thyme and chives in the morning omelettes or fresh basil for caprese salads? But the sad fact is that the lives of annual herbs are fast coming to an end; if you want some indoors in winter, conventional wisdom says to start new plants from seed. As for the tough perennial culinary herbs whose dried leaves have good flavor, such as sage and oregano, bring some stems in to dry and put it in jars for winter use.

Since nothing takes the place of fresh basil, I can’t resist bringing a plant inside, even if it’s only going to be happy for a month or so, and heck, as long as you have the trowel out, why not toss in a parsley and thyme as well?

If you want to bring herbs inside, you should begin preparation now, before the weather gets any colder, so you can do a sort of reverse hardening-off process. Before digging or moving, first inspect the plants for any unwanted insects.

We keep a rosemary plant in a pot, so it can move in and out without shock, so it’s the first to be brought onto the porch for a week or so before moving inside to live near a sunny southern window. Rosemary likes cool temperatures, high humidity, and barely moist soil in winter. Keep the humidity high by misting often, and place the pot on a pebble tray filled with water. Water the pot just enough to keep the soil from drying out. Rosemary plants don’t grow much in winter, but usually survive and are ready to go outdoors in the spring. Sometimes, if conditions are right, they’ll give you a preview of spring by putting forth a burst of pure blue blossoms sometime in March.

Chives are well worth bringing inside; they are fairly tolerant of the lower light and fluctuating temperatures of a kitchen window. To pot up chives, first water the clump well, and use scissors to clip the tops of a clump back to about six inches. This is also a good time to transplant some divisions to another part of the garden, so you might want to have a few holes ready for a new planting. Use a fork to loosen the clump and lift it from the soil. Lay it on its side and separate out small clusters of bulbs, discarding any that are damaged in the process. Replant your chives into pots of all-purpose potting mix, setting them about a half inch deeper than they were outside. Water the new plants well and keep them out of direct sunlight on the porch for a week or so, until new growth begins. Bring them inside for a few hours, then put them out again over the course of a week, so they become acclimated to indoor temperatures.



Dig parsley plants now, making sure to get most of the root system, which can be difficult, as they have long tap roots. Pot them in deep containers, water well, and leave them on the porch or in a shaded area for a week or two to recover from transplant shock, but be sure to bring the plants indoors before a hard freeze. Place parsley in a sunny window and you should be able to harvest fresh leaves all fall, and if the plant gets enough light, it will even produce new growth. However, by mid-winter the leaf quality will decrease as the plant gets ready to produce a seed stalk, and then it’s compost time.

In my heart, I know a basil plant brought inside will become leggy and pathetic fairly quickly, but that doesn’t stop me from trying. In fact, I have a wide terracotta planter that I’m filling with my bushiest, most compact basil, thyme, parsley and chives. It’s just an experiment, but worth it if, like me, you hate to say goodbye to the herb garden. Meanwhile, I hedge my bets by taking basil cuttings and keeping the stems in water, trying to root them for new plantings, and will continue to take cuttings from plants I don’t intend to dig up.

Thyme, oregano, mint, and sage often grow roots where a stem rests on the soil. Rather than growing straight up, some of the stems lean over or trail out, and the section that rests on the ground before the stem grows upward again sprouts new roots. If you’re fortunate to find such plants, cut the stem that connects these newly rooted stems to the main portion of the plant, dig up the new roots, and you have a tiny new plant that can be potted and brought indoors.

Once you’ve taken all the plants you want to shelter from the oncoming chill of autumn, what to do with the rest of the crop? Most chefs agree that to best preserve the flavor of tender herbs like chives or basil, freeze them covered with oil or butter. To do it, place chopped herbs in an ice cube tray, then top up the wells with olive oil or melted butter. Once frozen solid, transfer the cubes to a ziplock bag for long-term storage. Use directly out of the freezer in whatever you’d add chopped fresh herbs to, such as soups, stews, or sauces.