Mediterranean Herbs that Thrive During a West Coast Winter

Just because it's winter doesn't mean you have to stop cultivating your favourite herbs

Credit: Flickr / tommylees

Rosemary and sage are two herbs that feel right at home in BC’s wet yet mild winters

Certain herbs can survive and even thrive in BC’s mild winter weather

Here’s a much-asked question this time of year:

I love Mediterranean herbs like rosemary and lavender, but sometimes lose them in the winter. How can I best assure their survival?

Many herbs are perennial in specific parts of the country where the temperatures are not too nippy through the winter. And others can also be protected from cold spells if they are kept in pots and brought into a chilled but frost-free area, or are mulched heavily out in the garden, or even draped with burlap.

Herbs that Love a BC Winter

Bay leaf, curry, lavender, mint, rosemary, sage, savory and tarragon are probably the most popular examples of herbs that are perennial and capable of surviving non-extreme North American winters. Often people will grow herbs like these in containers, so that they can provide shelter November through March by moving them closer to the house or into a greenhouse—or, for periods of extreme cold, by placing plants temporarily for a month or so into an enclosed cool garage, even if there are no windows. For any plant being stored under cover, it’s important to check the soil on a regular basis to ensure it has not gone too dry.

When and How to Prune

When you prune is also important for the survival of herbs, because pruning too early, before the growth season has begun, can seriously set back the plant. A tight March pruning provides a perfect framework for the vigorous growth you can expect throughout the warmer months.

Just Ask Wim

It’s hard to give a general rule of thumb as to how hard herbs should be pruned, as variables like the age of the plant and variety in question are factors. I would suggest that a little common sense and visual inspection could have you pruning accurately in most cases, as it is nearly impossible to err too gravely—unless you thought that pruning to ground level was appropriate.

I would like to comfort you with a very generic rule of thumb, though: consider the size the herb grew to the previous summer, and your March pruning should leave the herb at a third to half of that size. Ensure that every branch is pruned to this extent and your herb will be in good shape for the new season.

Which fruits and vegetables grow best in patio pots? When is the best time to cut back rhodos? These are just some of the 100+ burning questions that garden expert Wim Vander Zalm answers in his frank, friendly and often funny bestselling new book Just Ask Wim! Down-to-Earth Gardening Answers.