Herbs to Plant for Fall (and Beyond!)
When we finally break free from the oppressive heat of the summer many plants rejoice along with us and put on new growth. Although many herbs grow well in Texas throughout the heat of summer, there are several that prefer the cooler weather of fall and will even do quite well in cold winter weather.
Many times I have customers ask me, “What is the secret to growing cilantro?” and my answer is “Don’t try to grow it in the late spring or summer”. Cilantro is a cool-weather annual that will not tolerate heat. With the warmer weather of late March and April cilantro will get leggy and go to seed, and that’s the end of it until cooler weather of October arrives. Even if planted too early in September when we still have fairly warm temperatures it can bolt and go to seed on you. However, beginning with October and all through the winter into early spring you can very easily have an ongoing supply of beautiful cilantro to harvest for your culinary creations. It is a fantastic herb for the fall and winter landscape and will provide a bright green spot of color in the drab days of winter. Come spring let it flower and go to seed and it will do you even more good by enticing beneficial insects to visit. When the seeds get brown and dry save them in a dry environment to plant in the fall.
Parsley is another herb that likes the cool, fall air. Unlike cilantro, parsley will survive through the summer, however once the temperature cools down a bit it really starts to put on new growth and will really take off for you, almost as if it is taking in a big breath of the fresh, invigorating air. I am in East Texas where we can get lows down into the mid-teens in the winter and normally have several bouts of snowy/icy conditions. My parsley plants remain beautiful and green throughout and don’t skip a beat.
Oregano is another herb that doesn’t care if the temperature is 100 degrees or 20 degrees. It stays happy and green, making a nice, low-growing plant for the front of the border while providing lots of good, fresh leaves for that pot of spaghetti sauce simmering on the stove. I have never had an oregano plant die from heat, cold, too much sun, too little sun, or any reason whatsoever. It is a very hardy, sturdy, beautiful herb that very much deserves a spot in your landscape.
Everyone should have at least one rosemary plant in their flower bed or garden area. Rosemary is another herb that loves life no matter what the season, and is a fantastic plant for the back of the border using the tall, rangy variety most of you are familiar with. Other varieties of rosemary are very decorative and useful as well, ranging in size from the trailing types growing only a few inches high, to middle-of-the-border types that are 4-8 inches in height. All varieties can be used in cooking, and a bit of rosemary is a great addition to that spaghetti sauce as well!
Mexican mint marigold is a lesser-known herb than those mentioned above, however once you become familiar with this plant you will fall in love with it! Mexican mint marigold is wonderful for the flower bed with its upright growth habit and neat little leaves, but come September the beautiful yellow-orange flowers really take center stage! The perky flowers adorn the 2-3’ high plants until frost. In my area, once we’ve settled in with cold weather I cut the plants close to the ground and they will hibernate nicely until spring, emerging with new growth to do it all over again. But folks, a great landscape plant is only the beginning for Mexican mint marigold, as the leaves make a fantastic addition to a variety of dishes with their anise-like flavor. Try it… you’ll love it!
French tarragon is another herb not widely known or grown in Texas but well worth the effort and a space in the garden. Our summers tend to be a bit rough on tarragon but, like parsley, come fall they really take off. Since tarragon tends to grow almost wild and large in northern areas it can shrug off our Texas winters with no problem. Once you have an established patch of it then you’ve got it made and will have the wonderful, subtle taste of tarragon to use whenever the mood strikes.
Don’t let the cool, shorter days of fall stop you from planting and enjoying a few herbs in your flower bed or garden area. Or better yet, make a small garden bed just for herbs. What a joy it is to walk by a nice, bushy rosemary plant and stroke the needles to release that fabulous scent! And with the cooler weather of fall we tend to think about soups and stews (and that spaghetti sauce) simmering on the stove. Instead of reaching into the dark depths of your kitchen cabinet to get some who-knows-how-old herbs, you can walk a few steps out your door and harvest some fresh sprigs of herbs you’ve grown yourself, organically of course!