Horticulture Magazine

7 Hardy Herbs To Grow Outdoors

sage plants growing outdoors

I just took a look at my long-neglected herb box, which has been tucked up against the wall and left to fend for itself since – most likely – October.

Some of the herbs have died. RIP. One has bolted, and now looks nothing like its former self. A surprising number, though, look just as good as they did last summer.

This got me thinking.

Which herbs are hardy enough to hold their own against the vagaries of nature, and which are too delicate for that treatment? Which hardy herbs would best suit a gardener who, like me, is prone to forget about a project every once in a while, and who needs Mother Nature to take care of herself for a little bit.

Below, you’ll find the answer.

rosemary plants covered in snow
Rosemary isn’t fazed by sub-zero temperatures

Seven hardy herbs that will hold their own against the elements

The best thing about growing herbs is having them on hand for your cooking. You can just grab a sprig whenever you need it instead of shelling out a pound or so for a handful of herbs wrapped in plastic, or for live herbs in a pot that will inevitably die before you get to use them all.

With that in mind, we’ve chosen hardy herbs that lend themselves particularly well to cooking, where possible.

1. Thyme

If you like to combine gardening with humour, thyme is the herb for you. It’s the source of a potentially unlimited supply of jokes, although be aware that they all clock in around the “dad joke” or “Christmas cracker joke” in terms of quality.

Here’s the growing calendar for thyme –

  • Sow: March and April
  • Plant: April through August
  • Plant out: May and June
  • Harvest: June through September

2. Oregano

This herb has a strong flavour that goes a treat in Mediterranean cooking. While it’s most commonly used dry, the fresh leaf brings its own special kick to a dish. You can quite easily dry cuttings from your plant as well, giving you a cheaper and more authentic alternative to store-bought dried herbs.

Here’s the growing calendar for oregano –

  • Sow: February through May
  • Plant: April through July
  • Plant out: April, May, and July
  • Harvest: May through October

3. Sage

The element sage brings to a dish is, to us, best associated with hearty, wintery cooking. Casseroles, recipes using squashes, sausages, stuffing, and so on. Things that warm you from the inside out when the thermometer drops. Growing your own is a good way to experience this warming comfort.

Here’s the growing calendar for sage –

  • Sow: March through May
  • Plant: March through May
  • Harvest: May through October
green sage leaves sat on a wooden table
Such a delicious and distinctive flavour

4. Chives

One of the unsung heroes of cooking, chives bring a subtle but undeniably effective twist to any dish that features them. Whether you cut a few and sprinkle them on a salad, work them through a pasta sauce, or one of myriad other recipes, you’re guaranteed a slightly better eating experience. (Even the green Pot Noodle has chives in it..!)

Here’s the growing calendar for chives –

  • Sow: March and April
  • Plant out: April and May
  • Harvest: July through September

5. Mint

As a flavour, mint is everywhere. Toothpaste, Polos, chewing gum, and all sorts of products that distort the real, natural taste. We recommend growing your own mint if only so you can get a couple of sprigs, add to a cup of boiling water, plop in a teaspoon of sugar, and reconnect with the unique and captivating flavour as Mother Nature intended it.

Here’s the growing calendar for mint –

  • Plant: March through May
  • Harvest: May through October

6. Parsley

If you’re looking for a versatile herb, go with parsley. It works with sauces, salads, pesto, stew, marinades, and pretty much anything else. You can work it through burgers, meatballs, or other similar dishes to accentuate the flavour of the surrounding meat. You’ll be surprised how many recipes benefit from parsley when you’ve got a ready supply available to use.

Here’s the growing calendar for parsley –

  • Sow: March through June
  • Harvest: June through August

7. Lemon balm

Now, if you’re less familiar with lemon balm than others in this list, fear not. It’s a herb you’ll probably not see on supermarket shelves, but it is worth getting to know.

I actually have a lemon balm plant growing indoors, because when you spritz it with a spray bottle it fills the room with a lovely and refreshing scent.

Lemon balm goes well in tea, pesto, salad, and makes a great accompaniment to fish. It’s fresh and citrusy, lending a refreshing bit of zest to any dish.

Here’s the growing calendar for lemon balm –

  • Sow: March through May
  • Plant: April through June
  • Harvest: July through September

How to prepare your herbs for winter

Earlier I mentioned seeing my herb box nestled sadly against the wall. While it’s a bit of a lonely image, this is actually an important step in protecting herbs over winter.

Here are the steps you need to follow –

Give them shelter

Put any containers with herbs up against a wall to protect them from rainfall, ideally under a gutter or other canopy if possible. Rain and waterlogged soil are more likely to do harm than cold, so offering protection is essential.

Let them drain

Raise containers from the ground with pot feet, bricks, or similar to make sure the soil has ample opportunity to drain. Give the soil a check before watering too, to make sure it’s not already saturated.

Water in the morning!

If you water too late in the day, there’s a higher risk of the water freezing in the soil and causing damage to the roots. Do it early in the day to give plenty of time for drainage before the coldest weather sets in.

Give them a haircut

Trim your herbs back as close to a ball shape as possible. Reducing long stalks reduces the potential of damage from strong winds.

Wrap them up

If you’re expecting a real cold blast, wrap plants and their pots in insulating materials (or, if possible, bring them indoors until the worst of the weather passes).

plant being covered by insulating materials, with snow in the background
Your bay tree may look ridiculous for a couple of days but it’s worth it

Know the difference!

The most important thing is knowing which herbs can handle the cold and which can’t. Bring the more delicate herbs indoors for the winter to prevent an accidental massacre. Check the directions for each herb you plant to familiarise yourself with their individual hardiness and use markers in the soil to remind yourself.

Ideally, don’t mix hardy and non-hardy herbs in the same planter, either. This will make it tricky when the time comes to bring the non-hardy ones indoors..!

Brrrrrrilliant herbs

After reading this guide you should now have a firm idea of which hardy herbs you can grow outdoors, safe in the knowledge that they’ll hold their own over winter. We’ve suggested a bunch of herbs that fit the bill and also have numerous tasty applications in the kitchen, but bear in mind our list is far from exhaustive. Take a look at herb seeds and see which others you could add to your collection.

And make sure to follow the tips we outlined to give your home-grown herbs the best chance at surviving the chillier side of the Great British weather.

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