How to Grow Cool Season Herbs

Cool Season in the Southwest – time for all manner of tasty annual herbs!  Cool season is when herbs from cool climates come into their own. Many of these can very easily be grown in containers and thus make beautiful décor for your patio in the months ahead when it is cool and we love to be outside in the Southwest.

Selecting Cool Season Herbs

Cool season herbs feature many plants in the carrot family. They have very similar care needs – so pick any of these. Some are fairly hard to find in nurseries, so you might have to grow from seed. Most of these herbs will bolt (send up a flower stalk) next April, but that’s a good thing – it brings in pollinators.

The list of cool season herbs is offered as a Resource under the Resources Menu.

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The big box store may have it for sale – but often not at the correct time of year for our area!

There are also a number of herbs not in the carrot family, but they like the same growing conditions – starting with cooler temperatures and cooler soils. Many on the list are considered perennial but simply do not appreciate the heat of Low and Middle Desert gardens. Just plant them as annuals and skip trying to baby them thru the summer.

Growing Cool Season Herbs

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Many herbs do grow well from seed, but you might not have enough time before first frost in your area. Go ahead and get the young plants at the nursery.

Most of these can be bought as a seedlings (young plants) from a nursery or grown from seed. One or two plants of each herb are often enough for most families so starting with plants is often an easier (and quicker) option. This is especially the case if you want your herbs to liven your patio. Instant lovelies in pots!

Soil

All carrot kin grow best in a well drained, sandy, slightly acidic soil, rich in organic matter. Actually good for most of our common kitchen herbs. This soil type makes them easy to grow in containers – especially in our region where such soil is rare. Potting soil with some added sand makes a good growing media. I use “cactus and palm mix.”

Containers

Use a pot at least a foot deep. Better if over a foot and a half deep especially for herbs with deep roots – which is most of the cool season ones.

Remember that “well drained” part? Make sure your container has a drainage hole because these herbs can easily become waterlogged and drown.

Light

Six or more hours of winter sun is needed for these herbs to do well. Despite what the interweb says, few of these do well indoors.

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Nigella, also called love-in-a-mist has pretty flowers and the seeds are used as flavoring in Middle Eastern cooking.

Water

Keep the soil relatively moist as the seeds or seedlings are just getting going (getting established). You can let these herbs dry a little more between watering once the plants get larger. Some people believe this makes their flavors stronger.

Protect

Got quail? They, and a number of other desert birds, eat seeds – but also and dainty little greens. This is another reason for purchasing plants rather than growing from seed. Once plants are bigger they have the energy to make flavors that birds don’t like.

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Another reason to buy young plants from the nursery. This is a salad bar for hungry native birds.

Fertilizer

All of these cool season herbs get very lush and full with some fertilizer. However, if you amended your planting soil at the start of the season you don’t really need to purchase fertilizer.

If you live in a cooler area of the Southwest, avoid fertilizing anything when frosts are a possibility. Once the official Last Frost Day for your area is about 2 weeks in your future you can fertilize.

Harvest and Storage of Herbs

Many of these herbs taste great when fresh but lose much flavor when dried. Freezing the leaves retains more flavor.

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Next spring – these swallowtail babies might show up in you herb patch. I don’t mind sharing.

How to Freeze Herbs

Select healthy leaves, rinse, pat dry but leave some moisture. Chop into roughly quarter inch squares and freeze in a labeled plastic bag or recycled yogurt container. This can be used directly from the freezer. 

Here is my YouTube video on Freezing Herbs, including epazote.

Learn to Let Go

Remember that these herbs are annuals! They will get stressed as the year turns towards summer. Insects love to attack stressed plants.  Don’t try to baby your cool season annual herbs thru the summer. Free up the space in your garden! Summer will bring new annual herbs, like basil, epazote, and shiso, just to mention a few tasty treats. (and I promise to post on that topic when the time comes!)

Fresh is Best

Bunches of cilantro and the like may be available at your local Farmer’s Market – but the taste of freshly harvested herbs is ever so much better than those harvested even a scant two days ago. So why not try a few cool season herbs on your winter patio?!

As always – enjoy!

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