If you are looking for winter herbs to keep your culinary garden productive all year long, we’ve got a great list for you. Growing herbs in winter can be a challenge. Not only do you need to know which herbs grow best in the winter months, but also which varieties of those herbs will overwinter in your growing zone.
We’ve focused this article on the winter-hardy herbs that will grow well in zones three to five.
If you are looking for a specific herb and don’t see it on our list, check the chart at the end where we show the zone for each herb.
The Ten Best Winter Herbs
The first few on our list are evergreen herbs that stay green all season. We’ve also included cold-tolerant herbs that stay green through the early fall and a selection of perennial herbs. Choose from these groups if you want fresh herbs at any time of year.
1. Thyme – Evergreen & Hardy to Zone 4
Thyme is a popular culinary herb valued for its versatile use in the kitchen.
Common thyme (T. vulgaris) is the most widely available variety sold in nurseries and garden centers.
Common thyme is also occasionally referred to as Garden or English thyme.
Thyme is a member of the mint family and is a hardy perennial that can survive a deep freeze. It will even stay green through the winter. Give your thyme a sunny location and well-draining soil and it will continue to grow all year long.
German Winter Thyme is the most popular winter hardy variety that is a perennial in zone 4. It is a low growing spreading in form, so give it a larger space in the perennial herb garden. In zone 4 you can also grow Silver, Lemon, or English Thyme.
Winter Flowering Thyme (T.hyemalis) is another popular variety and the one most often used to make the dried thyme found in stores. This variety is also a favorite for making essential oils. It grows in a small bush with greyish tightly held leaves.
In zone 5, there are several additional varieties of thyme you can grow. These include Orange Balsam, Woolly, Creeping Pink, Juniper, Lime, Mint, Elfin, and Lavender Thyme.
2. Mint – Hardy to Zone 3
Mint is another easy to grow herb that performs well in a winter garden. Mint is used in desserts, teas, jellies and vegetables, and main courses like lamb. Spearmint is the most common culinary form, with peppermint coming in at a close second. Flavored mints, like chocolate or orange, are becoming more readily available in local garden centers.
Mint is a hardy perennial which means it survives over the winter months without added protection. Mint is also known for being one of the toughest herbs. It a natural spreader and can quickly take over your garden when left to grow unchecked. For this reason, most gardeners grow mint in pots.
Mint prefers rich, moist soil and partly sunny location. If mint is grown in too much sun, it can dry out the soil too quickly and fry the leaves. But not to worry, mint is very hard to kill. Move the pot into a shady location, keep the soil moist and more often than not, the plant will come back.
3. Common Oregano – Tender Perennial, Evergreen & Hardy to Zone 4
Oregano is most known for its use in Italian cooking such as pizzas and sauces. It can often be confused with Marjoram since oregano is sometimes called “wild marjoram. Oregano has the stronger flavor of the two herbs.
Oregano is considered a tender perennial, so while it can overwinter in the garden it may need some protection in colder climates, depending on the variety.
Add an additional layer of mulch to keep the soil insulated. Oregano grows best in full sun with well-draining sandy or loamy soil.
There are many varieties of oregano that vary in cold hardiness, form, and flavor. If you want to add oregano to your winter garden, use the following as a guide based on your growing zone.
Common Oregano (O.vulgare) is the mildest of the bunch, but also grows the best in colder temperatures. It is a woody plant and cold hardy from zones 4 to 7.
Pot Oregano (O.onites) has a compact form and a strong flavor. It is cold hardy to zone 5 or greater.
Italian Oregano is the most popular for cooking and grows between 12-18 inches tall. Italian Oregano is cold-tolerant in zone 6 or higher.
Greek Oregano (O.Vulgare Hirtum) is another popular culinary variety but is most often grown as an annual. Greek oregano will only overwinter in zones 7 to 9.
4. French Tarragon – Hardy in Zone 3
French tarragon as the name suggests is a staple in French cooking and used in the fines herbes blend. It has a spicy flavor with licorice undertones.
This hardy herb will grow in zones 3 to 11. Grow French tarragon in full sun and water only occasionally as it prefers slightly drier soil.
If you plan to use tarragon in the kitchen, be sure to get the French variety (Artemisia dracunculus) Russian tarragon is easier to grow from seed but doesn’t have the same intense flavor as it’s French cousin.
5. Chives – Perennial to Zone 3
Chives are used for both their fragrance and taste in cooking. Hollow tall green stalks grow in clumps with bright purple or blue flower balls on top. Garlic chives have white flowers. If you want to add visual interest to your plantings, chives are a good choice.
Grow chives in full sun and moist rich soil. Perennial in zones 3 to 11, they will grow without trouble in colder climates. Chives live year-round in the garden, but your last harvest should be about three weeks before the cold sets in. You can also bring a small pot inside to extend the growing season.
6. Lemon Balm – Hardy to Zone 5
Lemon Balm is known best for it’s healing properties and use in flavored teas.
In the kitchen, lemon balm can be used to add a hint of lemon and mint to fruit, salads, beverages, or fish.
Lemon Balm is a hardy perennial that grows to about two and a half feet tall. As a member of the mint family, lemon balm is a spreader. It is best to grow it in pots or prune it heavily to keep it from getting out of control. Harvest lemon balm leaves before flowering for the best flavor.
Grow lemon balm in a moist, sunny location in the garden. Part shade is also fine for this plant.
7. Parsley – Biennial, Hardy to Zone 5
Both flat and curly leaf parsley grow well in cooler weather. Flat-leaf parsley has a better taste for recipes. It may also be referred to as called Italian or French parsley. Curly parsley is used more for its crunchy texture or as a garnish.
Grow parsley in moist soil and a partly sunny location in the garden. Since parsley is a biennial, it will overwinter but needs to be replaced after the second year. The leaves will become bitter toward the end of its useful life.
8. Garden Sage – Evergreen, Hardy to Zone 5
Common sage (Salvia officinalis) is cold hardy and will grow in zones 5 or more.
The Tricolor and golden varieties may not do quite as well in colder temperatures.
White sage used in cleansing rituals is only hardy to zone 7.
Sage has a strong earthy flavor is most well known for its role in turkey stuffing. But sage is equally nice in sausages, Italian meats, and cheeses or even as a condiment. Sage has light greyish green leaves and is best when used fresh, so harvest just before you are ready to use it.
Sage is a nice addition to the perennial herb garden. Grow sage in full sun and well-draining, sandy soil. A mature plant will spread up to 2 feet wide, so give it ample space in the garden bed.
9. Winter Savory- Hardy to Zone 5
A less well-known herb is winter savory that is a perennial in many climates.
A low growing bushy herb, winter savory is a good addition for the border of the garden.
Winter Savory has a strong spicy flavor and can be used in the same dishes as oregano, thyme, and basil. can also be dried and combined with sage and thyme in stuffings. Not to be confused with summer savory that is an annual plant.
Winter Savory is semi-evergreen so will keep its branches in the colder months. In the spring they will grow in abundance to a full bushy plant. It is a nice choice to plant in smaller areas since it grows just one foot tall. Grow winter savory in full sun.
10. Bronze Fennel – Hardy to Zone 5
Tall and airy, bronze fennel will make a statement in your backyard. It has a sweet licorice-like flavor. Add fresh leaves to season fish, salads, stuffings sauces, and eggs.
Fennel grows best in rich soil. Due to the airy nature of this herb, keep it protected from high winds. It also should be placed in the back border since it can grow up to 4 feet tall and wide
Bronze Fennel is a perennial and can be grown in zone 5 or greater. At the end of the growing season, cut it down to the ground.
Which Winter Herbs Should You Grow In Your Garden?
If you want to enjoy fresh herbs throughout the winter months, choose evergreen herbs. These will stay green year round and while they may not grow much in colder weather, you can still harvest them in moderation for use in recipes.
From our list, these include thyme, sage, and oregano. Bay and rosemary are also evergreen herbs that may overwinter outdoors with a little extra protection. You can use a blanket or small hoop house to keep them going. Or bring the pots indoors during a cold spell.
Rosemary is an evergreen herb, but it is only half-hardy.
Perennial in zones 7 or greater, this herb will need protection in colder temperatures.
Chives and parsley can stay green well into the fall depending on your gardening zone. They will eventually die back, but you’ll be able to enjoy them much longer than most. Be sure to harvest them before a hard freeze to get the most out of your plants.
If you don’t mind your herbs going dormant for the winter, choose perennial herbs that go dormant in the colder months then sprout new growth in early spring. These include bronze fennel, French tarragon, and lemon balm.
Herb gardeners seem to always find a way to enjoy fresh herbs throughout the year. Since it can be hard to source new herb plants in the offseason, plan ahead to make sure you have a ready supply of herbs for your cooking.
If you get caught without having enough plants and winter is fast approaching, you still have a few good options to grow herbs indoors in winter.
- Start fresh plants with a mini hydroponic herb kit.
- Grow cut herbs from the grocery store in water.
- Bring a few pots inside and create an indoor container herb garden.
No matter which method you choose, growing a winter herb garden is a welcome gift to any gardener.