“Will rosemary plants survive a mild winter in Zone 9?” Question from Linda of Fresno, California
Answer: Yes! Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a drought- and heat-tolerant Mediterranean shrub made for California growing. Here are my top four favorite rosemaries that will grow beautifully where you live. Each is unique in its own way.
Top Four Favorite Rosemary Varieties
‘Blue Boy’ dwarf rosemary (Zones 8-10): The low-growing ‘Blue Boy’ stays 6-8 inches tall and spreads to a foot and a half. It’s perfect for containers and flowers well.
‘Irene’ weeping rosemary (Zones 8-10): Plant this along the edge of a retaining wall or large pot. Its lavender-blue flowers, flavorful stems, and cascading habit make it a very impressive choice.
‘Arp’ hardy rosemary (Zones 6-10): Here’s the rosemary that I grow on the East Coast. It is big, bushy, flavorful, and will survive very cold winters.
‘Tuscan Blue‘ (Zones 8-10): Noted for its vigorous nature, bushy habit, and wealth of spring flowers, ‘Tuscan Blue’ is also exceptional for cooking.
I hope that some of these great rosemary plants interest you.
Stylish and serviceable herb gardens are a delight through the growing season when they appeal to the eye and senses and provide fresh herbs. In winter, stores of dried and frozen herbs make cooking a pleasure. If you don’t already have a culinary herb garden, you are missing out. And, there’s no reason not to grow one. Essential culinary herbs are the easiest plants in a food gardener’s repertoire.
The first chives of spring are so bright and welcome when added to fresh vegetables and salads, as are the tender leaves of parsley when they begin to unfurl and are at their sweetest. Fine cilantro and dill–both cool-season annuals–are two other spring herbs no garden should be without. In late spring, count on chamomile to produces its sweet daisies that are harvested and dried to make delicious, soothing tea to enjoy year-round. These are the spring herb essentials.
Chives (Allium schoenoprasum, USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8): Chives put forth tidy clusters of oniony, grassy foliage in spring. Pompons of edible mauve flowers bloom in mid-spring, rising above the upright foliage. Harvest them fresh, when they are most flavorful. In summer, chives wane in the heat but will often perk back up in fall.
Chamomile (Matricaria retutica, Zones 2-8) is a winter annual or short-lived perennial to sow in fall. It will overwinter as a ferny green rosette and then bloom in full glory with a flurry of small white daisies in spring. Harvest the flowers for drying when they just begin to open. Allow some plants to set seed to encourage new fall seedlings.
Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum) is a leafy annual that likes it cool and starts producing stems of white flowers and seeds as the weather heats up. But, that’s a good thing because its seedheads, which dry by summer, are crushed to make the spice coriander. Harvest the leaves while you can for guacamole, salads, and salsas. Also, consider cilantro a fall herb to seed in no later than early September.
Dill (Anethum graveolens) is a true spring annual herb that you only need plant once. Harvest the ferny green leaves to flavor salads, spreads, and pickles, and
let the yellow-green umbel flowerheads dry for flavorful dill seed. Let some seed fall to the ground and sprout for a second dill harvest in fall.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum) comes in curly and flat-leaved forms and lends fresh flavor to sauces, salads, and meats. Lush clumps of parsley leaves flourish in the cool spring weather and give way to flowering in the heat of summer, after which the plants die. If you replant parsley in fall, it will often survive through winter.
Essential Herbs of Summer
Sweet basil tastes like summer–whether used to flavor sauce, pesto or added to a citrusy summer drink. Mints of all kinds grow rampantly and need containment, but every gardener should have at least one pot of good mint. Thymes, especially lemon thyme, is a summer staple at my home that lends itself well to chicken, fish, salads, and vegetables. Oregano and piney rosemary are necessities for grilled meats and vegetables. These are the summer herb essentials.
Basil (Ocimum basilicum) is a warm-season herb that’s grown as an annual. The key to keeping it sweet and flavorful is to clip off the flower heads off as they appear. Grow it in the garden or containers. (See the video below to learn how to care for container-grown basil.), and clip the leaves all summer to keep plants tidy and flavorful. (Click here to learn how to grow basil indoors in winter.)
Mint (Mentha spp.) leaves flavor summer mojitos, tabouli, and fresh mint tea. The plant is so easy to grow you can plunk a stem in a glass of water, and it will root in a week. Its aggressive nature is a mint’s only downfall. One seemingly harmless plant can take over a garden in no time, so plant it in a big pot filled with Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Soil to keep its roots from roaming. When it starts to
outgrow the pot, divide it, and give the spare to a friend (with fair warning).
Oregano (Origanumvulgare, Zones 4-10) has rooting stems that tend to spread, so be sure to give it space to grow. You can also contain oregano in a pot. Clusters of edible purple flowers bloom in midsummer, which attracts bees. Use the leaves to flavor meats, vegetables, and sauces in summer. In fall, dry or freeze the leaves for winter cooking.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, Zones 8-10) is a drought-tolerant, shrubby, evergreen herb with resinous needle-like leaves that taste great on meats and in sauces. Bees are attracted to its violet-blue flowers that bloom in late spring. The cold-tolerant variety ‘Arp’ (Zones 6-10) is a hardier option for northern gardeners. Dry the leaves for winter use.
Thyme (Thymus spp., Zones 5-9) has small, aromatic leaves that are evergreen. In late spring, the low, spreading, shrubby herb bears small clusters of flowers for bees that may be pink, purplish, or white. Plant it along a patio edge where it can spill across the pavement or in a pot. Harvest the leafy stems any time of year to add to many dishes or dry the leaves for herbal mixes.
Essential Herbs of Fall and Winter
Sage tastes of turkey stuffing and pairs well with pumpkin. And bean soups never taste quite as good without the complement of winter savory. A big pot of bay leaf should be a winter houseplant for every gardener that cooks. Just be sure to take the pot outdoors in summer to let the Mediterranean tree to enjoy the sunshine. Spicy ginger is another indoor/outdoor tropical herb that will grow well in a sunny window. These are the essential herbs of winter.
Bayleaf (Laurusnobilis, Zones 8-10) will grow as a 20-30 foot evergreen tree where it is hardy, but if kept pruned in a pot, it will stay compact. Harvest the leaves for soups, sauces, and meats, but keep in mind that new leaves will not be produced until spring, so be sure not to strip the plant of all greenery and kill it. Pot-grown specimens thrive in OMRI Listed®Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix. (Click here to learn more about growing bay leaf.)
Ginger (Zingiber officinale) grows very well as a potted house plant in a brightly lit spot with good humidity. Its roots can be harvested as the plants grow and used to make sweet and savory dishes. As with bay leaf, bring your potted ginger outdoors in summer to allow it to grow to its fullest. (Click here to learn more about growing ginger.)
Sage (Salvia officinalis, Zones 4-8) has felted, gray-green, evergreen leaves with a pungent flavor. The hardy shrubby perennial bears pretty lavender-blue flowers in summer, which are also edible and attract bees. It is best to harvest and dry leaves in fall for winter cooking, but if you run out, you can always pick off a winter leaf or two without harming the plant.
Winter Savory (Saturejamontana, Zones 6-8) The low, semi-evergreen winter savory looks attractive through much of the season. Its peppery leaves add flavor to green beans, soups, and stews. In summer, it has clusters of white or pinkish flowers that attract bees. Plant it along the edge of an herbal border.
To make it easy, all of these essential culinary herbs grow best in full sun and fertile soil with good drainage. Most are not too demanding when it comes to fertilizer, but a little all-purpose plant food at the beginning of season never hurts. Spring is the best time to plant them, aside from tender indoor/outdoor herbs. Before planting, amend your garden soil with good compost, such as OMRI Listed®Black Gold Garden Compost Blend, to encourage good rooting and drainage.
When planning an herb garden, it’s smart to keep your annual and perennial herbs apart. Perennial herb borders are attractive and have permanence. They look right at home in raised beds or even pretty herbal rockeries. Just remember to reserve mints for big patio pots. Annual herbs are nice to plant among complementary vegetables. Dill is right at home planted alongside cucumbers, and almost everybody plants their sweet basil around garden tomatoes. Chamomile looks pretty when planted in a row beside spring greens or cabbages. Then keep your herbs harvested and well-tended to make the most of them all year round. (Click here to learn how to harvest and store herbs.)
“Can one grow rosemary in Florida? Mine always dies.” Question from Jane of Tampa, Florida
Answer: Yes. Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10, 1-5 feet) can be grown in Florida, but it may need extra care because it is adapted to an entirely different climate.
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean where it grows in upland, limestone soils, endures sunny, dry weather conditions through much of the year, and cool, dry winters. The hot, rainy, humid weather in Tampa, Florida is not what rosemary is naturally adapted to. This is probably the source of your trouble. Subtropical weather excesses can stress rosemary out, which can encourage pest and disease problems, with root rot caused by excess water being the biggest threat. With that said, you can grow it in Florida with care. Here are my suggestions.
Grow yours in pots that can be moved indoors and out. Rosemary can reach a large size at maturity, so pick a fitting pot size (~2-3 gallons). Make sure it has holes at the bottom for good drainage and is light-colored to reflect the heat.
Place it in a location with high sunlight that’s protected from rain, so you can manage irrigation better. Below an overhang in a south-facing location would be perfect. Allow the soil in the pot to dry out somewhat between watering.
Consider growing your rosemary indoors where its cooler or move it indoors and outdoors as the weather becomes more or less favorable for growth.
During the cooler winter months, reduce watering to once a week–maybe even less.
When I first came to the Southern California desert, I was shocked at how well traditional rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis, USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10) shrubs survived through 120ᵒ F summer days. When provided good drainage and some water, these plants thrive in dry, mild-winter locations and reach mammoth proportions. If fragrant, culinary rosemary is able to thrive in low-desert heat and naturalize along the West Coast, it should grow well in practically every garden where it’s hardy. There isn’t a more useful plant for arid-zone landscaping, but rosemary also fares well as a potted plant where winters are cold.
Rosemary History and Uses
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean and parts of Asia. It has a long history of use and cultivation going back thousands of years. Grown wherever possible outdoors in mild areas, whether as an ornamental or herbal plant, it has also been traditionally cultivated in pots in colder winter regions and brought indoors to shelter. As a house plant, rosemary can be clipped with scissors to release its scent, just as the Romans did to perfume their courtyards naturally. Greeks believed wearing sprigs of rosemary in the hair while studying assisted with memory, hence the plant’s perpetual association with remembrance. And, during the plague years, rosemary was burned as a disinfectant much like white sage smudge sticks have been used in the Americas for purification.
The sheer range of uses for rosemary should make everyone want to grow this easy and willing plant. It is above all a culinary herb, and foodies often use the straight twigs for savory beef or lamb kebab sticks or sprigs to naturally flavor roasts. As the leaves are heated, they release their plant oils. Rosemary may also be used to flavor olive oil, teas, and is an essential ingredient in many classic herbal mixes, such as Herbe’s de Provence, a provincial herbal mix from southern France. (Click here for a Herbe’s de Provence recipe and to learn more about classic French herbs.)
Rosemary has also been traditionally valued as a hair tonic. The Romans, being largely dark-haired, used it to create a hair rinse brewed with water and then cooled. It was poured on dark hair to cut residual soap accumulation and left hair shiny and beautiful. Blondes used the same technique with Roman chamomile (Anthemis nobilis).
Rosemary averages 4 feet at maturity but can reach 6 feet tall in its natural, rocky, sunny habitat in the Mediterranean. Its narrow leaves become more silvery and needle-like in dry weather and greener and broader when rain is plentiful. Pale violet-blue flowers that attract bees may appear from midwinter to spring.
There are two basic forms. The standard or “official” form from the old herbals is Rosmarinus officinalis. Hardy to 10 or 20° F, it’s a long-lived evergreen shrub for mild-winter regions and often used for landscaping. The shorter variety, Rosmarinus officinalis ‘Prostratus’, develops a low mat of graceful, cascading foliage. Growing to about 1 foot tall, with almost an infinite spread, there is no better cascading plant for pot, slope, cliff, or wall. Its dark tresses are incredibly tough and prefer more shade than the upright type. It works well as a house plant due to having a shorter stature. There are named varieties of rosemary of varying sizes and flower colors, some are even hardier (the variety ‘Arp’ is touted as being hardy to Zone 6), so there’s one for all different sunny gardens. Everyone else can treat it as a house plant that comes outdoors for the summer.
Grow potted rosemary in a mixture of equal parts Black Gold Natural & Organic Potting Mix and Black Gold Cactus Mix to avoid overly damp conditions that cause root rot in arid-zone hill plants like these. Make sure there’s a big drainage hole or many small ones because rosemary must have fast drainage to avoid fungal infections that also plague lavenders, which like the same growing conditions.
There is no easier drought-resistant, long-lived herb, shrub, or useful plant to grow for home and garden that will make you feel like a pioneer woman. Rosemary is one plant that can teach you much about the cultivation of useful herbs. From a woman with a self-sufficient, pioneering attitude, a novice can learn hands-on how to harvest and prepare herbal material to use in the household and to make really fragrant gifts for family and friends.
Eight Simple DIY Rosemary Crafts
Put freshly dried rosemary into tied cheesecloth bundles to season soups and stews.
Place sachets filled with rosemary into drawers to scent linens and clothes. (Rosemary’s non-floral scent makes men’s clothing smell pleasantly herbal.)
Fill pretty, recycled jars with freshly-dried leaves for holiday gifts for foodies (and pet lovers too, see idea 8).
Stud pomanders with short rosemary sprigs and place them on a mantel or tree for scent and beauty.
Create small wreaths or herbal swags with creeping rosemary sprigs for hanging indoors or out. (Once the leaves are dry, collect them for cooking.)
Decorate a freshly wrapped gift with aromatic sprigs tucked into the ribbon.
Infuse olive oil or fine vinegar with fresh-cut rosemary sprigs for a culinary gift.
Grind dried rosemary leaves and scatter in pet beds to battle odors and discourage ticks and fleas.
If you live where rosemary does not thrive year-round, buy a rosemary topiary to grow indoors, or invest in a potted 1-gallon rosemary to decorate for the holidays. Both will provide super fresh culinary clippings. Enjoy the indoor plants through the new year, then move them outdoors when temperatures warm up. And, where it’s mild year-round, plant your garden with lots of rosemary, so you have plenty of “mother” plants to snip and clip for the rest of your life.
You don’t need a huge garden to make an abundance of herb crafts to benefit your home, garden, and artistic inclinations. Starting with just a few common and versatile herbs is an easy way to get your hands dirty and feel the magic of plants. I’ve chosen three herbs that are perfect for herb crafting because you can turn them into all sorts of potions, lotions, recipes, and garden crafts. Wait until you see all that you can create with these three familiar garden herbs: lavender, rosemary, and calendula.
English Lavender (Lavandula spp.)
Lavender is my all-time favorite scent. It’s light, floral, and soothing, but even more, it has helpful herbal properties that can be used in your home, garden, on your skin, and also in the kitchen. The scent of lavender has a balance of sweetness and spice that makes it appetizing and appropriate for baking, tea, soda-flavoring, and all kinds of body care recipes. The scent promotes relaxation and exudes cleanliness, which makes it ideal for scentings linens and clothing. And its antiseptic and antibacterial properties make it a perfect aroma to freshen the air, your skin, and your home.
English lavender (Lavandula angustifolia, USDA Hardiness Zones 5-8) is native to the Mediterranean, so it loves climates with hot, dry summers and cool winters. It is drought-resistant and thrives in well-drained soil with some organic matter and a neutral to slightly alkaline pH (6.4 to 8.2). Plant English lavender in full sun and prune in both early spring and late summer to keep a neat and productive plant. Cut it back up to one-third while pruning and reserve the unopened flower buds and leaves to use in recipes around the house. (For a more detailed growing guide, read more here.)
For dried flowers, harvest Lavandula angustifolia when it has visible purple buds but before the flowers open; buds retain better color and fragrance. Harvest the stems in the morning when the oil content of the leaves and flowers is the highest. Use sharp, clean pruners. (Leave some of the shorter bud stems on the plant for bees.) Gather the harvested stems into a bundle, tie them together with twine, and hang the bundle upside down to dry in a cool place away from direct sunlight.
When dry, roll the stems between your palms over a plate to catch the buds. You can also remove the leaves to infuse the oil, vinegar, and make tea. Store the dried flowers and leaves separately in airtight containers for up to one year.
Fill small muslin drawstring bags with dried lavender buds for sweet-smelling sachets. Tuck them into your pillow, linen closet, sock drawer, or anywhere that could use a little refreshing.
Make a decorative lavender wreath that adds fragrance and beauty to the indoors.
Add dried lavender buds to your favorite herbal tea blend for a floral flavor and soothing effect that can help with insomnia. It pairs wonderfully with chamomile and rose.
Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis)
Rosemary has long been prized for its antiseptic and antibacterial properties. It is excellent for deodorizing and cleaning; the scent is purported to help focus and memory. In ancient times, scholars wore crowns of rosemary when studying for exams, so imagine how it can help you perk up in the morning shower! Did you know that rosemary is also well known to be THE herb for healthy hair? It stimulates hair growth and adds shine.
Most of all, rosemary is beloved for its delicious flavor in recipes. It ramps up a roast and cooked root vegetables and adds an earthy punch to soups and stews. Whether you are freshening up your home, trying to wake up or adding oomph to hearty recipes. Rosemary can’t be beat!
Rosemary cultivars have variable hardiness. Most overwinter in USDA Hardiness Zones 8-10, but some hardier varieties, like ‘Arp’, may survive in Zones 6 or 7. Otherwise, grow rosemary in a pot that you can bring indoors in fall or grow it as an annual. It likes well-drained soil and full sun. Rosemary does well in dry conditions, so be careful not to overwater it. Overwatering rosemary can commonly lead to root rot.
Cut sprigs of rosemary to use fresh or tie them up in a bundle to dry, the same way you would with lavender. When dry, remove the leaves by pinching the top of the stem with your finger and thumb and running it along the stem to the bottom. The leaves will pop right off. Keep dried rosemary sealed in an airtight container for up to one year.
Make rosemary sachets to deodorize any place in your home that needs it, like gym bags and stinky shoes.
Add the leaves to homemade soap recipes or a morning salt scrub for exfoliating skin treatment and energizing scent that will help you start the day with a spring in your step.
Make a rosemary hair rinse by infusing three fresh new stems of rosemary in one cup of apple cider vinegar for 2-3 weeks. Apply to the scalp, massage in, and rinse thoroughly to add shine and softness. Here are a few more rosemary hair care recipes.
Chew a rosemary leaf for an instant breath-freshener.
Calendula, Pot Marigold (Calendula officinalis)
Many people view calendula as an annual garden flower, but with so many healing properties and beneficial uses, herb nerds see it more as a versatile garden herb. It’s been used for thousands of years to help heal minor wounds and inflammations, has a bright and sunny personality that attracts a host of beneficial insects to the garden, and it could not be easier to grow. Include calendula in your herb garden this year for some pops of color and fun herbal crafts.
Calendula is an annual that grows easily from seed either sown directly in the garden or indoors. Begin seeds indoors about eight weeks before transplanting calendula in the garden. Plant your calendula somewhere in the garden with good soil amended with fertilizer-boosted Black Gold Earthworm Castings that gets a lot of light but isn’t extremely hot. Deadhead and harvest the flowers liberally throughout the season, and you’ll have continual blooms to pick from spring to fall.
Harvest the full flower heads from new blooms and spread them out in a single layer in a drying screen (which can be as simple as using a window screen) or setting them in one layer in a shallow basket. Leave the flowers in a well-ventilated area that is cool, dry, and away from direct sunlight. After a few days, test for dryness. The petals should sound crunchy and not feel cool to the touch. Store the dried flowers in an airtight container for up to one year.
Use fresh calendula petals to decorate cakes or other desserts. The bright orange and yellow ray florets are a festive natural way to add color that is appealing on sweet treats.
Calendula petals have a mildly spicy taste that pairs with savory foods as well. When entertaining, add them to salads and pizza for a fresh summer presentation that also helps to aid in digestion. They also make a soothing, healing tea.
Add dried petals to bath salts for natural colors and a spa-bathing experience amongst floating flowers.
Fresh-from-the-container culinary herbs turn a New York loft, a Chicago studio, or a Los Angeles condo into flavor central. Nothing is quite like fresh mint in your mojito, just-picked basil on a mozzarella sandwich, or cilantro in your salsa. No store-bought herb carries this intense flavor, because once cut, the essential oils immediately begin to lose pungency. Cut and eat immediately, and you’ll find intense herbal resonance in every dish you make.
In a single good sized pot or any other repurposed vintage container, it’s possible to plant a garden of culinary herbs today and start tasting in just a matter of weeks.
Choosing the Right Herbs
Blending the right herbs that share similar preferences makes care and watering a snap. Most herbs need direct sun, so choose a bright planting spot, such as a fire escape, a window box, a terrace, or balcony. Just beware of direct exposure to the heat of intense afternoon sun, and be sure to water heavily on a daily basis at the height of summer.
In cities like Chicago, winds whip through downtown creating challenges for rooftop gardens and other plants exposed to such conditions. As we approach summer, the wind combines with the hot sun, causing herb garden to struggle for moisture. It dries herb’s tender, oil-rich leaves if moisture is inadequate.
Choosing Potting Soil
Thanks to the amazing ability of Black Gold Moisture Supreme Container Mix, contained herbs will stand up to the rigors of urban life without fail. This amazing moisture-holding potting soil ensures that when your pot heats up, your plants don’t suffer wind damage due to the strengthening effects of RESiLIENCE®. Despite its absorptive qualities, this potting soil also provides adequate drainage to ensure there’s plenty of oxygen in the root zone.
An annual herb garden typically features two popular summer plants: cilantro and basil. Both are annuals grown fresh from seed each year and mature into large plants. These blend perfectly with chives for a triad of often used and delicious foliage. If perennially nipped and cut, they remain small for a time, but with rising heat and extended days, they will stretch out to flower and their flavor will become stronger and less palatable.
The second group is the smaller, long-lived perennial herbs sized for a grand herb pot. In-ground gardeners treat these as landscape plants, enjoying new growth and harvest each year without replanting, though overwintered plants may lose verve and require some replacement in the future. Key to success is growing the right herbs that won’t become too large over the season. Start with those you use most often and organize them in pots by form with spreaders around the edges and upright herbs toward the center.
Thyme is one of the best cascading herbs that will spill over the edge of the pot, buying room for more upright plants in the center. Oregano is spreading too, but since this herb is so often used in the kitchen, it manages to retain a modest size from frequent pinching. Sage is very slow growing and loves the sun, so place this fuzzy-leaved fellow on the hot side of the box. The same is true for creeping groundcover rosemary that spills off the face of the box. Plant purple fennel in the center for an incredible bronze-colored haze that yields lots of anise-flavored cuttings for cooking and baking.
Everyone can dive into herb gardening no matter where they live by selecting a large, well-drained container, and using high-quality potting soil to reduce watering demands. Once planted, begin dreaming of all sorts of herbal dishes, then snip your way to fresh and easy all summer long.