What should I do with my herb garden in the winter?

It's starting to get pretty cold here in NYC and I'm wondering what I should do with my herb garden that's currently in pots in the back yard. Is it okay to just move the pots inside to a window sill or should I be concerned about shocking the plants and potentially bringing bugs in to the apartment?


Alex Weiss Hills


Bevi October 20, 2015
My daughter lives in Brooklyn, and she brings her herbs in from her balcony every year. The weather in NYC is getting colder and we in the East have seen some pretty interesting winter storms. The plants that she does well with are oregano, rosemary, marjoram, and sage. She does not do well with "annual" herbs, and her mint plants are iffy - they tend to die back.
Alex W. October 19, 2015
Thanks everyone—super helpful responses. I think I'm going to try my luck with leaving the herbs outside while turning the basil into some sort of pesto or green sauce. Hopefully, they'll come back in the spring but if not CV is right, they're cheap enough to buy again once it gets warm.
Smaug October 20, 2015
That's certainly the easy way to go- indeed, many of the common herbs are pretty inexpensive- if you buy them in 3" pots. However, they aren't going to put on much growth outdoors until nights start to warm up some- probably mid April or later in your area- and the perennial shrubs are mostly going to take a few months to grow enough to harvest to any significant degree, leaving you with a very short season. Another trick some growers use is to heel the pots into the ground (bury them essentially)- the ground continues to give off heat, and this methods can be quite successful in areas that don't freeze hard.
cookbookchick October 20, 2015
Your basil won't come back. Use it up now.
702551 October 19, 2015
I'd move the containers closer to the building; that can make the difference of 5-10 degrees, certainly enough to reduce the number of chances of frost damage or casualty percentage.

Personally, I wouldn't bother trying to move them indoors. Herbs are pretty inexpensive plants, and if something doesn't make it through the winter, start from seeds or seedlings in the spring. Heck, that's the natural way anyhow.

I live in a small condo, I don't have room for an indoor nursery, even if it is only seasonal.
MMH October 19, 2015
I plant mine in the ground because I think they do better. That said, I live in a place where the winter kills them all. I have good luck freezing thyme & rosemary whole on the stem in freezer bags which gives me the freedom to use them various ways. I also freeze parsley stems for use in stock. In addition, I have also frozen chopped herbs in water or olive oil in ice cube trays.
Susan W. October 19, 2015
I wouldn't bring them in. I live in Oregon and my hearty herbs (thyme and rosemary etc.) just get moved over to a sheltered area of my deck. They slow way down, but always come back even stronger in Spring. Basil always dies and I replant it. Dill, tarragon and oregano sometimes survive and sometimes don't depending on our Winter. I would never bring them inside because I grow my herbs organically, so I would be inviting bugs of some sort in.
Smaug October 19, 2015
I grow stuff all year in California (when I can find any water), but few potted plants can survive extended periods of freezing weather, and are likely to get it in NY. A cold frame would be a good alternative, if practical.
Susan W. October 19, 2015
Most of us here in Oregon leave them out. I am lucky enough to have a little shelter, but even those who don't have their herbs come back every year. It's what we do in the PNW. None of us use cold frames.
Smaug October 19, 2015
You should be concerned, but it's about all you can do. Most of the perennial herbs such as thyme, oregano, marjoram, sage, rosemary etc. are not very prone to insects, but you should look them over; certain bugs will go wild indoors. Annuals and biennials (parsley, basil, cilantro et. al have likely had it, better to restart them in spring. Shock isn't really a problem moving plants indoors, but they're likely to struggle with low light and shouldn't be watered or fed much, or otherwise encouraged to grow. Shock can be a problem when you move them back out, largely from ultraviolet light, which is mostly blocked by plants and can burn plants not accustomed to it, and from temperature- your best bet would be to move them outside during good weather and bring them in at nights, at least until freezes are no longer a danger.
Smaug October 19, 2015
Sorry; that's blocked by glass. This site really needs an edit function.
Smaug October 19, 2015
pps- taragon is an herbacious perennial and will naturally die down for the winter; it should resprout from the roots in the spring; not sure if the roots will survive a NY winter outdoors or not.
Recommended by Food52