The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Rosemary winter protection

Winter protection for rosemaryHere in zone 6, we're right on the edge of rosemary's hardiness area.  Despite the fact that friends of mine fifty miles south can grow huge bushes of rosemary where nearby pavement holds in heat around their city yards, I've never managed to get mine to survive the winter.  Our shady valley chills down fast and stays cold all winter --- we've had four frosts already that have completely taken out the summer garden while my city friends are still lingering on the edge of summer.

This year, I decided to start experimenting with ways of protecting rosemary so that it will survive the winter outdoors.  The first step was too keep its roots very dry.  I built hugelkultur mounds in the sunniest (but also most waterlogged) part of the garden.  For the first time ever, my rosemary thrived through the summer, turning from a rooted cutting into a nice little bush.  The soil felt bone dry when I rooted around in it, but the rosemary seemed to get plenty of moisture.

Using leaves to protect rosemaryNow that cold weather is on its way, I made a little den for the rosemary out of four cinderblocks liberally filled with autumn leaves.  (Thanks for collecting those, Mom!)  I hope the plant won't mind not being able to photosynthesize with its lower leaves, and that the combination of cinderblock thermal mass and leaf insulation will keep the roots from freezing.

I also hedged my bets a month ago by buying two cold hardy rosemary varieties from a nearby nursery --- Hill Hardy and Arp.  I've read various reports on the internet, some of which suggest that these varieties will survive the winter in zone 6, and others that are less promising.  If I'd known what I was doing, I would have planted these hardy rosemary plants in the spring like I did my homegrown cutting so that they would have all summer to get established --- that's what I'll try next year if my insulating barriers fail to protect our three rosemary plants through the winter.  If even that fails, I'll let Mark build me the mini-greenhouses he's been dying to make to keep our delicious herb green all year.

Keep your flock's water poop-free with a homemade chicken waterer.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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We've had a couple soft frosts that my herbs have survived, but last night it began to snow so I decided to cut everything down.
Comment by Edward - Entry Level Dilemma Tue Oct 26 10:30:17 2010
Our frosts haven't been terribly hard, but all of the tender plants succumb quickly. No threat of snow here, though!
Comment by anna Tue Oct 26 13:43:06 2010

Wow. We've barely had a light frost here in Floyd. Still have living peppers and eggplants. Gotta move them in a couple hours.

They use rosemary in Tucson as a low water / low maintenance plant for public walkways so no wonder yours was happy without too much water. They are an arid land bush!

Comment by April Tue Oct 26 15:16:16 2010

I'd go for the mini-greenhouse. :-) Build a wooded frame and cover it with a sheet of PMMA (perspex, plexiglass)

Comment by Roland_Smith Tue Oct 26 17:02:21 2010
That's what Mark wants too, but greenhouses have several negative side effects from a gardener's point of view. Most problematic, I'd have to actually pay attention to the plants and give them water --- I don't water anything except houseplants in the winter and find it tough to think of watering an outside plant when there's been plenty of rain. Greenhouses also tend to accumulate pest insects. So, if I can get away with a lower tech solution, I want to try that first.
Comment by anna Tue Oct 26 17:16:35 2010
April --- not sure how I missed your comment! I'm surprised you haven't had colder weather there since I think you're at a higher elevation than we are. (At least, Everett is at a higher elevation and he's outside Floyd.) Enjoy summer while you can!
Comment by anna Tue Oct 26 17:19:24 2010

Interesting. I didn't know about greenhouses accumulating pests. There are new things to learn every day :-)

As for watering, since the pane of acrylic gets all the water that the plot normally would get, it shouldn't be that difficult to add a roof gutter to the lower side of the cover and pipe that water inside...

Comment by Roland_Smith Wed Oct 27 02:35:13 2010

A well-planned organic garden is a balancing act, and things like chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and greenhouses tip it out of balance. In my garden, I don't worry about most pest insects because natural predators come along very quickly and eat them up. But in a greenhouse situation, things like whiteflies and aphids that barely tough my garden tend to get out of control --- they lack natural predators and you have to go through and wash them off by hand or spray insecticidal soap. I was shocked the first spring that I tried to start a lot of seedlings inside and lost most of them to problems that never would have touched my garden. I've since discovered that I actually get better yields by just starting most of those plants in cold frames in the garden, where the conditions aren't so unnaturally warm and where some beneficial insects pop up along with the bad.

That said, your idea of a gutter on the minigreenhouse that makes it self watering is extremely tempting.... :-)

Comment by anna Wed Oct 27 12:31:44 2010

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