Autumn this year is as unusual as the year that proceeded it. Driven by both climate change and an El Nino, it is unseasonally warm. This makes it a wonderful time for herb gardeners as the season is extended so we can continue to grow more herbs whilst the weather allows.
Autumn is the perfect time to sow culinary herbs to produce a winter crop because the soil is still warm and the pest and diseases that might have been present earlier in the year, such as carrot fly, have gone away. Autumn herbs will enable you to add fresh herb flavours to your winter meals, soups and salads. Please read Jekka’s tips on sowing your winter culinary herbs.
It is also a great time to collect and harvest herb seeds. This is becoming even more true as not only is it becoming difficult to import seeds into the UK but also the threat of climate change and the associated extreme weather events such as fires is putting seed availability at risk. For more information, please read Jekka's guide on how to harvest herb seeds.
Finally, Jekka also recommends propagating mint for Christmas. If you do it now, you will have fresh mint to add to your Christmas meal. Check out how in Jekka’s Guide to Mint, which contains a video of Jekka showing Nathan Outlaw how to do just this.
In this blog, we will explore the top 10 herb plants to consider for your autumn garden, as well as essential maintenance tips and advice to ensure your herbs thrive during this transitional period.
Jekka’s top 10 herb plants for early autumn
- Coriander (Coriandrum sativum): this is the perfect time to sow Coriander for a winter crop. It thrives in cooler temperatures and is an essential ingredient in many autumn-inspired dishes, such as salsas and curries. Seeds available online.
Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
- Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium): this is one of our favourites, often forgotten, culinary herbs. It is a great alternative to Parsley and goes wonderfully in mash potato. As with Coriander, it is the perfect time to sow. Seeds available online.
Chervil (Anthriscus cerefolium)
- Fennel (Foeniculum): is a hardy herbaceous perennial, which works equally as well in ornamental borders as it does as a culinary herb. It is found in Jekka's Grow At Home Autumn Herb Kit.
- Jekka’s salad mixes are great for sowing now in order to have cut-and-come-again salad herbs that not only taste better than shop bought, they are full of nutrients, so they do you good as well. Jekka has three varieties: Jekka’s Eastern Salad Herb Mix, Jekka’s Mustard Salad Herb Mix and Jekka’s Spicy Salad Herb Mix.
Jekka’s salad mixes
- Mint (Mentha): Mint is a herbaceous perennial, but as Jekka teaches at her open days, if you cut it back to a growing node (where it is shooting) you will get a second growth. Also, as mentioned in the introduction, you can propagate mint now for Xmas (check out Jekka’s video). Mint is delicious for making soothing herbal infusions but equally, for making a winter Mojito. For something a little bit different, give Japanese Mint (Mentha arvensis piperascens) a go. It is one of the last mints to flower and is currently covered in bees. This mint makes a great cup of tea.
Japanese Mint (Mentha arvensis piperascens)
- Oregano (Origanum): Oregano has a robust flavour that pairs wonderfully with autumn vegetables and meats and is generally added just at the end of cooking, so that it retains its pungency. Want to know more? Check out Jekka’s Guide to Oregano.
- Parsley (Petroselinum crispum): is a classic, hardy biennial herb that is a good source of Vitamins A & C and also aids digestion. Jekka advocates using Parsley for flavour not just as a garnish. Parsley is a versatile herb that can be enjoyed throughout the autumn in salads, sauces, and garnishes.
Parsley (Petroselinum crispum)
- Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis): is an evergreen, perennial herb with fragrant leaves that add a delightful flavour to roasted meats and vegetables. In particular, Jekka's Blue Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus 'Jekka's Blue') is already in flower and hopefully will be providing colour until the new year.
Jekka's Blue Rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus 'Jekka's Blue')
- Sage (Salvia officinalis): has a rich, earthy flavour with aromatic leaves making it a staple for stuffing, sauces and hearty soups. At Jekka’s, we are a fan of Narrow Leafed Sage (Salvia lavandulifolia) which is a wonderful compact sage with highly aromatic leaves.
Narrow Leafed Sage (Salvia lavandulifolia)
- Thyme (Thymus): has aromatic leaves that can withstand cooler temperatures and are great for seasoning autumn stews and roasted dishes. Jekka’s Thyme (Thymus ‘Jekka’), which is our most popular Thyme on the herb farm, is valued by both cooks and gardeners. It forms a dense dark green mat covered in small pink flowers. The flavour of thyme is gentle, pepper, mint, with slightly bitter notes and it compliments many dishes from roast chicken to baked fish.
Jekka’s Thyme (Thymus ‘Jekka’)
Herbs that are looking good in autumn
Here are six herbs that the bees and our team have been enjoying in early September in both Jekka's Herebetum and Herb Garden:
- Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) a hardy herbaceous perennial that have provided so much interest for the biodiversity in Jekka's Herb Garden.
- Feverfew (Tanacetum parthenium), a hardy herbaceous perennial with medicinal properties that can purportedly help soothe migranes.
- Mountain Marigold (Tagetes lemmonii), a great companion plant with highly aromatic leaves.
- Mountain Mint (Pycnanthemum pilosum), a herbaceous herb with a beautiful white flowers that are currently covered in bees.
- Purple Shiso (Perilla frutescens var. purpurascens), a hardy annual used in Japanese dishes, however its purple foliage can brighten any border.
- Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum), a hardy, deciduous shrub with its beautiful silvery foliage makes a wonderful moth repellent.
Jekka's autumn herb action list
It is time to put your herbs into hibernation mode and here is a summary of Jekka's autumn and early winter action list including maintenance tips and advice for autumn herb gardening:
- Pruning and harvesting: for perennial herbs, you should harvest less in the autumn as the plants are putting on less growth. We recommend harvesting herbs in the morning and from non-flowering shoots as this is when their flavours are best.
- Watering: is very tricky as the season changes; while herbs generally require less water in the autumn, don't let them dry out completely. Provide adequate moisture without over-saturating the soil. As herbs begin to hibernate, you need to reduce the amount of water you give them.
- Protect from frost: keep an eye on weather forecasts, and if frost is expected, cover your herbs with a horticultural fleece or bring potted herbs indoors temporarily to protect them. In particular, protect plants like lemon verbena, bay and myrtles in outside containers and, if possible, move them to a south-facing wall for the winter.
- Sow your last winter herbs: in particular, we recommend sowing Parsley, Chervil and Winter Purslane. Check out Jekka's blog about 'Sowing your winter culinary herbs' for more ideas and see Jekka’s videos for her tips on how to.
- Take root cuttings: as herbaceous herbs hibernate, they put more of their energy into their roots and therefore, it is a good time to propagate them. For example, on the herb farm, we are propagating Horseradish, Tarragon and Mint for next year. This is also true for potting up or planting out herbaceous herbs as they will grow more roots leading to better top growth next spring.
Mint root cuttings
- Divide herbs: as well as sowing seeds and taking cuttings, it is also a good time to divide herbs and replant in another pot or a different part of the garden. If space is limited, share with a friend. Jekka recommends dividing herbs likeOregano, Lovage, Sorrel, Chives, Lemon Balm, Salad Burnet, Alecost and Bergamot.
- Pest and disease control: in the autumn your herbs can still suffer from pests and diseases. You should keep an eye out for pests like aphids and caterpillars, which can still be active in the autumn. In particular, we find mildew to be a problem if the air is damp, warm and with poor circulation. On the herb farm, we spread our herbs out, open tunnel doors and sides to try and create a natural breeze. Where it does occur, we recommend using SB Plant Invigorator which is an environmentally friendly growth stimulant and pesticide.
- Clean your tools: you should be cleaning your tools before each use to prevent the spread of disease and to ensure you are cutting herbs with sharp blades. However, sometimes it is good to do a thorough clean ready for next year or, if they are not salvageable, put some new tools on your Christmas List! See our gardening tools here.
- Weed and feed your beds: autumn is a perfect time to do a thorough weeding and tidy up of your beds, removing unwanted plants and those that have spread or grown too much. Once this has been done, you can top dress and feed your beds with well rotten manure or compost to give your herbs the best start for next year.
- Harvest your seeds: it is vitally important that you collect and harvest your seed. This is true, not only because it is harder to import seeds but also the threat of climate change and the associated extreme weather events such as fires is putting seed availability at risk. To find out the best way to collect and store your seed, read Jekka's blog on harvesting herb seed.
Elecampane (Inula helenium)
Herbs for autumn
Autumn heralds the start of hibernation where herbs prepare themselves for colder times. At the beginning of autumn there is still a bounty of flavours and colours to be had; especially with climate change prolonging the summer temperatures into the winter months. Whether you're planning to make hearty stews, delicious roasted dishes, or simply want to enjoy the beauty and fragrance of your garden, herbs are a wonderful addition to your kitchen or home. Within this blog, we have given you Jekka’s top 10 herbs as well as those that are looking good at the moment. Plus Jekka’s top 10 action list to make the most of autumn and put you in the best position for next spring.
Want to know more?
Jekka’s has a wealth of material on designing and planting culinary herb gardens. Some additional Guides and Blogs that might also help are:
- Jekka’s Guide on How to Grow Herbs
- Jekka's Guide to being a Sustainable Herb Gardener
- Jekka’ Tips to Planting a Culinary Herb Garden
- Jekka’s Advice on Growing Herbs in Containers
- Marcus Wareing's Herb Kitchen Garden
- Jekka’s Riverstone culinary kitchen herb garden
Please also see Jekka's herbs of the month blogs: Bay (January), Rosemary (February), Salad Burnet (March), French Tarragon (April), Angelica (May), Alliums (June), Lavender (July), Basil (August), Mint (September), Szechuan Pepper (October), Thyme (November) and Curry Tree (December)
Herb plants are available and you can organise a collection from our herb farm in South Gloucestershire or at one of our Open Days. Please see our 'Looking Good List' for availability and use our webform or email your list directly to us (email@example.com). We no longer offer a general mail order service for our plants but we do offer an occasional limited selection of Jekka's Culinary Herb Boxes.