Jekka's tips on maintaining your herb plants in early spring

Jekka's tips on maintaining your herb plants in early spring

Walking around the Herbetum you can see that Spring is now around the corner; I noticed, this week, that the Wild Garlic is just emerging.  As the ground is too cold and in many cases too wet to work on, now is the ideal time to start looking through your seed packets and planning the season ahead. You can also start taking cuttings, dividing herbs and potting up container herbs. Hopefully you have read our blog about what to do in Autumn and have put your garden into hibernation for the festive period; if not you still have time to do the last tidy up before the busy season begins.

With climate change and the changes in weather patterns it is difficult to advise what you should be doing from one day to the next, you have to be adaptable to cope with the changes. As a sustainable and environmentally conscious herb farm we are particularly susceptible to the ‘unusually warm period’ or the ‘sudden cold snap’ with which the typical gardener has to contend. The prediction is that, due to climate change, there will be an increased frequency of the extremes and therefore, we need to be ever alert and ready with the fleece or watering can.

As the festive period was particularly warm, we experienced a bit of botrytis cinerea, often called  grey mould.  This is a fungal infection which can often be found growing on old flowers. It easily spreads to neighbouring plants once formed and greenhouses provide an ideal moist, temperate environment for it to grow. Therefore, it is advisable to have a look and carefully cut off any infected stems or dead flowers. Also do not leave any dead material lying around. To reduce humidity increase the ventilation.  Here we open the doors of the glasshouse once the outside temperature reaches 7 Deg C during the day. 

As the weather warms and the days get ever longer life becomes more abundant and apparent in the garden. However, this year, with our unusually warm weather, life never really went away as it used to and our spring bulbs and garlic are already breaking through the soil and the sap can be seen rising in the trees; did, what we know as winter, actually happen this year? Perhaps this is the new normal that we must work with. However, as any diligent gardener will know, a warm winter, might mean a cold February/March so we should be on our toes to protect tender herbs or new growth with horticultural fleece.

Jekka's top tip is, until we get through March, to be prepared to cover new young plants with  horticultural fleece at night if temperatures drop below 0 Deg C.

In the early spring, late winter, there are plenty of things to be getting on with in the garden. To start with, you can have the final tidy up before the busy season starts. We have been cleaning down our hardstandings by power washing simply with water. We do this every year as it removes any unwanted weeds, pests and diseases. 

Fresh herbs are available for use in the kitchen. By providing a little protection you can soon start having fresh herbs available: for example, there will be new shoots of Angelica, as well as Bay, Chervil, Italian Marjoram, Rosemary and Sage; Sorrel has started coming through along with Salad Burnet and small pickings of Winter Savory; Thyme, especially lemon thyme, and Parsley are also around. Chives start to come up if under protection, and Mint can be available if forced. For the foragers, Wild Garlic is just showing. As with everything else it is early this year.

It is time to start planning and sowing your seeds. See Jekka’s top culinary herb seeds or browse the entire collection as well as Jekka’s how to video on sowing seeds for more information. Jekka’s top seeds for sowing in early spring, in the cold under protection, not in the garden, include:

Read more about culinary herbs in Jekka's Guide to Culinary Herbs or try some of our herb based recipes.

You can take root cuttings of  Mint, French Tarragon, Bergamot, Tansy,  Jiaogulan (Sweet Tea Vine), Sweet Woodruff and Sweet Cicely.

You can divide herbaceous perennials such as Yarrow, English Mace, Mint, French Tarragon, Lovage, Sorrel, Sweet Cicely and Lemon Balm. If you are reading this after a cold period, make sure they are not too frozen and are given added protection after replanting. 

If you would like more hands-on practical information on taking cuttings, sowing seeds or dividing herbs check-out Jekka’s Master Class on How to Grow Herbs or, if you wish to start a family herb patch, try our new 'Sow it, Grow it. Eat it.' Master Class for adult and child.

Maintain your plants in containers. If the containers have been brought in for the winter or protected against a wall or with fleece, new life might be starting. Help them along by ensuring all old, dead growth is removed or trimmed back. If required, water, but not too much as over-watering often causes mould and botrytis, and feed with liquid seaweed. Re-pot if necessary, into containers for display later in the season.

Prepare the garden by raking over the soil to disturb any early weeds and, if your soil is alkaline (check out Jekka’s Guide to Soil) and you gave it a good dressing of manure in the Autumn, now is the time to dig it in well. Also, remove any black polythene that you might have put down.

It is also time to start checking on your herbs as they wake up from hibernation mode. Here is a summary of Jekka's spring, late winter, action list:

  • Go on a walk about and check for signs of new life or the appearance of pest and disease. In particular check for the lavea of Rosemary beetle and remove them.

Jekka's: Rosemary Beetle Larvae

Rosemary beetle larvae

  • Repair, maintain, clean and sharpen your tools - check out our gifts for gardeners, perfect for this coming Valentines day!
  • Clean the glasshouse, hardstandings, pots, and sowing and propagating equipment. We simply use water.
  • Lift any terracottas as we are starting to have frosts.
  • Clean up any leftover debris or dead plants.
  • Install water butts and start collecting water.
  • Create a composting area.

Check out Jekka’s blog, videosbooks and master classes for further inspiration and ensure you subscribe to our newsletter to find out what we have in store for the year.