Roanoke Revealed

Preparing edible perennials & fall plantings for winter

Preparing edible perennials & fall plantings for winter

If you’ve decided to save money and time with perennial choices, start thinking about how you’ll help your plants through the colder months. Some need no attention. Most will benefit from some. Others may parish if you don’t take some easy steps to protect them.


Herbs are easy. The perennials I’ve selected include sage, rosemary, thyme, chives, lavender, oregano & peppermint. Most have been sown directly into the ground but also set aside some in containers for winter palate pleasures inside.

Containers should be moved indoors to a sunny location soon. Placed right and fertilized (I use fish emulsion – it’s about $8 for a bottle that will easily last you through the winter), you’ll be able to enjoy fresh herbs all winter at arm’s kitchen reach. The key is to start with plants that are mature enough to handle the lessened sunlight hours and still thrive. If they’re young, you’ll need to provide artificial light for longer hours to bring them along.

Established outdoor herbs don’t require much winter prep care. I try to give them a good dose of dried leaf mulch and when that runs out, straw, but if they’re happy and healthy now, that’s probably not necessary.

Cut back rosemary strategically for bushier production moving forward and more harvest next year (two stalks form for every one you truncate).

You’ll be able continue to harvest most outdoor planted perennial herbs throughout the winter – provided they’re not buried in snow.

Parsley freezes great. It’s a biennial, but gets bitter as it goes to seed in the second year. You’re better off clipping leaves before winter hits and throwing them in your freezer. You don’t need to do anything but wash (and if you want to save time later, remove the stalks). Store it in freezer bags and it thaws with the same taste and texture of fresh.

Perennial fruits and vegetables

This year, I planted a number of crops with harvests anticipated in the future – hopefully next year for all. This included strawberries, asparagus, horseradish and blueberries.

Strawberries planted in the spring were ravaged by deer. Few survived through fall. I bought another dozen recently hoping they’ll get established enough to thrive come May – July 2017. I hung pieces of soap bars (Irish Spring) around the perimeter in hopes of deterring Bambie (herbs and Black Eyed Susan’s didn’t work as suggested by those clearly haven’t met the brazen suburban deer in the Roanoke area). Surprisingly, even with many being stolen (I suspect squirrels), this seems to be working. Deer droppings are in the garden, but their usual devour strawberries first routine has been disrupted.

Consider shaking a heavy layer of strawI over strawberry plants before deep cold sets in. They’re pretty hardy, but if it gets cold for a span, you risk plant death. Make sure you remove straw from around the plants come spring.

Asparagus is easy once it’s established. Roots die almost immediately if exposed above the dirt, so if you get a heavy rain or other issues eroding the soil, cover any roots you see quickly. Plants need little winter care. I plant strawberries with my asparagus to provide ground cover to reduce weeds. Soil temperature cues the plants to produce come spring so there’s no need for early season sunlight to start stalks.

This is a first for me with horseradish. I planted it in June with an anticipated harvest next year. So far, it’s remained healthy. Some caution against planting horseradish due to spread. Since I can’t readily find horseradish root in area stores, I’m happy to take the chance. No winter protection is need from research. I’ll let you know next year how that experiment goes.

Blueberries are winter hardy. I started with young plants and placed them in a precarious area – right about where the house roof will dump the most snow. If they survive there, they’re likely to thrive in any Roanoke location. Know these plants prefer acidic soil, so that can be a big factor in your success.


Unless you’re planting elephant garlic (not true garlic), now is the time to be putting garlic seed (cloves) in the ground. I’ve selected five varieties for next year, including a combination of softneck and hardneck varieties. It’s silly what companies charge for seed garlic (my least expensive find was in the $5-$10/clove range), so I’ll be harvesting seed garlic next year in copious amounts.

Garlic is very hearty – even in very cold temperatures. You’ll see it sprouting whenever the weather warms, but don’t despair. It keeps alive to form a robust head – no matter how many times it thinks spring’s here – figure about nine months to maturity. You’ll know it’s ready when the tops start to brown out. Want bigger heads? Pull the curly extension out (this is where the seeds form) as it develops. This is delicious, so save it for potatoes, salad wow or other food items where chives with a kick can enhance the flavor.

Most edible perennials will survive a Virginia winter without a lot of extra care. I get busy planting in the spring so like to get beds ready in the fall while making perennial beds as maintenance free as possible come spring. Deep mulch helps reinvigorate the soil and reduces weed traction. With some plants, it helps prevent winter kill.

I turn the soil (with a potato fork) on any beds designed for annuals – then add mulch. Root vegetables such as carrots, parsnips and turnips stay healthy in the ground throughout the winter for fresh year-round delights (make sure you mark your rows so you can find them under snow).

You can make your garden a year-round delight if you choose. It depends on what you plant – and how you set it up for access.

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