Taking care of your holiday rosemary plant

Although nowhere near as popular as poinsettias, rosemary plants are becoming a favorite holiday plant.

Rosemary trimmed to a conical shape bears a striking resemblance to a miniature Christmas tree. Though it may look like it, rosemary is not related to pine, spruce or any other evergreen trees. It belongs to the mint family of plants which includes basil, thyme, mint and sage.

Just brushing against the leaves of  a potted rosemary releases its signature fragrance that can fill a room.

In most cases, fresh sprigs can be cut from a potted rosemary and be used in recipes calling for this herb. I say in most cases because sometimes plant growers apply systemic pesticides to their rosemary crop. In that case the rosemary is intended for ornamental use only and not for consumption. Always read the plant tag before assuming your plant is OK to use in the kitchen.


Plant tags often contain more information than just the name of the plant.
Plant tags often contain more information than just the name of the plant.

Don’t be tempted to water your plant and let water stand in the saucer or wrapper thinking that will supply even moisture. Standing water will drown and kill rosemary roots and eventually the entire plant.

On the other hand, don’t let the plant dry out. The stiff foliage doesn’t appear to wilt much when the plant gets dry, but damage can happen pretty quickly from lack of water.

Place your rosemary into a container of water and allow the entire root ball absorb water.
Place your rosemary into a container of water and allow the entire root ball absorb water.

Try this little trick: try to gauge how much your rosemary weighs before you water it. After the plant has drained in the sink, note how much heavier it feels when you pick it up. After a few times you’ll be able to have a good guess at how dry the plant is. If you’re not comfortable doing that, use a moisture meter — they’re relatively inexpensive and make a great Christmas gift!

Finally, be sure your plant gets as much direct sun as possible — a south window is almost mandatory. We’ve been setting ours outside during these mild days to help the plant get more sunshine.


Bringing in rosemary for winter

Last spring, I had a rosemary plant in a six inch pot that over-wintered in the garage.  It looked like it could use a vacation, so, I took it out of its pot and planted it directly into the garden.

While in the garden, it suffered the regular abuse that you expect a rosemary plant to endure.  Whenever I needed rosemary for cooking, I pulled off  leaves. Also, I tore off a few stems to use for starting some new plants from cuttings. It certainly didn’t get coddled during the summer.


Some stems look vigorous while others seem to be under stress on this rosemary plant.

This fall it survived those nights when the temperatures  dipped down into the teens. Normally, rosemary can’t deal with our harsh winter temperatures. I have in the past, had one or two, by chance,  survive a mild winter.

This week, I finally decided to dig and re-pot this tough little plant. Despite all of the abuse and neglect, the roots grew large enough to fill a 12 inch pot. Also, the dead and damaged stems needed some pruning.  Otherwise, it looks to be in pretty good shape.

I used a garden fork to lift the rosemary from the garden soil carefully, leaving the root ball intact.

My plan is to let it rest in our cool, dimly lit garage over winter just like last year. Then, come next spring, I’ll plant it back out into the garden.


Harvest Basil Before Frost

Our Indian summer is here for several more days but it won’t last forever.  Frost hit in some low lying areas a week or so ago but many gardens are still going strong.

Some plants in the vegetable garden can tolerate light frost; others have no resistance to it.  Basil is one of those crops that can’t take even a hint of frost.

I’ve taken the time to collect some of my basil now before the frost hits here.  In the past, I’ve dried basil in a food dehydrator.  Many of the subtle flavors seem to be evaporated out doing it that way but it stores well and keeps most of its green color,

Last week I chopped a quart of fresh basil and poured olive oil over it to keep it fresh.  There is nothing new to this method. For years, people have been preserving basil in olive oil.  I found out just recently that botulism could form in the basil-oil mixture if it is kept at room temperatures for more than a few days.  Even if the mixture is refrigerated, botulism can grow.  The only safe way to keep basil and oil mix is in the freezer.

I froze a couple of pint jars and brought one out today just to check it.  It’s frozen solid; I’ll have to let it thaw a little before it will be easy enough to scoop out.

A jar of frozen basil-olive oil mix, right out of the freezer.

Some people put their basil-oil mix into ice cube trays and then freeze it.  Later, they take cubes out of the freezer as they need them.

Next year I think I’ll watch out for ice cubes at the garage sales.


Plant Garlic in the Fall for Summer Harvest

In past years I have written about the subject of planting garlic.  I think it never hurts to remind experienced gardeners that they need to get that garlic in now. Also, there may be new readers that would like to try their hand at growing their own garlic.

To grow garlic like these, you need to follow a few simple guidelines.

To get garlic like those shown in the photo, you need to follow just a few simple guidelines.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that garlic needs to be planted in the fall.  That means if you are thinking about doing it, now’s the time.  Fall planting allows the plant to establish roots before the ground freezes. You can plant garlic in the spring but keep in mind that the bulbs will be quite a bit smaller that if you planted now. Don’t wait too late in the season either. Planting too late in the fall will have similar results as spring planting… small bulbs.

I should mention that garlic is planted from cloves separated from a garlic bulb. If you are planting a small crop, one or two bulbs from the grocery store will work fine.  So called seed garlic is available from seed suppliers for those who want to plant a larger amount.

Since garlic is considered a heavy feeder, be sure the area you select has fertile soil and full sun. Addition of manure or compost is always a good idea.

After separating the cloves, place them into the soil at a depth of one to two inches.  You can dig a furrow  and set the cloves into it or just push them into the soil.  They need to be about six inches apart so they have room to grow next spring. The space between the rows should be at least six inches or more depending on the amount of space you have.

Once the soil freezes, mulch the area with straw, leaves, grass clippings or something similar to a depth of  four to six inches. Your new garlic will be happily tucked away and protected against the harsh winter conditions and freezing and thawing cycles.

Next spring rake off the mulch to let them begin their growth.

Keep in mind that garlic cannot compete against weeds. Any weeds present will drastically reduce your harvest.


Better Late Than Never

Here we are, it’s the last day of November and I just got our garlic in the ground a few days ago.

Regular readers  of this blog already know that fall is the time of year that you plant garlic.  Garlic can be planted in the spring, however you will end up with bulbs half the size of those planted in the fall.

I think there is still some time to get your garlic planted, I wouldn’t wait too much longer though.

If you have a helper in the garden, decide who is going to go out and find some garlic cloves to plant while the other stays behind and prepares the area to be planted.  If you are by yourself,well then, you’ll have to do both.

Check the garden centers for garlic cloves, if they are out, a farmer’s market stand may have some that can be used for planting. The garlic purchased in a grocery store produce department will most likely have been treated with a sprout inhibitor and will not be good for planting. Sprouting is what we want. I used my garlic that I saved from this years crop.

Your garlic spot must be free of all weeds and kept that way during the growing season because garlic does not compete well against weeds. If you are planning on amending your soil with compost or peat, now’s the time to do so.

Break apart the garlic bulbs into individual cloves just as you do in the kitchen, only this time you won’t be running them through the garlic press.

Plant the cloves into the soil about 2 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. Place the root end down. You can just push them down into the soil with your finger or dig a furrow like I did here.

Planting garlic into a 2'' deep furrow
Planting garlic into a 2'' deep furrow

Cover them up with soil and let them  go until the soil freezes.  During this period, the cloves will grow roots.  Hopefully we will have a mild December which will allow our late planted garlic some time to develop those roots. No fertilizer is needed for now, we’ll apply that in the spring.

Garlic cloves ready to be covered
Garlic cloves ready to be covered

Once the ground freezes, cover the bed with straw, compost or other type of mulch.  It’s much better for the garlic if the soil is kept at a consistently cold temperature (which the mulch will provide) than to be freezing and thawing over and over through the winter.

In the spring we will remove our mulch and add fertilizer, garlic is a crop that needs a lot of plant food.

We’ll revisit this project again at mulching time and fertilizing time.


“…well fed and in the bed…

…the garlic bulbs that is. Today we mulched our garlic beds. The raised beds we have for vegetable production measure about 5’x9′. Five pounds of garlic bulbs plant six of these beds exactly. We used wheat straw about 6′”-8″ deep to cover these six beds. Four moderately heavy bales did the trick. By the way, these bales of straw were of the most beautiful golden wheat color I have seen in a long time. In a way it was amost a shame to use them for mulch, but that’s what they’re there for. The bright color ensures that we don’t import a new batch of weed seeds from weed stalks that could have been baled up out in the field by the farmer along with the straw. Straw that has lots of different color stems in the bale more than likely are contaminated with weeds.
If you promise not to tell anyone, I”ll let you know the secret to growing super size and delicious garlic. So just let me know if you can “keep it under your hat”, by writing me a short note in the comment section that you like garlic.

Well, now that the garlic bulbs are all tucked in their beds for the winter, I think I’m going to have lunch and take a nap. Bob