This bay plant is ready for its closeup with the sun. Up until this week, it’s only had field trips to the outside for partial days, getting trundled back to the dim safety of the basement where it’s spent the past several winters.


It’s one of several plants I try to overwinter.  Some, like the Vietnamese cilantro, make it just a few months until giving up the ghost in January .  I’ve had my best luck with rosemary, sage, parsley and oregano. Thyme plants have been hit or miss. Sun-loving basil is a no-go; plant lights are no substitute for the blazing midsummer rays. Kale and Swiss chard drop their big leaves, but still send up fresh shoots.

After coaxing them through a long winter, the real moment of truth comes when they’re carted back outside to their summer patio home. Many have gotten straggly reaching for the light, and even plants that look a comparatively healthy green in the basement look anemic in the light of day. I try to ease the transition, bringing them out on mild days and tucking them in the shade. Sometimes they don’t get over the shock to the system and die off; sometimes the current growth dies back but it comes back strong from the roots. Other times I get lucky and the plant takes off anew.

Sure, I could just compost the plants in fall and buy new ones next spring. But it’s nice to have a ready source of fresh rosemary all winter, and there is some sense of satisfaction for having successfully cajoled the plant through another year. Plus, that’s money saved that I can put toward another basil plant.

What’s your success story or tale of woe with overwintering plants? And what herbs are you trying to grow this year?

You can always bring any overwintered plants -- or excess house plants -- to the plant swap this Saturday 10 a.m. to noon across from the Star Tribune building in downtown Minneapolis. (See details here: Trust me, someone wants what you don't. And everyone who shows up just looking to offload excess plants winds up wandering home with a plant (or carful of plants). And if it rains, we have tents lined up, so stop by and enjoy swapping plants and stories with fellow gardeners. Here's a link to a post about how to get the most out of a plant swap: