If you live where winter temperatures drop below freezing and have rosemary growing in your garden, consider transitioning your plants indoors for the winter since this frost-tender plant will not overwinter in temperatures below -10 Celsius / 14 Fahrenheit.
To successfully move your rosemary plant indoors, it requires several conditions to overwinter successfully. One thing you can’t do is move it into the house without a transition, as the indoor environment is too dry and warm. Instead, rosemary needs time to acclimatize to an indoor environment, or it will shed its needles before you know it.
I learned this from experience. The first time I tried to bring my rosemary plant indoors for the winter, I simply put it on the floor like any houseplant. A week later, I disappointedly discovered a rosemary plant desiccated and devoid of needles.
This experience initially led me to believe that moving a rosemary plant indoors for the winter is next to impossible, so I didn’t attempt it for many years. Then, one year, I thought I would give it a go once more, and it happened by accident!
Many years back, the growing season was coming to a close, and I had two lovely rosemary plants that I couldn’t let go of. During garden clean up, I placed those rosemary plants on the back of my utility vehicle and drove it into the garage, forgetting all about them. A few weeks had passed when I discovered those rosemary plants were still sitting where I had left them, and both plants were happy and healthy! I hadn’t watered them, and they had very little direct light, yet they were fine. Afterwards, I brought them indoors, where they flourished through the winter.
That experience taught me several things. Rosemary needs time to adjust to the indoors; you can’t just bring it inside and treat it like a houseplant. Secondly, I learned to care for rosemary after indoor acclimation, as it requires specific cultural practices to keep it thriving and healthy.
To successfully transition your rosemary plant indoors for the winter, I suggest the following steps:
- Before the first frost, move your potted rosemary plant into the garage or insulated tool shed. If your rosemary was planted in the garden, pot it up with fresh potting soil and place it in either location. If the garage temperature remains above freezing, your rosemary can stay there for several months. If you don’t have a garage, choose your coolest, shadiest room for this transition.
- Don’t water your rosemary during acclimation or water it very little. You want your rosemary to slow its growth. Plants that require consistent watering do so because they are in active growth. Plants that are not growing and are sitting somewhat dormant may rot from overwatering. If the soil becomes bone dry, giving your plant some water is okay.
- Don’t feed your rosemary plants during this process. Again, they are not in active growth and do not require additional nutrients.
- Rosemary prefers cool, not freezing, temperatures during the winter months. After acclimation, you may store your rosemary plant in a cool room next to the window. A grow light is fine as long as it doesn’t emit heat. Don’t place your rosemary plant next to a heater or air vent.
- After acclimation, water your rosemary every few weeks until the soil is sufficiently moist. Test moisture level by touching the surface of the soil. If it feels damp, it is adequately watered. If uncertain, push your finger into the soil to your first knuckle. If it feels damp, it is sufficiently watered. If it feels dry, give it more water.
- Don’t let your rosemary dry out entirely, especially after seeing new growth. Although rosemary prefers drier conditions, it does not like to dry out completely. If you forget to water your plant and it dries out, it may expire.
- Feel free to make harvests throughout the winter by trimming between a leaf joint. Although rosemary has leaf joints along the stem, I would not recommend cutting your stems down by more than half. If you cut into old wood, your rosemary plant may have difficulty recovering. Anywhere you do take cuttings, your rosemary will branch out and become a bushier plant.
- In the spring and after the final frost has passed, begin hardening off your rosemary plants. This process is similar to hardening off seedlings. Begin slowly by placing your rosemary plant in a shady, protected area away from direct wind. Bring your plant inside overnight and out again each day, increasing the time spent outdoors. By the end of the first week, your plant may begin staying out overnight. Gradually increase direct sun exposure until your plants are fully adjusted to full sun and may move back to the garden for the summer.
- You may feed your rosemary plants occasionally as fresh growth appears with an all-purpose organic fertilizer or top the soil with organic compost and worm castings.
- Pot up your rosemary plants with fresh potting mix before transitioning them back to the garden.
Rosemary is a wonderful herb with many culinary uses and medicinal benefits. Growing your own rosemary and taking fresh harvests throughout the winter months is both satisfying and a delicious sensory experience. By following the steps mentioned above, you, too, should have little trouble transitioning your rosemary plants indoors for the winter.
Link to Post: How to Make Herb Salt
Here are the tools that I mentioned in the post.