Herbs are versatile plants for the garden. They are easy to grow, require little maintenance, and many are perennial, providing years of bountiful harvests.
While you may have a dedicated garden space or containers for growing herbs, these plants can also be incorporated into the landscape to do double duty as ornamentals. Blooming oregano, rosemary and thyme attract pollinators and add fragrance to the garden, while parsley, dill and fennel are host plants for butterflies.
Fall is the perfect time to plant most perennial herbs, and even a few annual ones that prefer cooler temperatures. With few exceptions, herbs grow best in full sun with well-drained soil. Mint can tolerate slightly wet soil. Fall-planted annual herbs can be planted in some light shade.
Annuals to Plant in Fall
Cool-season annuals grow best in daytime temperatures of 50 - 70 degrees F. They’re tolerant of colder weather and will often persist into the spring.
Dill germinates in 20 – 25 days and prefers full sun. It will grow a little slowly in the fall, allowing time to harvest and use the leaves. Dill will begin to bolt and form flower heads when temperatures rise in early summer. It can be used in cut flower arrangements and cooking.
Calendula officinalis, also called pot marigold, is a member of the daisy family. They bloom yellow to orange. Seeds can be planted in the autumn for spring flowers. They are frost-tolerant, but flowers fade when summer temps kick in. The petals can be used in stews to add a spicy flavor similar to saffron. Petals are also used as a colorant and different parts of the plant can be added to botanical cosmetic products. Calendula can be planted in full sun to part shade.
Cilantro also prefers cooler temperatures when grown for the leaves. When summer heat arrives, the plants will form small, white flowers. The seeds produced are coriander and can also be used in cooking. Cilantro reseeds easily, so spread some seeds in the area when you cut back the plant in summer to produce a fall crop.
Like most perennials, herbs can be planted in the autumn. Fall planting allows more time for the root system to become established before the heat of summer sets in, and they usually require less frequent watering.
Oregano is one of the easiest herbs to grow. It can be found in many colors and flavors. Oregano forms a spreading clump that makes a nice groundcover or edge of the border planting. It requires good drainage and is an excellent candidate for raised beds and containers. Use it to flavor Italian dishes, stews, and sauces.
Rosemary eventually forms a large shrub, up to 6- 8’ tall and wide. It can be grown in a container and root pruned to control the size. Creeping varieties are also available. Rosemary prefers full sun and very well-drained soil.
Thyme is available in several leaf colors, including silver/gray, yellow, green, and variegated. It is a fast-growing herb and makes a quick groundcover. This creeper will root where stems touch the ground, making it easy to propagate. It blooms white to lavender in the summer, attracting bees and other pollinators to the garden. It is best grown in full sun with well-drained soil.
Mints are useful plants in making Mediterranean dishes, beverages, and desserts. They can be vigorous spreaders in the garden, though, so grow them in containers to prevent them from taking over. There are many varieties of mints to suit different tastes and uses, including chocolate, spearmint, peppermint, pear mint, pineapple mint, and apple mint. Mints can be grown in slightly wet soil and should not be allowed to dry out. Cut stems back to create a full, bushy plant.
Virginia Cooperative Extension is a partnership of Virginia Tech, Virginia State University, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments. Its programs and employment are open to all, regardless of age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, genetic information, military status, or any other basis protected by law.
Master Gardener Help Desk