‘Everybody’ Has Trouble with Finicky Rosemary

Fussy herb hates moving indoors. Keep plants potted for best results.

By Sonia Day

Sandra Henry of Richters Herbs in Goodwood says rosemary doesn’t adapt well to sudden changes in lighting.

Why does my rosemary bush die after I bring it indoors for the winter?

Sandra Henry has been asked this question hundreds of times and she says there are no clear-cut answers.

"Everybody has trouble with rosemary;’ says Henry, with a rueful laugh. "People complain that ifs fine one day, then dead the next. Or that it gets mildew. Or that if s shedding leaves.

"If I had a dollar every time somebody asked me about their rosemary, I’d be rich."

Henry, of Richters Herbs in Goodwood, says the underlying problem is that rosemary is an inefficient user of light, so it doesn’t adjust well to sudden changes in lighting conditions. Even if you put the plant in a very sunny window during the winter, it may throw a hissy fit after being outside for the summer months.

You can tell it’s in trouble if its little spiky leaves start falling off the bottom of the stems.

To keep rosemary robust, Henry recommends growing it as a potted plant only and getting the plant used to a new environment early in the fall. Shear it back to a few strong stems at the beginning of September. Then move the pot to a spot outside that has less sunlight than its current location. A couple of weeks later, move it again. Finally, bring it indoors before the frost hits. (Rosemary is originally from Greece -- and it won’t survive our frigid winters outside).

If you can put the pot under indoor lights, so much the better.

"And if you don’t want the hassle of moving it, simply keep your rosemary in a pot indoors all year," adds Henry. "I do. It’s in my kitchen, which faces south, and it does just fine there."

Henry will be revealing tips on the right fall treatment for all kinds of herbs at a seminar called Bringing Herbs Indoors held at Richters on Sun., Sept. 7. She’ll talk about tarragon (her personal fave), scented geraniums, bay trees, chives, thymes, oregano, parsley and many more. You can learn about when and how to divide herbs, repotting, lighting requirements and acclimatizing them to life indoors, now that the end of our short, not-so-hot summer of 2003 is looming.

Admission to the seminar is free. It starts promptly at 2 p.m. Richters is on Bloomington Road (Highway 47), 1 km east of Goodwood. Call 905-640-6677 or go to www.Richters.com for more information.

Sonia Day is Condo Living’s gardening correspondent. You can contact her at www.soniaday.com. For information on purchasing your copy of Day’s new book The Urban Gardener, call Starphone at (416) 350-3000, extension 6432. 

Originally published in The Toronto Star, Aug. 30, 2003.   © 2003 The Toronto Star

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