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Published: Wednesday, 12/3/2008

Winter doesn't have to put freeze on gardening

We just can't keep our hands out of the soil, even when it is as hard as rock outside.

If you still have the itch to do some gardening, check out the Windowsill Herb Gardening class at the 577 Foundation in Perrysburg. Horticulturalist Vicki Gallagher says it will keep you busy for months.

"We find that many gardeners miss that fragrance and availability of fresh herbs throughout the winter months, so we have come up with a few fun projects for the winter months," Ms. Gallagher says. "Herbs can make great gifts or can add to the festive holiday decoration around your house."

Nothing makes a kitchen look cozier than a row of fresh herbs growing in a bright window. A fresh snip of basil can really liven up your marinara sauce, and a sprig of fresh mint can top off a cup of soothing, hot tea.

Ms. Gallagher says growing herbs in the winter is easy. "Make sure you find a bright window. We have a lower sun angle in the winter, so the window should be on the south side of your house." Your herbs will need at least six hours of light a day. If you don't get enough sunlight from the windowsill, you might have to put them under a grow-light to help them grow thick and strong, rather than skinny and weak.

Be careful not to let the foliage catch a chill, she adds. "Keep your indoor plants away from drafty doors or windows. The sudden burst of cold could send them into shock. It is also important to make sure the plant doesn't touch the window, because the cold window can transfer that frigid air on to your plant and cause damage."

Just as you don't want your plants to get too cold, you don't want them to get too hot. Gallagher warns not to put your herb garden too close to a heat vent. "This can dry your plant out too quickly," she says.

Are all herbs a spice? No. According to Ohio State University, herbs grow in temperate regions, and spices come from tropical places. Their Web site says herbs are categorized as fresh or dried leaves of any useful plant. They have a mild flavor and are usually green. Spices, on the other hand, are usually made from seeds, roots, fruits, flowers, or the bark of a plant. Usually they have a very strong flavor and are brown, black, yellow, or red.

There's no shortage of supply when it comes to herbs to grow. You can find many seeds at your favorite home and garden store, or on the Internet. Plantlets are also available. The herb kits make it easy to throw together a green garden in your window sill, but as I have found over the years of planting these fun little craft projects, the pots are usually too small and dry out quickly. I prefer using my own, sterilized pots.

You don't always have to "order out" for your starts. Some garden herbs, according to Ms. Gallagher, can be dug up from the garden and brought in the house. "Mint is easy to grow inside, and so are rosemary, sage, thyme, basil. Chives are also very easy to grow and sprout quickly from seed." Some of their plants were dug up before the frost and have been waiting in a nearby greenhouse to be potted again. Before planting, prune them to a uniform shape leaving four to six inches of stem on the plant.

You might see some leaves drop off when you first bring the plants inside, but don't worry. It is just trying to get used to a warm, dry house. Give it some time and pinch back any new growth to keep its root system stimulated.

Keep the soil moist, but not wet. Watering once a week is usually enough, but check the soil at least an inch below the surface to be sure it is dry before you drown the roots in watery love.

Woody plants such as rosemary might need extra care. They don't like to sit in wet soil, but they love a bit more humidity in the air, and pests such as red spider mites love to feast on an ailing rosemary plant. To help keep them moist, but not wet, fill a pie tin or flat container with pebbles or small stones. Then, keep the flat container filled with water. Set your rosemary plant on top of the bed of pebbles for some extra humidity around the plant and good drainage.

The 577 Foundation's Windowsill Herb Gardening class is Saturday from 2 to 4 p.m. at 577 East Front Street in Perrysburg. It costs $15. Call the 577 Foundation at 419-874-4174 for reservations, and I just might see you there!

I still need your crafty holiday gift ideas. A special column is coming up in the next couple of weeks featuring you and the special things you make. Email or send your ideas to me before it is too late.



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