Will Herbs Survive Climate Change?

by Preston Brady III, Herbscapes.com

While the concern as to how humans and animals will adapt to a climate changing before our very eyes – especially in third world countries where poverty already exacerbates living conditions – is a more pressing concern, we still need to address how the plants we use in cooking and medicine will ride out this storm.

And a storm it is: there is far enough evidence even for the most skeptical of skeptics to see there is a pronounced definite change in our climate. Like us, herbs can be picky about the conditions under which they live. Generally speaking, a majority of herbs thrive in a Mediterranean type climate: rainy winters and dry summers. However, we can’t all live along the shores of the Mediterranean so we find ways to grow herbs and help them survive in our climate zone. I live in zone 8b-9a, meaning a sub-tropical climate of hot summers and mild winters, very generally speaking these days. We have to toss in El Nino, a current weather pattern that changes normal weather patterns. In my case it means there could be a pronounced winter and more rain than usual. I won’t say there is no such thing as too much rain but generally speaking bring on the rain because most plants and trees love it.

Gardeners should follow long-term weather reports so as to plan their growing seasons and any additional attention that might be required for certain plants.

Babying a Plant: As an herb grower you may have to baby certain plants when the climate is warmer or colder than usual.

Spearmint, Peppermint, Chocolate Mint: You may need to water these plants more than usual in drought-like conditions. They like lots of water but in a well-drained soil. Young plants will need extra water daily. Going more than one day without misting or watering young mint in a very hot climate could result in a dead, unrevitalized mint plant.

Basil: Also likes copious water but not as needy as mint. As the climate warms one strategy for basil is provide some hours of shade, water more frequently. Basil tells you when she is thirsty: her beautiful green globe leaves begin to droop.

Rosemary: this plant is strong and hardy and can withstand harsh weather conditions in both directions. However, in drought-like conditions and a warmer than usual climate this plant appreciates additional water. Rosemary is usually able to ride out freezing conditions at least in short duration. When in doubt cover the plant to protect it.

Thyme and Oregano: These are true Mediterranean plants. They don’t like to be overwatered in the summer. While you may not be able to completely control their water content when growing in the ground, in planters you can allow the topsoil to dry a few days before another watering. When planted in the ground a well-drained soil is a must to avoid root rot. If temps are dropping below freezing I cover such plants with pine straw and other mulch. Once the freeze has passed for good, uncover and the plant has likely survived.

Finally, invest in several or more water misting bottles. You can selectively mist herbs on a daily basis and control how much water makes it to the roots. You can also place potted herbs on plant saucers to confirm there is good drainage. In conclusion, if warmer than usual then a little more water than usual and perhaps more shade. If colder than usual be prepared to protect your herbs with landscaper covering you can purchase at most department and gardening stores. For smaller plants you can cover with straw and mulch right before the freeze. Hopefully it won’t be a long freeze but even if it is, some plants come back to you the next year. Even if the foliage dies if you double-protect the roots your plant may sprout back in the spring.

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