Perennial plants will grow back year after year indefinitely if the conditions are just right. I wondered if herbs were perennial as well since some of my herb garden kept growing back every spring. After doing some research I found out that:
Perennial herbs are bay, chives, lavender, lemon balm, marjoram, mint, oregano, rosemary, sage, tarragon, thyme, and winter savory. Other herbs not listed are either annuals or biennials, meaning they have a life cycle of one or two years.
Here’s a convenient overview I have created of the most common herbs so you can quickly figure out which lifecycle each herb follows:
In this post, we’ll look at whether herbs are in fact perennial and which herbs are not. I’ll go over what actually distinguishes perennial herbs from biennials and annuals and how some herbs grow year-round. Lastly, I’ll share some tips I have found useful in making sure my herb garden grows back in spring every year!
Do herbs grow year-round?
Perennial herbs grow almost year-round. They start their first lifecycle in early April and sow their seeds in October, November, and December. The following season they may start growing anew from January onwards. In the second year of their lives, perennial herbs that survive winters tend to be active and grow year-round.
Biennial and annual herbs do not grow year-round. Instead, they follow a yearly cycle of sowing their seeds either every or every second year to grow back the following season. This means that the old plant that has completed its cycle will usually die off in late summer.
Let’s take a look at some of the perennial herbs that are most common in our gardens!
Herbs that are perennial
Below you’ll find a list of perennial herbs that grow year-round and can be planted in your garden without much maintenance:
- Bay: This perennial herb is often referred to as bay laurel and grows back over and over again. Although it prefers warmer climates it can survive even lower winter temperature in the -20° F.
- Chives: Chives is one of the most well-known perennial herbs thanks to its hardiness and ability to thrive in almost any climate. It will grow year-round in your garden and may even continue to grow in winter as its grass-like leaves poke through the snow for sunlight.
- Lavender: Commonly thought of as a Mediterranean summer herb, lavender is in fact a perennial that is surprisingly winter-hardy. Its main growing season starts in February and can extend into July and August when the stems reduce their water content to prepare for winter.
- Lemon Balm: Lemon balm mostly grows as a perennial herb but can also have shorter lifecycles due to cooler climates. In the northern hemisphere, lemon balm may act as a biennial or annual despite its natural constitution.
- Marjoram: This common kitchen herb is one of the best ones to grow since it is perennial. Marjoram will usually not survive excessively cold winters but can grow year-round in milder climates.
- Mint: Mint is probably the most infamous perennial herb out there. Its habitat ranges from the Middle East to the American Mid-West and its perennial lifecycle enables it to thrive during most months of the year.
- Oregano: Even oregano with its more delicate build is an herb that grows back year after year. It is a perennial that follows the natural seasonal lifecycles and may stay dormant for the winter months until spring comes around.
- Rosemary: Thanks to its thicker stems rosemary is a perennial that will do well in climate zones with annual average lows of up to -30° F. Anything colder than that will likely stifle its growth from late September through January.
- Sage: Sage is another common perennial herb. Once a sage plant has reached a height of about 10 inches it will be able to withstand most cold weather and be able to continue its lifecycle all throughout the winter months.
- Tarragon: Tarragon has been one of those perennial herbs that seem to keep coming back no matter the conditions. Although it follows a natural perennial cycle it sows its seeds earlier than most perennial herbs and gives them a greater chance of survival before the first frost.
- Thyme: While thyme is known as a favorite ingredient on my pizza it is actually much more than that. Thyme is a perennial that grows year-round not only in Italy but nearly globally.
- Winter Savory: Winter savory is called just that because it is perennial and will survive and even grow in most winters. As opposed to summer savory which is an annual herb, winter savory plants do not die off in late August but remain fully grown from September through January.
How perennial herbs differ from annual and biennial herbs
The main difference between perennial and annual/biennial herbs is their lifecycle. Perennial herbs can in theory survive indefinitely after their first sowing of seeds while biennial and annual plants die after their first or second season.
Below you’ll see a visualisation of the various lifecycle and there timing throughout the year:
Summer Annual. Herbs that are summer annuals grow from their seeds in mid-April. They develop into small plants over May, June, and July and will usually blossom and flower in August. (If you are planning to use your summer annual herbs for seasoning, don’t let them flower). Once summer passes and the days grow shorter the flower bud will sow its seeds in September to be covered by the soil before the first frost.
Winter Annual. Much like the summer annual the winter annual herb follows an annual lifecycle but with a different rhythm to the seasons. Winter annuals will start to grow into small plants in March and develop their flower buds already in May. At the beginning of June, they will usually start releasing their seeds for the winter months. In September of the same year, the winter plants will slowly form and brace themselves for a frosty season. During this month of colder weather in September, October, and November no flowers will form to preserve more energy for the core plant parts.
Biennial. Biennial herbs are a curious assortment of plants as they follow an asynchronous biannual cycle. They are also exceedingly rare in nature and the only noteworthy contenders are parsley and stevia. Biennials start their plant journey in and grow deep roots without flowering during their first season. This commonly lasts from April all the way through November. Biennial herbs resume their growth the following year in April and by July will have formed a blossomed bud that is ready to release its seeds for the upcoming cycle.
Perennial. Most types of perennial herbs follow a April to September cycle of slowly growing into an adult plant with flower buds ready to be released throughout October, November, and December. They lie dormant until Februrary the following year when perennials tend to grow back stronger than the year before (having survived the winter). In most herb gardens perennial herbs will also grow back more dense than the prior year.
Do herbs grow back?
Most of the common kitchen herbs in the United States and Europe are perennials. This means that they will grow back stronger year after year. Biennial herbs will also grow back but only once. Annual herbs don’t grow back at all.
As the name suggests annual herbs have a lifecycle of one year and thus do not grow back. However, if conditions are right the seeds sewn by annual plants will make it through winter and form the basis of a new annual herb plants the following season.
Like annuals, biennials also do not grow back indefinitely. Biennials have a lifecycle of two years and will thus only grow back after one winter. In contrat to the annual herbs biennials will only sow their seeds every two years.
Luckily for us, most herbs are perennials which means that with a bit of care they will likely provide us with delicious leaves indefinitely. Let’s look at some of the things we can do to ensure that our perennial garden herbs come back even stronger the following year!
How to keep your perennial herbs growing back
In order to keep your herbs coming back every year, it is vital that you reduce moisture in colder winter months, cover the plants for temperature protection, increase the sun exposure if possible or even pot them up and take them inside.
These four methods have been most helpful in preserving my perennial herb garden for years:
- Reduce moisture: When the temperature drops below zero and the herbs are covered or have soaked up too much moisture from rain or excessive watering the frost can irreparably damage the herb’s structure. Follow your local weather forecast closely and note the days of the first frost. Avoid watering herbs at least one week before the first frost and shield them from rain if necessary.
- Cover for protection: As a protective measure against cold temperatures and snow I’ve found it extremely effective to cover my herb garden with saran wrap or plastic bottles. You can even go so far as to build your own little greenhouse. These transparent covers will lock in the warmth while letting carbon dioxide escape through its openings.
- Increase sun exposure: If possible increase the amount of sunlight your herbs are exposed to. One benefit of planting herbs in wooden frames is that you will be able to rotate them during the season to get as much sunlight as possible during the day. This helps perennial herbs to store enough energy to survive when winter comes and to grow back stronger the next year.
- Pot up inside: If none of the above measures are available to you one last thing you could try is to pot up all of your garden herbs and care for them indoors while the winter storms rage outside. I’ve done this several times sometimes with more and less success. Often plants will have a hard time getting accustomed to the sudden change of climate. However, once re-potted successfully inside your herbs will have no trouble making it through winter and growing back with ease and delight the following season
Most herbs are perennial are caring for perennial plants makes our lives a lot easier! Once you understand the lifecycle of different types of herbs it becomes clear why some herbs grow back and others seem to fold down after just a year. It’s not your herbal care, it’s nature.
When establishing a perennial herb garden – as I would recommend – there are just a few measures you can take to make sure all of your herbs make it through winter and come back the next year. The most effective and least obtrusive one is to cover your perennial herbs in some sort of fashion that resembles a greenhouse.
I hope this article has made caring for perennial, biennial, and annual herbs a breeze! Let me know how your herb garden is coming along 😉
“Herbs Outside Kitchen Door” by TonZ is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0; “Bay laurel flower – Chabot Regional Park” by marymactavish is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0; “greenhouse bubble” by hc gilje is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0