Overwintering Rosemary: Growing Rosemary Indoors

Feb 15, 2018
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Find out how to overwinter rosemary and grow rosemary indoors to keep this wonderful herb growing all year.

A reader’s question about overwintering rosemary reminded me that it was something I wanted to write about. I have had mixed results with rosemary plants over the years, but after killing a few I think I have finally gotten it right.

Every fall at least one person heading south for the winter will come to me with plants that they can’t bear to let die. I am a sucker for a beautiful plant, so if I have room I usually say yes. I have gotten some awesome plants that way—jasmine, streptocarpella, orchids, geraniums, begonias, and rosemary

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How to Overwinter Rosemary

The rosemary I have now is several years old. Last year it spent the winter on a cold windowsill at the library. The heat was on the fritz there last winter, but this plant sailed through the 50ºF nights with no problem. Occasionally I would wrestle it into the sink and spray water over the needles, but it usually just got watered when we noticed the lanky new growth drooping. I brought it home and it spent the summer outdoors, enjoying the bright sunshine, heat, and rainfall. Now it is back inside for the winter.

The three most important things to consider when overwintering your rosemary are light, temperature, and water.

Rosemary Plant Care: Temperature

I have had success wintering rosemary in a south-facing window in an unheated upstairs bedroom. Now we are lucky enough to have a greenhouse attached to the house. We keep it cold; the heat only comes on out there if it drops below 40ºF, and sometimes plants too near the glass freeze at night. The rosemary is thriving. 

Rosemary Plant Care: Watering

It can get a messy sprinkle of water on its needles weekly along with regular watering when the soil feels dry. Rosemary hates wet feet, so do not let yours sit in water. It needs well drained soil, and a clay pot can help keep the roots from rotting. Many people make the mistake of letting their rosemary dry out too much but a dry rosemary is a dead rosemary. Water when the soil feels dry.

Rosemary Plant Care: Light

That brings us to light. Rosemary needs the brightest light you have. I have had the best luck with south-facing windows but many people resort to growlights.

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If you are very lucky and your plant is very happy, it may even reward you with some blossoms!

Frequent clipping keeps it from getting too leggy, and when new growth starts this spring it will make for a bushier plant.

Growing Rosemary Indoors

The best part about keeping rosemary in the house is that you can stroke it every time you walk by and release that lovely fragrance into the air. Smelling it supposedly enhances cognitive function—clearly I’m not smelling enough of it! Rosemary can even reduce anxiety and stress and repel bugs.

Cooking with it is a treat also. Fresh rosemary goes well with potatoes, chicken, vegetable soup, and we stuffed our Thanksgiving turkey with it. Try some delicious recipes like Corn Bread with Rosemary and Pine Nuts and Rosemary Chicken with Spinach.

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Cornbread with pine nuts and rosemary

Rosemary is for remembrance, and Rosemarie, the woman who gave me this plant, is in my thoughts often.

Check our Rosemary plant care page! Plus, get more tips for growing plants indoors and getting your garden ready for winter.

Are you overwintering your rosemary this season? Let us know below!

About This Blog

Get inspired by Robin Sweetser's backyard gardening tips. Robin has been a contributor to The Old Farmer's Almanac and the All-Seasons Garden Guide for many years. She and her partner Tom have a small greenhouse business and also sell plants, cut flowers, and vegetables at their local Farmer's Market.

Reader Comments

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rosemary

My Rosemary is in the garden in ground! How should i care for it? It has been 3 years. Some parts dry, others with thick stem!!

Hopefully your rosemary is

Hopefully your rosemary is planted in well-drained soil where it will get full sun. Don’t overwater it. You can mulch around the base to conserve moisture as long as you keep the mulch away from the crown of the plant to avoid root rot. Remove older branches if you wish to reshape the plant otherwise clipping the stems to use will keep the plant in shape and encourage it to branch out.

Harvesting: stems only or is it ok to take individual leaves?

I'm a caregiver and one of our daily routines is home-made bonebroth. A highlight has been harvesting fresh rosemary leaves each morning to go into that day's broth. The plant is indoors in upstate New York, and it's February out. The original plant is looking a little thin from harvesting, so we are giving it a break and brought in another gorgeous Rosemary, busting with healthy leaves. I typically take the bigger leaves (respectfully, in pairs, thinking that will encourage regrowth), about one or two dozen a day. Is this ok, as I keep rotating around the plant, or do I need to pick a stem and just use its leaves until it's time for the next one?

I have never just plucked the

I have never just plucked the individual leaves to use. I always clip whole stems. This keeps the plant in good shape and encourages it to branch out, giving more new growth to harvest.

Indoor wintering rosemary in bloom!

I LOVE rosemary as a beautiful plant to look at, caress, and use in cooking. I have a large-ish plant (1.5 ft x 1.5 ft round) that is very lush. I had it outside on our south-facing deck all summer and couldn't bear to lose it, so am attempting to winter it inside. We are in an apartment with radiator heating (one under EVERY window, as usual), so finding a cooler sunny spot for it is difficult. It's been inside for about two months now - close to a back door with a low window - and so far so good. It is sending up spindly shoots from the top which I have been trimming, but now I've noticed buds for blooms! Should I allow it to bloom or should these be trimmed as well? Thank you in advance. :-)

Sorry not to have seen your

Sorry not to have seen your question until now! You probably have already enjoyed your rosemary blossoms. Once the blooms go by you can clip the stems back to use. This will spur on new growth. Your new shoots may be spindly due to low winter light in the house. Now that the days are longer and the sun is getting stronger the growth should be stronger also. Pretty soon your plant can go back outside for the summer again!

My new plant

I love how in your article you said "Rosemary is for remembrance." I don't recall eating it as a child, but the taste takes me back to my childhood somehow. Maybe from being dragged to the craft stores and garden centers with by my mom and grandma. I discovered a few years ago by being served shepherds pie topped with it, that it is my favorite herb. So finally the other day I bought one at Walmart for just a couple of dollars. It's pretty small and the leaves are pretty far apart. Not like the kind I buy already cut at the grocery store in the produce section. That kind is very dense. And I have a friend who bought one at Christmas time shaped like a tiny Christmas tree. So my question is, is there hope that my little plant will be able to grow into a thick dense plant? Are there tips that I can try to help it along? Your article was very helpful. The only directions my plant came with was to water it from the bottom by placing in in a saucer of water. This goes against your comment that they don't like wet feet. Glad I found this!

It has been said that scent

It has been said that scent is the guardian of memory so familiar smells can transport us right back to childhood. Dense plants have been clipped frequently to encourage branching so feel free to clip yours and use the clippings in your favorite recipes. Fertilize with a water soluble fertilizer - fish emulsion and kelp are good but can be smelly. You can bottom water as long as you dump out any excess water that the plant has not absorbed after about an hour of soaking. I still prefer to give mine a shower every now and then.

Rosemary plants

In late January i planted two rosemary plants I rescued from a left over Holiday sale, dying, and not looking well, with some dried out bald spots I planted them in a recycled rubber/tires container. I used potting soil, and I have them on my balcony facing south west sun exposure in Atlanta.
I'm not always around, so they're left to fair the weather on their own. I just got back after a month to find one of them has rewarded me with a couple of sweet small purple flowers, to my surprise since I never knew they bloomed. The other plant looks like the bald spots have increase which makes me think a disease my taken hold. I've been looking and reading about this and I have not been able to find any organic remedies to help my plan. Is there anything I can do to prevent this and help it thrive as its sister is doing so well. Perhaps you can help?
Thank you!
Ray

Rosemary flowers are truly a

Rosemary flowers are truly a gift. I think it is amazing that after a month on their own the plants are living at all! I would try trimming the bald branches back to a healthy looking spot in hopes that they will shoot out some new growth. If that plant doesn’t recover and you think it is disease related, I would pitch it in the trash and enjoy the healthy sister.

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