Rosemary, the evergreen herb that is so useful in cooking, has joined the ranks of decorative holiday plants. Along with poinsettias, Christmas cactus and cyclamen, lots of rosemary plants helped fill shelves of garden centers this winter.
The most interesting ones were pruned into distinctive cone shapes, with ribbon and a colorful pot cover added as a festive touch. They brought a new look and lovely scent to tabletops, mantels and windowsills.
While Christmas cacti tend to be kept and enjoyed – sometimes for generations – most poinsettias and cyclamen are disposed of after the flowers are gone, though some diehards keep poinsettias going through the year.
But these potted rosemary plants, typically 6 to 12 inches tall, are not something to discard or even treat casually. They deserve a future, though not in the house.
Rosemary plants are not house plants because the air is too dry and the light too dim. But they are well-suited to outdoor life in the Piedmont landscape. There they should settle down and grow well for many years, just like the small rosemary plants offered at garden centers in spring.
There is a difference, though, in setting out plants in spring, when the air is getting warmer, than in winter, when the temperature is settled on the cool-to-cold range. Our mild winters in the Piedmont mean that gardeners dig almost all the time, especially on those warm afternoons when the temperature is in the 50s or higher and the winter sun glows.
You can enjoy the rosemary tree indoors for a few weeks, but then it should go outdoors in the sunniest spot you’ve got. This is a plant of the Mediterranean region, meaning it likes hot sun, stretches of dry weather and excellent drainage. All of these factors should play into the selection of a spot for your rosemary to live permanently.
If you have an automatic irrigation system, keep your rosemary away from it, and away from downspouts and other places that tend to get wet regularly.
Once you decide to plant it outdoors, water it well and then take it out of the pot and look over the root ball carefully. These plants have been grown to present a very attractive plant for sale in December. That means their growth has been pushed and root development is strong and vigorous. You may see white roots wound tightly around the perimeter of the root ball. Use your trowel to free some of these roots from their tight quarters so that they will grow out into the soil and help the plant get established in its new home.
Since it is winter, cover the root zone with a light layer of pine needles or leaves that will keep the soil from freezing but allow it to dry out in wet weather.
The plant will outgrow the pretty cone shape, but this can be remedied by shearing the dense foliage into shape through the growing season.