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December 9, 2016 Back to Picks >

I am an out-of-control herb lover. High on my list of must-have scented herbs to grow is southernwood. Southernwood is generally a trouble-free plant. In the years I have grown it I don’t recall any insect infestations or fungal problems. It holds its own in the searing heat of summer and is hardly disturbed by freezing temperatures and snow.

Southernwood (Artemisia abrotanum) is member of the artemisia family of hardy perennials. It’s a kissing cousin of the much admired ‘Powis Castle’ artemisia. Southernwood’s feathery leaves have a fragrance somewhere between lemon and tangerine. This sweet smelling herb grows two to three feet in full sun to partial shade. The leaves are finely divided and thread-like. In late summer it sends up thin spires with tiny yellow flowers.

Southernwood has minimum water requirements and tolerates poor soil. It’s one of the few herbs I know that will thrive in the thin soil surrounding the base of a large tree. Plant southernwood where its pale green feathery foliage will make a nice contrast to neighboring plants with dark glossy leaves. It is also a good container plant, where its fine leaves will trail over the side of your pot.

As the old leaves drop off the lower portions of southernwood branches, the bark becomes woody. The sprawling herb takes on a somewhat disorderly appearance. Periodic harvesting or trimming will keep the plant bushy and attractive. In early spring prune branches down to 2-4 inches from the soil for attractive growth throughout the year.

In the home southernwood branches can be placed in clothes closets to repel moths. The French call this herb garderobe for its ability to guard or protect clothing. Dried leaves of southernwood can be included in sachets to repel moths and fleas. Some sources suggest burning a sprig on the stove to kill strong cooking odors.

So for a more fragrant garden and home, grow southernwood. It will help to make your home life just a little sweeter.