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Growing Rosemary | Spring 2015 Out Here Magazine

Fragrant, tasty herb is a 'delight to the senses'

Out Here

By Cindy Shapton

Photography by iStock

Rosemary is one of those herbs you can't forget once you have made her acquaintance. Rosmarinus officinalis is a tender woody evergreen perennial, piney in fragrance with soft needles instead of leaves. Native to the Mediterranean region, rosemary grows on sunny hillsides of porous soil.

This herb is a joy to grow in the garden, so follow these tips for a successful experience:

Get started: Seeds are slow to germinate and grow, but rosemary plants are readily available in the spring. Cuttings can be taken in early summer to start more plants.

Where to plant: In full sun, which means six or more hours a day.

Soil: Plant in average soil that drains well. If heavy soil or clay is a problem, add small stones or gravel to the hole before planting or consider raised beds or containers, which will ensure quick drainage.

Size: Upright varieties can get quite large, 2 to 6 feet tall by 1 to 3 feet wide. Low-growing, horizontal varieties can be as short as 4 to 8 inches. Both are edible.

Spacing: 2 to 3 feet apart.

How many: One or two upright plants are plenty for the average family.

Container: Perfect for small gardens or patios and cold climates.

Water: Use normal water practices, about an inch per week in the garden. Once established in the ground, rosemary can tolerate dry periods.

Fertilizer: Isn't necessary. Spreading compost around the base of the plant in early spring will provide needed nutrients.

Pruning: In general isn't needed. Just clip often to encourage branching and spice up dinner. If plants become too large or start growing together to create a hedge effect, cut back or shear no more than one-third of the plant in spring.

Pests and diseases: Given the right soil conditions, sun, and space with plenty of air circulation, rosemary is usually free of pests and diseases. If the soil does not drain, the plant can be susceptible to phytophthora, which will lead to root rot, causing branch die-off. Too much shade and powdery mildew can strike. Aphids, spittlebugs, and whiteflies can be a nuisance in wet or humid areas and can be treated organically with Safer Soap products.

How cold: Some varieties may handle -10 degrees F. Planting near a fence or building will help to protect from northwest winds. Grow as an annual or in containers if climate is too cold.

Indoors: Rosemary does best outdoors but it can be overwintered in an unheated sunny garage, enclosed porch, sunny window indoors (away from heat), or greenhouse for convenient access all winter. Occasional misting is appreciated if indoor air is dry.

How long rosemary will live: In mild moderate climates, a plant will live 15 years or longer but for the rest of the country, unexpected frigid temperatures or winds can wreak havoc on this herb.

Varieties: "Arp" or "Madeline Hill" may survive to -10 degrees. In warm regions try "Salem" for hedges, "Spice Island" for pungent flavor or "Prostrate" to spill out of containers.

Preserve: Cut small bouquets and hang upside down out of direct sunlight. When dry, strip the needles off the stems and store in a labeled jar in the cupboard. Fill a pepper grinder with dried rosemary for an easy way to add a little zip to soups, salads, steamed vegetables, pizza, and sandwiches.

In the kitchen: Any cook will tell you that this herb is a delight to the senses and taste buds. Long revered for its use in the kitchen, fresh rosemary can be snipped onto lamb, pork, chicken, potatoes, or vegetables before roasting in the oven. Add to homemade bread, crackers, biscuits, olive oil, and vinegar for an unforgettable culinary experience.

Tennessee Master gardener Cindy Shapton also is known as the Cracked Pot Gardener.


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