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Growing Rosemary: a Taste of the Mediterranean

Kim has been gardening and growing her own food for over 27 years. She is a Master Gardener and loves to explore agricultural challenges.



Introduction to Rosemary

Oh...your Rosemary died? Let me watered it...

That's the standard conversation. The other one goes something like this:

My Rosemary didn't come back. Your Rosemary didn't come back? You left it outside?!?

Rosemary (Rosmarina officinalis) is a Mediterranean perennial herb. It is zoned for 7-10, but with proper shelter can be stretched to six. It loves it HOT and fairly dry. And for many of us, it's a houseplant.

As for the kitchen garden? This is a must have.

USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map


How Rosemary grows...Starting from seed

Rosemary likes it Hot! Brutally...and dry.....its kinda like a pine tree...they dont like root disturbance either. Too much moisture they die.....too dry, they die.....too cold, they die.....

Rosemary is a perennial Mediterranean herb zoned 7-10. This means, of the lower 48 states, those just above Texas and across towards Florida are the only ones who can grow rosemary. If you live in zones 11-12 you might be able to grow it, but I doubt it, the humidity levels are way higher than rosemary likes. Too much humidity and rosemary will get a detrimental fungus.

What this means for Rosemary is that she is destined for a pot (for most of us). And a spot by the sunniest window.

Plastic vs clay

Plastic is very useful for retaining moisture. Even with drain holes, plastic helps retain moisture. Plastic pots come in a variety of colors, they also absorb the sun, so they hold warmth.

Clay pots are porous, they breathe. As long as they haven't been painted. They perspire. Dry out fairly quickly. They are perfect for desert plants.

You'll want to use the clay.....

Starting your seed

Rosemary does flower and produces viable seed. I initially purchased seed to start my first plant. You can acquire seed from one of the two companies below.

Rosemary can be started indoors any time of year, as long as you have a sunny window. The hardest part of growing rosemary is keeping it alive after it has started.

Using a small clay pot, fill it to just below the rim with your subtrate. Water well. The sand will settle, you will need to add more subtrate before laying seed. Sprinkle seed on top of the subtrate. A few seeds, they are tiny. Using your kitchen sprayer, gently water again. Just a little bit. Enough to get the seeds and the topped off soil moist.

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Stretch the saran wrap over the top of the pot. Use the rubber band to hold the saran wrap taught. Place your pot in either a South or a West facing window.

Do not water again, yet. Watch your pot. Check it daily. You will see little green guys soon. Do not take off the saran wrap. There will be condensation on the saran wrap. This is normal. You might think that white fuzzy on the seeds is bad. It's not. That too is normal. Just wait and watch.

You can take off the saran wrap when the seedling is tall enough to touch the saran wrap.

You need to watch the condensation. In the early mornings you can see drops of water on the saran wrap. This indicates that the soil has moisture. More condensation means more water. Less drops, less water. Using the condensation as a guide, you can bottom feed your seeds/seedlings by adding a small amount of water to the drip pan. You will see the saran wrap "breathe" as the water moves upward through the subtrate.

Now that you have seedlings......the trick is keeping them alive...

Once the seedlings are about an inch tall you can remove the saran wrap. I water every 10-14 days depending on heat. The more heat the faster water evaporates. The tips of the plant will offer you a cue when water is wanted. They will slightly droop.

Rosemary loves being outside in a full sun position during Summer months. Depending on where you live will depend on how much water you offer. Living in the house is different than living outside. While in direct sun, your herb will want more water than you offer it in the home.

Safe Seed Sources

Why make your own subtrate

The soil where you live is unique to your area. Your soil is made up of tiny particles, sand, minerals, clay, compost, loam. Your local DNRC or extension office can go into extreme detail on this subject, but it may bore you to tears. Different plant life requires different soils and different minerals. Which is why some plants grow better in one place than another, it s not just weather.

When you mix your own subtrate, you control how many parts of each type of soil are present in the final product. For our rosemary, we consider where it grows when we mix our soil to best recreate its preferred growing conditions.

Subtrates and soil types can get very technical which is why going to purchase potting soils can be so daunting. There's Potting mix for roses, tomatoes, cactus, bromelaids, and many more. There's organic and non organic, seed start or potting mix, perlites, and peats. It's easier to just mix your own. And it s really very simple. For this project you need three things, four if you include a wheel barrow or tub to mix it in.

  1. Sand
  2. Perlite
  3. Potting mix or top soil
  4. Compost or manure

Sand: any sand..I use sand from my area. There is a sand quarry nearby and the sand is soft, like beach sand. It is filled with minerals and nutrients. I fill a 5-gal bucket and use it as needed. I've never bought play sand, although I assume it would work just fine, the grains might be larger than beach sand, but for the purpose of mixing dirt, it should work. If you can get beach sand, go for it.

Perlite: perlite is little chunks of volcanic rock, often it is white, and looks and feels like Styrofoam.

Top soil or Potting Mix: Top Soil has been scraped from the surface of the land, hence "Top Soil". The top 5-12" or so of soil in certain areas is primo. Full of nutrients and micro organisms. The soils is super soft and retains water well. Other areas, not so much. Before purchasing "top soil", know your areas soils and know what is being delivered. If the top layer of soil is clay or don't want it.

Each "Potting Mix" is different. Potting Mix is pre-mixed soil for container growers. It has been formulated with nutrients to feed container grown plants. There are some cheap potting mixes that are bare bones material. They will do just fine for mixing your own soil.

Compost or Manure: compost is made up of biodegradable material which has been aged and turned to create an organic growing medium. Compost is not just food scraps, it is also leaf debris, grass clippings, sawdust, almost anything that can be returned to the earth can be composted to create compost. Avoid composts with chemicals added.

Manure comes from livestock. The benefits of manure vary by animal, as each animal digests food differently. Some animals return seeds to the garden that you don't want. A few of the most sought after manures are Cow dung, Chicken, and Rabbit droppings. Many manures need to be aged before using.

Find an old bowl or scoop to use as a measuring device. Take three scoops of sand and place it in your mixing container. Add one scoop of perlite and a half a scoop of either top soil or potting mix or compost or manure. Mix everything together well. You want it sandy with dark brown flakes and pieces. Add a little more top soil and compost if you need too. Keep adding and mixing until you have enough soil to fill your chosen pot. This soil needs to drain well.

I mix my own soil for everything, not just houseplants. I try to use as much product as possible from my area. I want the minerals. Especially when I grow something I intend to eat. I avoid using anything with chemical additives.

Harvesting Rosemary

Rosemary has to be the easiest herb to harvest. Whether it grows in your yard or in a window, just snip a twig of new growth as needed.

The leaves (needles) can be dried by laying your sprigs on a paper towel on the kitchen counter. I just snip what I need, when I need it.

The essential oil is steam distilled from the leaves. Essential oils are used in lotions, soaps, shampoos, pesticides, aromatherapy, massage therapy, and many other products.

More practical uses for Rosemary

Rosemary has been used since biblical times for all sorts of things.

Rosemary is burned or diffused to fight off airborne infections. It is typically added to products used to fight common colds, bronchial and respiratory complaints, and flu.

Historically, it is reported to stimulate hair growth and is added to shampoos and hair products to diminish hair loss and combat balding. It has also been used to eliminate dandruff.

Rosemary oil is used in diffusers to aid concentration, increase memory and fight off bronchial problems. In massage therapy, it is employed to relieve sore muscles, aches , and aid in poor circulation.

Cooking with rosemary is as simple as adding it to recipes that call for it. You won't need to go to the trouble of drying your herb before using it in the kitchen. Recipes calling for rosemary assume you have it in your spice cabinet, not in your kitchen garden. A recipe calling for 1 tsp herb is for dried herb. You can easily adjust this measurement by doubling what the recipe calls for and use fresh sprigs instead.

Rosemary goes great with lamb. When I roast a lamb I use garlic and rosemary, that's it. Melt in your mouth perfection..rosemary also goes well with venison, and I have seen but not tried, rosemary with fruit spreads.

Bring Rosemary in before frost! While it can get chilly down south, rosemary does not live through extended freezing temperatures.

Happy Houseplant

Happy Houseplant

Happy Houseplant

If you have never grown rosemary, give it a try. If your past experiences with this plant have been less than fruitful, I hope I have helped extend the life of a future houseplant.

Rosemary is one of my favorites. Just brushing against her releases an aroma of fresh herb. During the winter months she brings me comfort on those dreary days. I can't imagine my kitchen garden without her.

What's your experience with this herb? Share your tips and tricks below. I would love to hear from you.

© 2017 Kim French


Lisa Bean from Virginia on December 12, 2018:

I love to grow rosemary. It's very prevalent as an outdoor plant where we live in Nevada. My favorite is when you brush up against it and can immediately smell the scent of rosemary!

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