Everything You Need to Know About Growing Rosemary

published Jul 25, 2015
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(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

When I think of rosemary, I imagine the rolling hillsides in the south of France, peppered with wild rosemary bushes. I just want to pour myself a glass of rosé, sit poolside, and take in its resinous aroma. Rosemary is not only about aesthetics, though — it adds a flavorful finishing touch to many a savory dish, like grilled lamb, roasted chicken, or toasty focaccia.

Rosemary is easy to grow, evergreen in many climates, and it thrives in containers. There’s no excuse why you shouldn’t be growing some of your own.

Why Should I Grow Rosemary?

Regardless of your growing zone, rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is a garden necessity. In warmer areas, this pungent, evergreen plant makes a beautiful, strong statement as a hedge or a graceful addition to a rock garden. In cooler areas, rosemary is the perfect candidate for container gardening, as long as it receives the sunlight and well-drained soil it craves.

Rosemary is also a low-maintenance herb for its ability to live, for the most part, pest-free. Your only concern might be powdery mildew, which you can avoid by not overwatering and by providing adequate space and air circulation among its neighboring plants.

Excited to enjoy your first snip of this fragrant culinary herb? I advise skipping on purchasing the small starts of rosemary. Get a head start and pay the extra couple of dollars for a larger plant. Although rosemary can reach a sizable dimension, it is a slow-grower in its first year.

(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

How to Plant Rosemary

  • Where: In warmer zones, plant perennial rosemary within landscaping as a hedge or find a trailing variety and plant within a rock garden. If you live in a cooler zone, like I do, you may plant your rosemary within your garden, but when the first frost hits, be prepared to either harvest your leaves or transplant your rosemary to a container and bring it indoors. I find the best way to grow rosemary in a cooler zone is to keep your rosemary mobile. Doing this equates to year-round enjoyment of this aromatic herb.
  • When: I purchased the rosemary plants you see in these photos from my favorite garden center in mid-May. I lost a couple to a very late freeze this past spring, so I had to start from scratch. From these two plants, I am currently rooting a few cuttings, in hopes of a larger harvest next summer. If you’re just starting out, it’s best to start cuttings indoors eight weeks before the first scheduled frost, and wait to transfer to garden soil until it reaches 70°F. If you live in zone six or higher, plant rosemary whenever you’d like.
(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

How to Cultivate Rosemary

  • Soil: Plant rosemary in well-drained, loamy soil that is between a pH of six and seven. Although rosemary will perform well in poor soil, I find that adding fertilizer to the soil each spring aids in its growth.
  • Sun: Rosemary needs six to eight hours of sunlight each day. When planting rosemary indoors, be sure that its sunlight needs are met. This may mean supplementing with artificial light.
  • Water: Similar to hardy sage, rosemary is relatively drought-tolerant. Let the soil dry out between each watering; rosemary does its best when the soil is not overly moist.
  • Spacing: In warmer growing areas, zones eight and further south, rosemary can grow into a thick, large, hedge-like plant, making it necessary to space each plant up to three-feet apart. In areas more susceptible to frost, I suggest planting rosemary in containers, in order to grow the herb year-round.
  • Companion planting: Plant rosemary near carrots, cabbages, and sage. Rosemary also deters a lot of bean parasites. Depending upon where I plant my beans, I make sure I place a container of rosemary nearby.
  • Propagation: Clip a three-inch cutting from the very tip of a stem, remove the leaves one inch from the base, apply rooting hormone on the exposed portion of the stem, and plant it in a rooting mixture that includes both peat moss and vermiculite. Roots will emerge within three to four weeks. Transfer to a small (four-inch) pot, let the root ball form, and then transfer to a larger pot or directly to your garden.
(Image credit: Jayme Henderson)

How to Harvest Rosemary

Harvest rosemary whenever you need it. Its pine needle-like leaves grow thickly along its stems, so there isn’t necessarily a perfect spot to cut it. The plant will naturally branch off from wherever you clip. Just don’t clip an entire stem all the way back to the base of the plant; you want to encourage future growth. Then again, if you live in a warmer area, your main concern might be containing this vigorous grower.

I’m curious how some of you grow your rosemary. Since I’m in zone four, every inch of rosemary I get is a cherished celebration. How do those of you, who live in warmer zones, deal with your excess? Be sure to check back tomorrow for a few of my favorite ways to preserve rosemary.