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Rosemary in your Home Garden

Rosemary

With very little effort and not even the best soil, a gardener can grow enough rosemary to supply not only the needs of family and friends, but every restaurant in the area.

For those who think growing herbs isn’t worth the effort, a quick scan of the price labels at the supermarket may change your mind. One third of an ounce of dried rosemary can cost $4. That comes to $182 a pound!

And if you’re thinking, “What am I going to do with all that rosemary?” consider having your butcher butterfly a leg of lamb. Douse it with olive oil, some crushed garlic, black pepper and lots of fresh rosemary. Refrigerate overnight and grill it on a bed of rosemary sprigs. Rosemary also is great with pork, chicken and even potatoes.

Grown from either plants or seeds, rosemary is an outstanding perennial performer in Zones 7 to 10 with reports of it thriving in Zone 6 not uncommon. Plants can be brought indoors to overwinter in colder zones.

If you are unsure of your agricultural zone, simply go to Burpee.com and then click on Growing Zone finder and enter your zip code for your zone and its frost-free date.

Plant History

A member of the mint family, like so many herbs, rosemary’s history is rooted in ancient times. The Greeks and Romans made mention of its medical and mystical properties in addition to more realistic uses in the kitchen.  Rosemary found its way into the folklore of many countries where it was thought to ward off evil spirits as well as being a symbol of the fidelity of lovers.

With its attractive spike-adorned stems, rosemary also found its place in Christmas decorations as it is easily added to wreaths and sprays. 

Seeds or Plants

Although plants are available and useful where just a small amount of rosemary is needed, the only way to make a real statement is to grow rosemary from seed.

A packet contains 100 seeds and if all germinate, we’re talking about a rosemary hedge that can add year-round color to a fence, serve as a backdrop for flower beds and take summer grilling to new heights.

Cultivation

Seeds should be started indoors about 10 weeks before a zone’s frost free date. Don’t fret if that date has passed, rosemary is a perennial and given a summer of growth, it will thrive.

Almost fill a container with a good seed starting mixture, sprinkle the seeds on the surface and cover with an additional ¼-inch of the starting mixture. Keep the container evenly moist. The seeds will sprout in 14 to 21 days. When they are a couple of inches tall and the weather has warmed up, harden them off by putting them outside during the day and bringing them in at night for a few days and then plant them outdoors.

Growing Tips

Rosemary requires only sunlight, good drainage and ample air circulation. A sandy, well draining soil and 6 to 8 hours of full sunlight daily will have the plants off and running in no time.

There is little need to fertilize the plants. A basic 5-10-5 fertilizer applied in the spring and perhaps a foliar spray mid season will keep the plants healthy and happy.

Where winters are somewhat severe and sustained temperatures are well below 30 degrees F., rosemary plants will have to be brought indoors for the coldest months.

Grown in a sheltered area with a southern exposure, my plants have survived short periods of temperatures in the low teens.

If low temps persist, bring a few plants indoors. Put plants in terra-cotta pots and water only as needed to prevent drying out. Rosemary doesn’t need a lot of water whether indoors or out, but it does need to be put in front of a sunny south facing window. If this is not possible, use artificial light. Heat is not critical. A cool room will do fine. Move the plants back outdoors once the frost-free date has passed.

Pest and Problems

Rosemary grown indoors is susceptible to powdery mildew, a fungus that can develop where the air is humid and good circulation is lacking. Counter these conditions by keeping indoor plants and air somewhat dry. 

Aphids and spider miters, if present, can be controlled with a spray of insecticidal soap.


Harvesting

Snip off sprigs of rosemary all summer and into the fall and winter as needed. Where winter temperatures are severe and bringing plants inside is not an option, rosemary can be easily dried and stored.

Simply bundle sprigs and hang them inverted in a warm, airy place. A covered porch works fine.  Once dried, store the sprigs or stripped off leaves in sealable plastic bags or jars. They will keep until next season’s crop is ready to harvest.

Read the next Article: Sunflowers

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Gardening Tip of the Day

  • Looking for ways to spice up the holidays? Try making your own herbal vinegar. Now is the perfect time to do this in time for upcoming Christmas and holiday season.
    * Select a high quality vinegar and clean glass container.
    * Place fresh herbs that have been washed into the container.
    * Fill the container with vinegar, seal it and place on a sunny windowsill for at least three weeks; longer for a stronger flavored vinegar.
    * Strain the liquid into clean, sterilized jars or decorative glass bottles. Add a sprig of fresh herb to make the gift more decorative as well as easy to identify.
    Vinegar preserves the flavor of herbs by drawing out the plants essential oils into the vinegar. You can therefore control the flavor of the vinegar the length of time you allow the herbs to 'steep'.