Rosemary, officially known as Rosmarinus officinalis, is an incredibly easy herb to grow in the right conditions. It looks lovely in any garden, grown as a low hedge or in a herb garden, and is long-lasting and generally trouble-free. It attracts bees and butterflies and delivers a rewarding harvest to those who value its culinary value.
But where does rosemary grow best, and what are the required conditions for this versatile herb to flourish? If you consider the origin of rosemary which is native to the Mediterranean region, you’ll immediately recognize where it grows best. But even if you don’t live in a warm Mediterranean-type climate, you can grow it in a pot and take it indoors in winter.
Where does rosemary grow naturally?
Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean region but it has naturalized throughout many parts of Europe. Today it grows happily in gardens in warm climates throughout the world and is cultivated globally.
Interestingly, the Mediterranean countries are still leaders in rosemary production. Other regions where it is cultivated commercially include both Northern and Southern Africa, the United Kingdom, the U.S., and Mexico.
Where is the best place to plant rosemary?
The best place to plant rosemary is anywhere that matches the native conditions where it grows naturally. This means that climatic requirements are important.
Rosemary is a hardy plant that grows in temperate regions. It grows well where temperatures during the day are between 68 and 77℉ (20-25℃).
If you live in USDA zone 8 and above, you can grow rosemary plants without any issues. While some cultivars will survive in zone 7, it’s usually best to grow rosemary in a pot and take it inside for the winter months.
Like lavender, which is also a herb that is native to the Mediterranean, rosemary likes dry conditions and not much water. It prefers relatively sandy, but fertile soil that drains well and it won’t do well in boggy ground or heavy clay.
How to Choose the Best Spot to Grow Rosemary
It’s important to realize that even if your climatic conditions are ideal for rosemary, you need to choose the right site in your garden to grow it successfully. There are other important factors to consider too.
You will need to ensure that the soil is right. Also, the best spot rosemary requires will get full sun for most of the day.
Find the Right Site
Presuming you are going to be growing your rosemary in a herb garden and not in a pot, you need a site that gets at least 6 hours of sun every day. The site should also be in a sheltered spot because, unlike potted rosemary, you can’t move it around.
If your climatic conditions are cold, or on the edge, and you’re afraid your rosemary might not survive the winter, choose a spot that is near a south-facing wall. Be aware that extreme cold will kill the tops of your rosemary plant.
Also, position your rosemary plants so that they are not in the direct path of prevailing winds.
Check the Soil
The spot you choose for your rosemary plants must have well-drained, slightly acidic, loamy soil. It doesn’t like heavy clay soil and won’t thrive if the soil isn’t well-drained.
If your soil tends to get waterlogged, add fine gravel about half an inch in diameter and work it into the soil. This will help air circulation and aeration of the roots.
Check the pH of the soil before you plant your rosemary. It should be between 5.5 and 8.0, or better still, between 6.0 and 7.0. You can enrich the soil with a few inches of all-purpose compost.
If you’re going to grow rosemary in pots, use a lightweight soil mix.
Tips to Grow Rosemary
Here are a few quick tips that will help you grow healthy rosemary plants.
Tip 1: Pruning Rosemary
Rosemary doesn’t need much pruning if you trim it often for cooking. You don’t want to use woody-stemmed rosemary for cooking or cuttings (see below).
Gentle pruning will help to make the plant bushier. It will also prevent the plants from becoming straggly or woody.
Tip 2: Harvesting Rosemary
Anyone who values rosemary for culinary use will want to harvest sprigs all year round. Because it’s an evergreen perennial shrub, it’s available continuously, throughout all the seasons.
You can pull small sprigs off the main stem or use secateurs to cut branches for roasting with meat or vegetables.
When you prepare cuttings, keep a few sprigs of rosemary as well as the leaves that you remove from the cutting. Fresh rosemary is a delicious flavoring for stews and roast lamb.
Tip 2: Storing Rosemary
When you prune your rosemary plants, don’t throw the branches or stems away. Woody stemmed rosemary is great on a barbecue fire and you can dry the leaves on a baking tray in an airing cupboard.
Rosemary doesn’t freeze, but if you dry it you can store it in an airtight container for months.
Tip 3: Growing Rosemary Indoors
If you don’t have space in your garden for rosemary, or you live in a cold climate, there’s nothing to stop you from growing rosemary indoors. Just be sure that you keep it in a spot that gets lots of sunlight.
If you keep your pot of rosemary in the kitchen, you’ll have fresh rosemary for cooking all year round. It also smells fragrant, which is a bonus.
Tip 4: The right pots for Rosemary
Rosemary does well in containers, as long as you plant them in reasonably sandy, but fertile soil. Terracotta pots are a good choice because they dry out more quickly than ceramic pots.
Choose pots that are at least 12 inches (30.5 cm) in diameter with decent-sized drainage holes.
Is rosemary an easy plant to grow?
Rosemary is a very easy plant to grow in the right environment. It isn’t picky about the soil unless it’s too wet and soggy.
If you plant rosemary in sandy soil that drains well, and it gets 6-8 hours of sunlight every day, it’ll thrive with minimal care. If you live in an area where winter temperatures are below 30℉ (-1℃), you’ll find it’s an impossibly difficult plant to grow – unless you grow your rosemary indoors.
You can grow rosemary from seed, from cuttings, or you start with established plants available commercially.
How to Grow Rosemary From Seed
Growing rosemary from seed isn’t difficult, but it does require patience. It’s a good, affordable option if you want lots of plants, for instance for a hedge or to line a pathway.
A good rule of thumb is to sow four times as many seeds as you want plants. Not all the seeds will germinate, and not all of those that germinate will be strong. Only keep strong, healthy seedlings.
When growing rosemary from seed, many gardeners start their rosemary indoors about three months before the growing season. Plant them in seed trays or pots filled with well-draining compost that ideally incorporates vermiculite or perlite.
The compost should be moist but not soaking wet. Sprinkle the seeds on top and cover them with potting soil. Lightly spray water to mist the surface.
A good way to encourage germination is to cover the containers with plastic wrap until the seedlings begin to sprout. This usually takes 14-28 days.
Remove the plastic and put the seedlings in a warm, sunny spot. Keep the soil moist until they are at least 3 inches (7.6 cm) tall.
Usually, seeds that are sown in spring can be planted out the following spring.
How to Grow Rosemary From Cuttings
Growing rosemary from cuttings is the quickest way to cultivate new plants. You can take cuttings at any time, as long as the plant isn’t flowering.
Use a sharp knife or secateurs to cut off a stem that is 3-5 inches (7.6-12.7 cm) long. Be sure to cut at a leaf node or just below a branching point of the plant.
Pull off most of the lower leaves and push the cutting into gritty compost in pots with drainage holes. You can speed up the rooting process by dipping the stems into hormone rooting powder.
Water the planted cuttings well and then place the pots in a warm, sheltered place, inside or outside. Keep the soil moist while the roots form, which should take about four weeks. Transplant into your herb garden.
How to Care for Rosemary
Once rosemary is established, it doesn’t need much care. Don’t overwater your plants and only fertilize rosemary after the plants have flowered.
Keep an eye out for bugs and diseases.
Whiteflies and mealybugs suck the sap from rosemary plant leaves. Spider mites feed on the lower part of the stem and thrips feed on the leaves.
Spray your rosemary with insecticidal soap or a homemade repellent spray to get rid of pests. A super-easy spray to make yourself uses rosemary.
Just add a cup of dried leaves to a quart of water and boil for 20-30 minutes. Pour another quart of cold water into a container and strain the boiled rosemary water into it. Voila!
Powdery mildew and root rot commonly result when rosemary plants are grown in wet soil. You may also have fungal issues if you water too much.
The best way to prevent powdery mildew, root rot, and fungal infections is to make sure your plants have good drainage and air circulation around the roots.
Rosemary is an easy-to-grow herb that is suitable for herb gardens and flower beds in warm areas in USDA zone 8 and above. In cooler climates, you can move it indoors in winter or grow it in pots.
Our garden tips are full of advice that will help you choose the very best spot for your new rosemary plants. Choose carefully because, with minimal care, your rosemary plants will last for many years.