Aromatic and a real treat for almost any vegetable and/or meaty concoction that might come to mind, the now-famous oregano originated in Greece. But it isn’t only a plant that looks good in any garden and tastes delicious when used in dishes. Oh no — it is also a wonderful starter plant for first-time gardeners. Want to know some remarkable oregano growing tips? Let’s start at the very beginning — learning more about it and its varieties.
The Superstar Herb: Oregano and Its Varieties
We can identify two main classes of this perennial plant: Mediterranean and Mexican. The former is the one most of us are familiar with and belongs to the mint plant family Lamiaceae (and thus has more minty undertones). The latter, however, belongs to the Verbenaceae plant family and has a rather famous relative — Lemon Verbena. Naturally, it resembles its cousin when it comes to flavor, as it has more of a citrus undertone.
There are a few varieties to consider that may become a true staple in your garden. Depending on the aroma you’re looking for, you can opt for:
Origanum vulgare, which has low moisture needs and loves full sun. As its name says, this is the most common variety that sports pink, white, and purple flowers, square stems, and fragrant, ovate leaves.
Greek oregano (also known as European and Turkish oregano)
A variety of common oregano that’s a staple in most grocery stores and their spice and herb shelves. It’s the one we mostly use on pizzas, in casseroles, and other similar dishes. It is a gorgeous plant as well, as it has dark green foliage and white flowers.
We don’t have to plant oregano just to, later on, use it in cooking. Ornamental oregano isn’t suitable for that purpose, as its leaves, though edible, lack its distinct flavor. Most people use it for its alluring fragrance and ornamental impact. With dense foliage and pink, white, and purple flowers, it’s an incredible plant to have on walkways, in pots, and around the garden in general.
Marjoram is a part of the mint family, just like oregano, and it is synonymous with it in some countries of the Middle East. However, it has a more delicate flavor that becomes fairly obvious when used in the kitchen, though it’s best not to process it with heat. The flavor is better when it’s used raw or at the very end, once most of the dish has been cooked. Plus, it doesn’t disappoint as an ornamental plant either; it has a sweet fragrance, gray-green ovate leaves, and small pink and white flowers.
Apart from these, there are also:
- Italian oregano
- Golden oregano
- Syrian oregano
- Cuban oregano
The good news is that, despite the number of varieties it has, oregano is fairly low-maintenance and won’t pose a challenge to newbie gardeners. Let’s start by going over where and when we should plant it, and then learn how to actually keep it alive and thriving.
Oregano Growing Tips From Start to Finish
Before learning how to grow oregano, we have to know how and when to plant it. In general, it’s possible to grow this plant from seeds, root division, and cuttings.
If we decide to grow it from a seed, it is best to start it indoors approximately six weeks before the last frost. Once they germinate, we can transfer the seedlings outside when the temperature is above 45 °F. When using cuttings or root division, we should wait for the last frost to pass and the soil to be at around 70°F. A perfect time for dividing plants would be spring or the start of fall.
To get plantable cuttings, we can use sharp pruning shears, knife, or garden scissors to cut a few pieces off (roughly four to five inches long) diagonally. Make sure to cut above a node. Once cut, we have to remove the leaves from the bottom two inches of the stem and keep the cuttings in water until the roots are long enough for planting.
It’s also possible to use potting soil and some powdered or liquid rooting hormone. We only have to dip the stems in it and then plant the cuttings in a container that has a drainage hole. We can place a few of them in the same one, but it might be better to use a separate container for each. Otherwise, the leaves may touch, which may make them rot.
Bright light is necessary, but there’s no need to keep the cuttings in direct sun. After about four to five weeks, they should be ready to plant outside. It’s best to wait for them to reach a healthy size and have well-established roots.
Using Root Divisions
And yes — in case we’re looking to plant root divisions, the process is even simpler. All we have to do is dig up a plant and cut it through the root ball into a few sections. We can then plant those sections somewhere else in the garden or perhaps in containers.
When planting, we should keep the plants about 12 inches apart and the rows 18 to 24 inches apart. If we’re using a container, it should be at least 12 inches in diameter and six inches deep.
Soil and Sun Requirements
Since it’s so low-maintenance, there’s not much we have to do in order to grow oregano well. For starters, the plant isn’t too fussy about the soil. It prefers loose, well-drained soil with a pH level of 6.0–7.0. The soil should be moderately fertile, and there’s no need to use fertilizers or compost unless you’re using containers. In fact, large amounts of some nutrients (nitrogen, for instance) may change the flavor, so it’s best to leave it to do its own thing.
As for how much sunshine it needs, it’s possible to grow oregano indoors, but the results may be better if we live in a sunny area. In general, oregano performs well in partial to full sun, but it will definitely thrive if it gets a full day’s worth of sunshine and warmth. It will also tolerate partial shade, especially if you’ve planted golden oregano. That variety needs some shade so that it doesn’t burn in the sun.
How to Grow Oregano and Take Proper Care of It
Those asking themselves how to grow oregano will be happy to know that they won’t have to time the watering at all or worry about the plants, for that matter.
As far as its water requirements go, oregano prefers drier soil. Touching the soil should give us a hint as to whether the plant needs any water. If it’s dry, we should water it thoroughly.
Moist soil may make the plants lose their flavor, so make sure you’re not overwatering yours. It’s best to moisten only the top five inches.
We may need to trim the plants occasionally to ensure proper bushy growth (when they’re about four inches high). We should keep the flowers pinched back for a better aroma and growth. It’s best to trim excess growth once the flowers start to fade in the summer. In midsummer, we can cut them completely to encourage new leaves or let them flower so that the bees can have enough nectar and pollen.
How to Grow Oregano in Winter or Cold Climate
In colder regions, we should divide the plants once fall rolls around and overwinter them (keep them in a sheltered place, like our basement, garage, or inside of our home) until spring. Once spring comes, we can replant them. Alternatively, if we cannot overwinter them inside, we can protect them with a mulch of leaves once the temperature plummets.
When and How to Harvest Your Gorgeous Plant
One of the best parts about growing oregano is that it’s possible to harvest it as needed, even when the plants are only about four to six inches tall. We can remove sprigs (two to four-inch pieces) and use them for cooking. It’s also good to harvest the outside leaves as the plant grows to encourage it to grow even more and become bushier.
One thing to keep in mind, though, is that the leaves will have more flavor before the flowers bloom. Because of that, we can either time our harvest or keep removing the flowers.
We can snip each sprig at the shoot with scissors or garden clippers but leave some leaves (a set, for instance) on the stem to encourage regrowth. If we only need the leaves, an even easier method is simply running our fingers along a stem (but only about ⅔ of length). The leaves will end up in our palms, all ready to use, and we’ll only need to trim the stem.
Preservation and Storage
Since oregano is a plant that actually tastes better when it’s dry, we can also cut all of our plants at once and dry them in a dehydrator. If we don’t have one, some common house appliances can be of use too.
We can place the leaves on a cookie sheet and leave them in a barely-warm oven to dry out. Alternatively, we can take all the stems, place them in a paper bag, and hang them upside down. The leaves will dry and fall at the bottom. To preserve them, crumble them up and keep them in an airtight container.
When using fresh oregano, we can keep unwashed leaves refrigerated for a few days. However, it’s best to keep them in a sealed bag.
We can also freeze leaves for later use, in tomato juice, for instance. Of course, ice cubes are a popular alternative as well.
Pests and Disease to Look Out For
A huge part of knowing how to grow oregano is being aware of the pests and diseases that may discourage the plants’ growth. Fortunately, they don’t pose much of a threat here, as oregano is generally pretty resistant.
Stem and root rot is the most common “disease” we have to be on the lookout for when growing oregano. Wet weather or wet soil may make the plants too damp. To prevent this, we ought to make sure the soil is dry before watering the plants. We should also remove any brown or spotted leaves whenever we notice them.
The two most common pests to attack oregano plants are aphids and spider mites. However, as much as these are annoying, we can easily fight them by spraying them down with some water every other day until they’re gone. In case of a more extensive infestation, we may need to use some insecticidal soap or neem oil spray. In general, though, we should keep the foliage around the plants under control so that there are no pest crossovers.
Black flies, or rather, their larvae (leaf miners), could be another problem. These can feed inside the leaves and leave behind spots, blotches, and trails. To fight them, we cannot use insecticides, though, since the problem is on the inside. We have to pick the infected leaves off before the larvae mature.
Finally, mold is another issue, often in winter, and when there’s lots of rain (wetter seasons). The easiest way to resolve the problem is to cover the soil with mulch or straw to keep the ground dry.
Now that you know these oregano growing tips, nothing can stop you from enhancing your garden with its gorgeous foliage and having it on-hand for a variety of delicious dishes. Plus, since it’s so low-maintenance, there will hardly be anything to worry about. If anything, oregano thrives on pure neglect, though we wouldn’t ignore it completely. Just keep watering and trimming it when needed — it will be grand!