Every Italian food lover knows the benefit that a well-grown sprig of oregano can add to their cooking. The zesty taste of oregano makes it a perfect addition to any savory marinara or pasta dish that needs a kick. Plus, the herb’s hardiness and tenacity make growing oregano easy in just about any place. No matter if it’s in a garden ground cover or in a pot on a windowsill.
Beyond its powerful taste, oregano continues to be valued for its medicinal benefits. As such, it is often made into a tea to treat anxiety or settle an upset stomach.
Whether you choose to cultivate a small plant or fill your garden beds with this herb, your palate will benefit from the use of oregano. By learning to grow the Greeks’ “Joy of the Mountain” yourself, you’ll be able to enjoy its tasty benefits all year long.
Start Growing Oregano
It’s easy to start oregano right from seed, but you can also propagate it from cuttings taken from established plants. When left to its natural cycle, oregano is a perennial. It self-propagates itself by sending runners out throughout your garden. In fact, many gardeners prefer to plant their oregano in pots. This ensures it doesn’t take over their entire garden bed.
When and Where Should You Grow Oregano?
Oregano is one of the easiest plants that you can grow. This Mediterranean herb loves the sun and produces a stronger flavor the more sun it is exposed to. You can grow this herb in just about any climate zone (even indoors) and in any amount of space, making it a great option for apartment dwellers that want to start their own herb garden.
Understanding Seed Germination for Oregano
To get your oregano seeds to germinate, you need to provide them with a source of light, so only cover them lightly with soil. When kept at temperatures above 45 degrees F, the seeds should germinate within 8 to 14 days.
Preparing an Oregano Bed
Oregano craves full sun, but if you live in zone 7 or higher some afternoon shade can be a big benefit. Light, well-drained soil is ideal for oregano, and only minimal amounts of fertilizer are needed. The best pH level is between 6.5-7, though this plant is hardy enough to be able to put up with a wide variety of conditions. So long as your garden bed isn’t clay filled and doesn’t allow water to pool, it should work well for growing oregano.
Planting Your Oregano
If you are planting oregano seeds, you can direct sow them after the risk of frost has passed, or get a jump on the growing season by starting seeds indoors six to ten weeks before the last frost date. Cuttings can be planted once the ground temperature has warmed up to at least 70 degrees F.
Be sure to space your plants between eight and ten inches apart. Because they can easily grow to over two feet tall, you will want plenty of breathing room between plants.
Once your seedlings have grown about four inches, you can pinch off the tops to encourage the plant to grow denser and bushier. Trimming them regularly throughout the summer will help the plant to avoid legginess and grow more robustly.
Oregano will spread quickly throughout your garden, so continue to harvest from the spreading branches to keep it under control. As flowers begin to appear, pinch them back to prevent the plant from bolting and prematurely producing seeds. These flowers have a mild flavor and are great in Greek salads.
Watering and Mulching Requirements
Unlike most herbs, oregano needs barely any water and should only be watered when the soil it’s growing in feels dry and powdery. Because oregano does well with intense bursts of water, it’s better to water this herb thoroughly but less often.
The fertilizer needs for oregano are almost nonexistent during the growing season if you added compost to the garden bed in the early spring. However, container-grown oregano will need regular fertilizer boosts as the plants will quickly deplete the nutrients in the soil.
Neighboring weeds can quickly overtake oregano, so be sure to hoe around your plants frequently to keep them in check. You can apply an organic mulch like hay or wood chips to the base of your plants to prevent them from growing.
Companion Planting and Rotation Considerations
Oregano tends to be a great companion plant for just about any garden vegetable, though it does particularly well with beans, basil, and broccoli. Some gardeners have great success planting oregano next to their tomatoes and peppers, as pesky aphids prefer to dine on the oregano leaves and consequently leave the tomato and peppers along. The thick foliage of oregano plants also helps to create a humid environment that improves the growth rate of peppers.
Common Pests and Diseases for Oregano
Oregano tends to do well against common pests and diseases that affect other plants, but overly wet plants can suffer from the root and stem rots. To keep them rot free, allow your plants to fully dry out between watering and pull off any brown or spotted leaves.
Some insects like aphids and spider mites are also often a problem for oregano. Both pests can affect the vitality of your plants by sucking out the juices from the leaves and stems. You can fend off these pests by keeping the surrounding foliage close to your plants under control to prevent pests from crossing over and introducing their natural predator ladybugs to your garden space.
Harvesting and Storing Oregano
Harvesting your oregano couldn’t be simpler. As the plant grows bushier, you can harvest off the outside leaves as you need them. The most flavorful leaves tend to grow right when the flowers bloom. Be sure to be strategic with your harvesting so that you are consistently encouraging the plant to grow thicker and bushier.
Oregano is one of the few herbs that actually tastes better dried than fresh, so you will want to store some for use throughout the year. You can freeze the leaves or dry them in a dehydrator. Be sure to keep the leaves whole and crush them only when you are about to use them, as this keeps the oils within the plant and ensures that they have the freshest taste.
Saving Oregano Seeds
Because oregano is a self-seeding perennial, the plants you grow will come back year after year without you having to put any work forward. However, there are ways to save the seeds if you want to start new plants.
Allow your best oregano plants to flower and go to seed, and harvest the seed heads as soon as they turn brown and dry. Spread them out in a protected location to allow them to finish drying. After a few weeks thresh out the seeds by shaking and rubbing the heads until they have separated from the chaff. These seeds should be stored in a cool, dry place and will remain good to use for a year or two.
Choosing the Best Oregano Variety for Your Needs
There are several different types of oregano that are grown around the world, and they all serve different growing needs.
- Mediterranean Oregano is the most common form of oregano grown today and is the main type used in Italian cooking because of its savory flavor. Popular varieties include Italian (affiliate link), Turkish and Greek (affiliate link).
- Mexican Oregano is a member of the lemon verbena family and isn’t a true oregano, though it looks and tastes similar enough to confuse people. It is often used in chili powders.
- Common Oregano isn’t very flavorful compared to other varieties, but its beautiful hue makes it a great ornamental herb for flower gardens. Golden Oregano remains a popular variety.
Additional Growing Tips for Organic Oregano
If you want some extra tips for growing this easy herb, you can follow the advice below.
- The easiest way to harvest oregano leaves is to grab a stem two thirds down the plant and run your finger along the stem until the leaves collect in your hand.
- Bees go crazy for oregano flowers, so if you want to add a delicious flavor to your honey, be sure to plant some oregano next to your hives.