How to Grow Fragrant Rosemary
is such a pretty evergreen shrub that it is worth a place in herb garden.
Excellent with meat and poultry, it is one of the most popular cooking herbs.
A member of the Labiaiae family, rosemary () is a long-lived, evergreen shrub, native to the Mediterranean regions. Under favourable conditions, rosemary may live 20 years or more, and it can reach a height of 1.8 m (6’), although half this size is more common. The narrow, fragrant, grey-green leaves and blue or purplish flowers make rosemary one of the prettiest plants in the herb garden, and it is often included in ornamental gardens. However, the distinctive flavour of rosemary enhances many dishes, particularly lamb and fowl. The chopped leaves, which look like pine needles, can be used for stuffings, or whole sprigs of rosemary can be roasted with a joint, with superb results.
There are several different species and varieties of rosemary available as plants from good nurseries. These are all quite similar for kitchen use, but differ in the size of the shrubs and the colours of the flowers. Decide whether you want to grow it as an individual bush or plant it to form a continuous hedge, and consider this when you choose a variety to plant.
All rosemary thrives in a sunny, sheltered position. The best soils are light, sandy ones containing a little lime. Rosemary does not do well in water-retaining clay, so if clay is present in your soil it must be broken down to a more open texture by working in some sandy loam when digging.
Mid-spring is the best time to plant out your rosemary. Remember that it does not transplant well, so put plants in the ground where they are to grow. For hedging, space the plants about 38 cm (15”) apart. Dig holes just large enough to take the plant and soil from the container it comes in, place the plant in the hole and firm gently with your hand. Water the young plants; established plants rarely require watering and can survive droughts which will kill off most other herbs.
Both hedges and bushes of rosemary can be clipped around early summer to keep them well shaped and encourage new growth. If left to grow unchecked, the plants can develop a bare, woody stem with new growth appearing only at the top of the plant. Rosemary produces new shoots on one-year-old wood, and if leading shoots are not pinched back, no sideshoots will be produced. Use secateurs to trim the bushes lightly every year just after flowering. Often the removal of shoots for culinary use is all that need be done to control growth.
Apart from trimmings, rosemary needs little care. In prolonged periods of drought, water should be given andshould not be allowed to smother it. In times of severe frost, protection is necessary.
If you already have rosemary in your garden and the plant has become unwieldy, take freshfrom it in late spring or early summer, and then trim it after flowering. Allow only one year’s growth to remain, and thereafter treat it as any other shrub.
You can also propagate rosemary cuttings taken from your established plants. Take cuttings from young shoots in late spring or early summer. They should be about 7.5 cm (3”) long, either cut below a leaf joint or torn off with a heel. Set three or four cuttings in a 7.5 cm (3”) pot filled with sandy potting. Water well and cover with a clear plastic bag, and keep the pots at a temperature of at least 15°C (60°F) until they root. When rooted, they are ready to be planted out into permanent positions.
You can harvest fresh sprigs of rosemary throughout the year from your established plants. Fresh sprigs have the finest, pine-like taste, but if you want to dry and store some leaves, use the shoots removed by the annual clipping. Just tie them in bunches and hang them upside-down to dry in a cool, dark, airy place. When thoroughly dry, rub off the leaves and store them in an air-tight container.
Rosemary does well in large pots or containers filled with a good quality potting compost. In cool temperate areas it is a good idea to have one or two pots growing in your greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill, just in case a very severe winter kills your outdoor plants. Apart from trimming and very occasional watering, pot-grown rosemary requires as little attention as outdoor-grown plants.