We use Oregano in so many dishes at home and the pungent earthy aroma and taste make for a truly authentic Italian feel. It is a hardy perennial and as such is pretty much maintenance free.
You can either grow oregano from seed, which takes around 14-21 days for germination and then you can harvest around 3 months later. You can also grow on plants by division, even if you intend to keep the herbs indoors. Or you can grow oregano by propagation from cuttings around 10cm in length.
There is a little bit more to it than that, so let me take you through the details and get you ready to grow this taste packed herb!
Growing Oregano From Seed
Sow indoors under cover for the most consistent germination. We have planted outside directly before and whilst you can try to predict the last frost it can sometimes be a bit disappointing if one arrives in May!
- For good germination rates, use a peat free potting compost. Prepare the soil by gently firming it in the tray, we water before we scatter the seeds because of how small they are you will otherwise get them moving around with the water pressure.
- Sprinkle them on top of the moist soil and then scatter a fine layer of soil on top. Use a mister to dampen the seeds and top layer of soil.
- Cover the seeds tray over and move to a warm windowsill or heated electric propagator. 14-21 days later you will see the germination has started.
- Whilst oregano is hardy when fully grown as a seedling it will need a bit more love and care. So keep it warm, moist and with plenty of sunlight. When the seedlings are large enough to handle (when they have a full set of true leaves) transplant them out to their final location.
- We use a cloche to protect them both from our chickens and the cold. You can keep them in a greenhouse for a few more months and they will thrive in warm full sunlight conditions.
- Oregano is somewhat drought tolerant so it will not suffer if you are a little neglectful. Therefore you may want to plant with other similar herbs like Thyme or Rosemary.
- Optimum time to plant seeds is around Early Spring to late May.
Growing Oregano From Division
If you chose to buy a particular variety of oregano from a nursery then it is because of that particular taste profile. You can also do this with the cheap type of ‘living herbs’ you buy from a supermarket too, but that is more about keeping them alive than preserving a particular taste or aroma.
You soak the roots by watering heavily and standing the pot in a bucket, this kind of juices the roots up a bit. Meaning that they are more pliable for the next bit and less likely to snap.
Then remove from the pot by gently squeezing the pot and holding the plant with the other hand. If like our one you have roots coming through the bottom you may have to sacrifice those in order to remove the plant. It seems a bit counter productive but the plant will survive fine!
You will see a natural separation in the plants and this is where you will be able to gently encourage it to part. Use your fingers to prise it apart.
Then you will need new pots to move the plants into. We have chosen to plant one into a bed that we let our chickens free range on, however we use wire around it until it has established!
If putting into new pots, ensure you are using peat free compost and that there is plenty of drainage for your herbs roots. Oregano is from the Mediterranean and will not tolerate a soggy bottom. It will be much happier in drought conditions.
Using Cuttings to Propagate Oregano
Take cuttings of fresh, healthy stems. Avoid those with flowers on as the energy will be directed there and not into root production.
When we take cuttings use a sharp pair of secateurs to cut at an angle to allow for a greater area for the roots to emerge from. The cutting should be between 7-10 cms in length, for me that is about the length of my middle finger, just be careful how you use this to measure!
Now you will strip the leaves below the first 3 sets of leaves, this will give you plenty of open parts of the stem to grow roots from.
You now have two choices. You can pot directly into compost or you can allow the cuttings to take root in water. We have not seen any noticeable difference in timescales. If anything the water option is a better one as we can grow it on and just change the water once every two days.
If you are growing it directly into potting compost, make sure it is peat free and mixed with an amount of perlite or vermiculite to help with the drainage. Water the soil well and then use a small stick to make a hole for the cutting to pop in to.
We use rooting hormone to help prevent fungal infections. Some people argue the case for raw honey. Some people argue for a completely naked cutting. There does not seem to be any empirical proof either way. So do one of those three options I guess, or go for cinnamon – which we have never tried but have heard rumours about the positive effects.
Push the bare stem into the soil and allow a snug fit by using your fingers to gently firm it in. You can then cover with a plastic bag, making sure the bag itself does not touch the cutting. Leave in a warm location with no direct sunlight but not dark.
After two weeks the cutting in the soil should offer some resistance when you try to lift it from the pot. Be gentle here as you are just testing to see if roots have formed. Once you know it is all good you can then move to a sunnier spot and start to use a mister to keep the soil moist but not wet.
In around 3-4 months the plant should be large enough to transplant to any location and start to harvest freely once foliage picks up!
The cutting you are intending to put in water will need to have the water changed every two days. This stops any build up of nasty bacteria that could cause your stem to rot.
Around the two week point you will have lovely white roots between 2-5cms in length. This means it is ready to plant into the soil. Choose the same healthy mix of peat free compost and vermiculite and you will get a healthy plant with good drainage.
Oregano can grow to around 2 foot tall and just over 1 foot in diameter. It will need encouraging in this and regular pruning is essential! You can get a woody sort of sparse plant if you do not keep on top of the pinching out. The more you remove the more will grow to replace it!
The best time to propagate cuttings is in early to mid Spring, this is because there are no flowers showing yet and the sap is sort of rising! This does not prohibit propagation after this point though! So it is well worth giving it a go, even from your winter cuttings.
Do not let the chickens free range around it until you are confident that the roots can take it! If anything leave it in a large container and let them eat when you want them to!
Wet roots will kill off all Mediterranean herbs so good drainage is key to success! Do not be tempted to over water! Test the soil on top to see if it is dried out before watering at all!
Do not let the leaves get wet whilst propagating. This is a sure sign of potential issues to come.
If the water becomes cloudy and the stalk is slimy then it has been victim to rot and fungal infections. Forget about that cutting and start again with clean water and make sure that your knife or secateurs are clean before taking the cutting!
In total your oregano should take between 80-90 days to be ready to harvest. If it is not you may want to think about positioning. Not all herbs like a harsh wind and this can dry out and scorch their foliage surprisingly quickly. Keeping them in pots is a really good idea as you can move their position without disturbing their roots.
Full sunlight in the UK is not a problem and this is probably about the same as North America. So think about the temperatures where Oregano grows and then compare to where you are.
Winter it is important to cut the oregano plant back quite harshly. Then mulch around it to keep weeds at bay but also to provide protection from frosts.
If you want to plant oregano with Rosemary, Thyme and Marjoram then they will all live happily together.
Oregano is known for its anti bacterial qualities and makes a good companion for beans and onions as a result, so think about inter planting or introducing pots around your beds.
We love to use oregano and other herbs that have pungent essential oils around our outside eating area. It deters flying critters and pests. This means we can relax into the evening with far fewer bites and annoyances!
How To Store and Dry Oregano
Oregano can be brought indoors over winter. If you have a windowsill you can keep your smaller plants growing there.
If not you may want to think about drying the leaves. You can hang dry the stems and then take the leaves individually. We do this for stems we are feeding to our chickens, however for our own use we take the leaves off first.
You will need a herb air dryer like this one from Dobies. This is because the leaves are so tiny that it will be harder to get the oven drying times just right.
The process of air drying herbs goes back centuries and is an ancient process to intensify flavour. We love it as it gives us a year round ability to use our own herbs!
Oregano leaves also go very well in herb butters. We will show you how to do this on our YouTube Channel as well, but it is relatively easy to incorporate the leaves into pre-made butter. Roll it all together and freeze. When you want to sautee some onions you can cut a slice of the herb butter and add to the pan.
We also love to make up flavoured olive oils as part of gift hampers. Simply steep the leaves and stem in the oil for around ten minutes. Reduce the heat and remove all of the oregano by pouring through a cheese cloth.
You will need sterilised containers to pour it into and seal. As simple as that to add some summer flavour to any winter dish!
Hopefully you are all feeling inspired now to buy a plant and keep it for life! If you want to get really into your herb growing there are many different varieties to chose from with so many subtle differences in aroma and taste profile.
People often find that there is confusion between oregano and marjoram, however we have put together a handy guide to help with this. Available here for free.
So go and find yourself the perfect plants or seeds and get sowing or propagating straight away!