|Official Plant Name||Origanum vulgare|
|Plant Type||Perennial Herb|
|Flowers||Many small, pink flowers|
|When To Sow||February, March, April|
|Plant Out||May, June|
|Flowering Months||July, August, September|
|Harvesting Months||June, July, August, September|
Full Sun or Partial Shade
Exposed or Sheltered
0.5 – 1M
0.5 – 1M
July – September
Chalk, loam, sand
Oregano is a very useful culinary herb and also a great companion plant. Learn how to grow it in your garden.
Oregano is a herb with which many people are familiar in the kitchen. But oregano is not just useful in your kitchen, it can be handy in your garden too.
In this article, we will look at this practical herb, why you should grow it, and where. We’ll look at plants that benefit from oregano as a neighbour, and walk you through the process of growing and caring for oregano in your garden.
What is Oregano?
Oregano – Origanum vulgare – is a flowering herb in the mint family (Lamiaceae).
Originally native to the Mediterranean region, it is now grown in gardens and has naturalised in many areas across the temperate northern hemisphere.
The name of this herb derives from the Greek for ‘brightness of the mountain’. It is closely related to marjoram, another interesting culinary herb to consider growing in your garden.
This is a perennial herb, though it is often grown as an annual in colder areas where it does not overwinter successfully.
In the kitchen, oregano is often used dried rather than fresh, when the flavour is more intense.
It is a staple in Italian cuisine and is also commonly utilised in other Mediterranean cuisines and in Mexican cooking. Pungent and strong tasting, it is popular in a range of dishes and is a versatile and useful ingredient to have on hand when growing your own.
Why Grow Oregano?
One of the main reasons to grow oregano is so that you can use it in your kitchen, as a culinary herb. But its culinary uses are not the only reason to consider growing this useful herb in your garden.
Oregano is an aromatic herb which can be a good companion plant for a range of common crops.
It attracts a range of beneficial insects which help to maintain balance and reduce pest dominance in an organic garden. For example, it brings in predatory insects, which help keep down sap-sucker populations.
Oregano is also a good plant for bringing butterflies to your garden.
What is more, oregano can also be an attractive plant. It has beautiful flowers when in bloom, which not only attract wildlife but which also enhance the appearance of your garden.
Some particularly attractive varietals to consider are:
- ‘Aureum Crispum’
- ‘Kent Beauty’
- And, for small spaces or containers: ‘Compactum’
Where to Grow Oregano
Like other Mediterranean herbs, oregano thrives in a warm and sunny location.
It is hardy down to around -20°C in the right places, though needs a free-draining soil and will not tolerate waterlogged or excessively damp conditions.
It can tolerate an exposed spot, but will generally do best somewhere a little more warm and sheltered.
It is not particularly fussy when it comes to soil pH but will do best in slightly alkaline conditions.
This is a fairly drought tolerant plant, which can cope with even relatively poor soils.
When growing herbs, it is always important to remember that you have a number of choices about how and where you grow them. Oregano can be grown:
- In a dedicated herb garden alongside other Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, marjoram and thyme, for example. To grow a wide range of herbs, one interesting solution to consider is a herb spiral. This spiral shaped raised bed allows you to grow a wide range of herbs which like different growing conditions in a more limited area. In a herb spiral, oregano should be positioned near the top of the spiral, in the sun, while more moisture loving herbs should be positioned closer to the base of the structure.
- In perennial planting schemes alongside other flowering perennials or perennial food crops which like similar growing conditions.
- In guilds for fruit trees or other fruiting perennials.
- Around the fringes of annual cultivation areas as a companion plant.
- In pots or containers; in a windowsill herb garden.
Companion Planting With Oregano
As mentioned above, oregano is beneficial as a wildlife attractant (and may also repel, confuse or distract certain pest species).
For this reason, it makes a great companion plant for:
- Tomatoes and peppers.
- Squash, cucumbers and other cucurbits.
- Brassicas (cabbage family plants).
- Grape vines, and a number of fruit trees and fruit bushes.
- Other Mediterranean herbs (rosemary, lavender, thyme etc.). This does not include more moisture-loving herbs like basil, chives and mint.
Just remember that oregano should only be planted in the same growing area or same container as other plants which like free-draining conditions.
So in the case of some of these crops, it may be better to place oregano in a container close by, rather than actually in the same bed.
Sowing Oregano From Seed
Oregano can be grown from seed, though it is more common to purchase young plants in pots to place in your garden.
If you do decide to sow oregano seed, you can do so indoors any time between February and May.
Fill a small pot with seed compost and sow seeds on the surface. Cover the seeds very lightly with sieved compost, water the pot, and place this in a propagator to germinate.
Once the seedlings are large enough to handle, prick out three seedlings to place into a pot around 8cm in diameter, filled with a peat-free multipurpose compost.
If you are growing oregano outdoors in the ground, make sure that you do not place your plant outdoors until all risk of frost has passed in your area.
Alternatively, pot up your oregano into a container which is at least 15cm in diameter.
Whether planting out oregano you have grown yourself from seed, or planting out a pot grown oregano plant you have purchased, make sure you keep the plant at the same depth that it was sat in its previous container.
Caring For Oregano
As long as oregano is being grown in suitable conditions, it should not be too difficult to care for.
Here are the main jobs when caring for oregano that you should keep in mind:
Oregano grown outdoors will usually only require additional watering during particularly pronounced or prolonged dry periods.
However, when growing in containers it is important to remember that oregano plants will dry out more quickly and need to be watered more frequently.
Keep the growing medium moist, but also make sure that you do not overwater as this can cause a range of problems.
Oregano leaves can be harvested from your plant from late spring onwards.
To harvest, simply cut off a few shoots and then remove the leaves to use as desired.
It is best to harvest before the flowers open as this is when the leaves have the best taste.
Just remember to leave some flowers to bring ecological benefits to the wildlife in your garden.
The leaves can be used fresh, or dried before use. You can also consider freezing some oregano in water in an ice cube tray and preserving it in that way.
After the flowers begin to fade, you can cut back the plants – giving them a trim to keep them compact and healthy.
After doing so, you should give pot grown plants a boost by applying an organic liquid feed.
Feeding oregano growing in the ground is not typically required.
To save seeds from oregano:
- Harvest the flowers as they start to dry out.
- Bundle the flower heads with twine and hand them upside down to dry for a couple of weeks.
- Once the flowers have dried fully, shake them over a paper bag to shake free any seeds left in the flowers.
- Winnow to separate the seeds from the chaff.
- Store the seeds in a cool, dry location in a sealed container and use them within 3-5 years.
You can also propagate oregano by taking cuttings. This is often easier, and you will usually have the best results if you take softwood cuttings in spring.
Take cuttings around 7-10cm long, cutting diagonally just above a node. Remove all but the uppermost two leaves from the stem section.
Dip the bottom of the cuttings in rooting hormone and place the cuttings into a pot of moist potting soil and wait to see healthy new growth.
Wait an additional month or so to allow the new plants to establish before transplanting them to their final growing positions.
Pests and Problems
Aphids are attracted to oregano, and can become an issue. But the creatures that attract aphids should arrive and eat these pests to keep their numbers down.
When growing oregano under cover, red spider mites and two-spotted mites may be an issue. In a greenhouse, you may wish to consider using a biological control.
You should also mist plants regularly as these pests thrive in lower humidity and hot, dry conditions,
As winter sets in, oregano plants will die back. Cut back dead stems to the base.
One of the key things to remember is that oregano is tolerant of cold temperatures and should come back next spring. However, these plants cannot tolerate wet and waterlogged conditions.
For this reason, make sure that oregano grown in pots are on pot feet which allow excess water to drain away freely – and place pots in a more sheltered position.
In order to continue to enjoy oregano leaves in the winter months, however, you can also consider lifting the plants before the first frosts in autumn and placing them in a bright, light location indoors or under cover.
A permaculture garden designer, sustainability consultant and freelance writer, Elizabeth works as an advocate for positive change. She aims to inspire others to reconnect with nature and live in a more eco-friendly way. She also tries to practice what she preaches as she tends her own forest garden, polyculture beds and polytunnel. See her personal website here.