Plant some versatile oregano in your kitchen herb garden this year. Photo by Michael Lehet under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Oregano blossoms attract beneficial insects. Photo by Brock Vicky under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Divide oregano in the fall and bring it indoors for the winter. Photo by ccharmon under the Creative Commons Attribution License2.0.
This herb is easy to please. Photo by Joi Under the Creative Commons Attribution License 2.0.
Herbs are one of the easiest and rewarding plants I’ve ever grown. They’re beautiful, textural, and flavorful. Many herbs (oregano, for instance) are some pretty tough characters. It’s the very end of January and my oregano is still growing strong. Because I live in Northern Califonia, I’ll admit that I’m cheating just a little. But all-in-all, I consider it a trooper.
Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a perennial plant that’s also known as “wild marjoram” and grows well in zones 1-24. It’s a European and Asian native with dark green, oval-shaped leaves that can be used both fresh and dried. In the summer or early fall, oregano blooms with little purplish-pink or white flowers. Standard varieties grow 1 – 2 1/2 feet tall and may spread out to 3 feet wide, but there are dwarf varieties out there, as well.
Truly wild oregano has little or no scent, but if it’s purchased at a nursery or garden center, you can be fairly certain that it’s grown for culinary use. Just to be sure, I tend to rub a leaf or two and smell it before bringing it home.
If your palate is pleased by Italian dishes such as pizza or pasta sauce, you’ll want to plant a Greek or Italian variety (Origanum vulgare hirtum). This oregano’s leaves are gray-green, fuzzy, and broader than its cousin’s with a spicier flavor. There are several variations of this culinary herb, as well as those that have variegated or golden leaves that add interest to the garden.
Popular Oregano Varieties
- ‘Aureum’ (Golden marjoram) – This oregano variety has bright-gold leaves in the spring that darken as they age and become light green by late summer or fall.
- ‘Compact Pink Flowered’ – This variety has pungent, dark-green leaves and blooms in dark pink flowers.
- ‘Aureum Crispum’ – This is basically the original Aureum but with interesting, crinkly leaves.
- ‘Compactum’ – This is an interesting oregano that won’t give you many flowers (if at all) but it’s leaves do turn purple in the winter.
- ‘White Anniversary’ – Its white flowers are barely noticeable, but this variety has attractive, bright-green foliage with white margins. It’s a terrific choice for gardeners that are looking for a groundcover or edging plant. Nice for containers, too.
- ‘Greek oregano’ or ‘Italian oregano’ – This is the most popular one for those interested in growing oregano predominately for the kitchen.
Like many herbs, oregano is a sun-worshipper and likes to be planted in an area that receives full sun for 6-8 hours (although, it’ll do just fine with a bit less). It doesn’t seem to mind rocky places, but thrives when planted in a well-drained soil with good organic matter. Nice, loamy garden soil encourages oregano to thrive and spread quickly. Oregano requires only moderate watering, but prefers even watering while it’s becoming established.
When growing oregano for culinary dishes, your main objective is to encourage leaf production. Keep it trimmed to prevent blossoms from showing up because flowering is a signal to the plant that its life cycle is over and it’ll slow down or stop producing leaves altogether. Leaves can be harvested (with the stems) when the stems are 4″-5″ inches tall.
Oregano requires very little attention and happily produces many pungent, aromatic leaves with the most basic care. Pots or containers make a perfect home for oregano, which makes it handy for back porches or those with limited garden space.
You can start your oregano from seed or as stem cuttings (before the stem blooms). But the simplest way to propagate this herb is by dividing a mature plant in the spring or fall. Simply dig up the entire plant and depending on how large it is, you’ll need use either two pitchforks or hand spades to divide it.
Stick the two hand spades (or pitchforks) next to each other into the center of the plant and then pull each tool away from the other to dividing the plant into two. Divided oregano plants should be planted immediately into their new beds or containers. Many gardeners divide them in the fall to pot one up and bring it indoors for the winter.
Oregano’s versatile character doesn’t stop at the kitchen garden. It’s an excellent bedding plant for perennial garden beds or foundation landscape areas and makes a beautiful, low-maintenance, scented groundcover. Don’t forget that if you’re interested in attracting pollinating insects to your garden, oregano has that covered, too.<–>
Get our latest tips, how-to articles, and instructional videos sent to your inbox.