The ancient Greeks called it the “joy of the mountain” and kept sprigs around the house both for cooking and as an amulet against evil spirits. No less than Aphrodite herself is said to have grown some in a garden atop Mount Olympus.
These days, the experienced cook cherishes oregano for its spicy, pungent, slightly bitter flavor, which pairs well with almost any vegetable preparation. The herb is easy to coax from seed but you can also start them from cuttings extracted from an established plant.
Growing Oregano in Your Backyard
Plant oregano seeds outdoors about six weeks before the last frost. You can transplant cuttings out onto your garden any time after the last spring frost, once soil temperatures reach 21°C.
The hardy perennial thrives in full sun and prefers free-draining, moderately fertile soil. Plant the seeds – or cuttings – eight to 10 inches apart. The plants will grow one to two feet tall and will spread over an area covering about 18 inches.
Do not add compost or fertilizer to the planting bed. Rich soil tends to dilute the herb’s pungency. Take care not to overwater oregano, as well. Water thoroughly, yes, but only when the soil feels dry to the touch.
Plant Care and Maintenance
Experts recommend that you allow your oregano plants to grow to about four inches tall before trimming them lightly to encourage bushier growth. Regular trimming will not only cause the plants to branch again but will also help you avoid growing a leggy oregano crop.
Oregano is a low-maintenance garden plant. However, to ensure the best quality, thin your oregano patch of plants that are three or four years old in the early spring. Oregano is self-seeding. The plants will have no problem growing back.
You can begin harvesting oregano once its stems are at least four inches tall. For the best and most potent flavor, harvest the leaves just before the plants flower. Cut sprigs for the kitchen. Cutting stems all the way back to the ground will encourage more stems from the base. The result is a fuller, more vigorous plant.
You can also harvest oregano flowers. The blooms make a delicious topping for salads.