How to Grow Oregano: The Easy Guide To Plant, Grow & Harvest Oregano

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In this easy guide, we will cover everything you need to know about how to grow Oregano! Propagation, planting, care, harvesting, and preservation – we go over it all, step by step.

Read on to find out how to successfully and easily grow your own Oregano at home!

Benefits and Uses of Oregano

Oregano (Origanum spp.) originates from the Mediterranean and Western and Southwestern Eurasia. It is a perennial herb and a member of the Mint family. It is closely related to Marjoram (Origanum majorana) and the two are often referred to interchangeably.

Oregano is chiefly used for its robust, earthy peppery flavour in Mediterranean cuisine. It is especially popular in Italian dishes and is used in everything from salads to meat dishes. It is particularly popular in American-Italian food and is most easily recognized as the ‘pizza herb’.

In addition to its culinary prowess, Oregano extract and essential oils are a popular feature in natural remedies and have been used for centuries to treat various different ailments.

Bright green Oregano leaves lying next to a brown glass vial of essential oil on a white surface
Oregano Essential Oil – Image via The Essential Oil Company on Instagram

Oregano for Cooking:

Used in a wide variety of Mediterranean dishes, Oregano has a distinct, peppery and earthy flavour. Traditionally used in Italian and French cuisine, it pairs well with tomato and olive oil based sauces.

It is a classic in meat and meat-free pasta sauces, marinades, pestos, salad dressings and roast vegetables. Oregano is also used in baking (think focaccia and home made bread) and on lasagna and pizza.

Have a look at these 10 different, easy, recipes here and get inspired to grow your own Oregano at home!

Oregano for Wellness: 

The herb is also widely used to treat everything from indigestion, high cholesterol and yeast infections to athlete’s foot. It is used as a natural pain reliever. Oregano is also used as a natural antibiotic for urinary and respiratory infections.

Oregano extract is available in tablet form but eating fresh Oregano and using Oregano essential oil as a topical treatment are also effective methods.

The herb contains compounds (Carvacrol, Thymol and Rosmarinic Acid), which have anti-bacterial, anti-fungal and antioxidant effects.

Topically, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal compounds promote wound healing and prevent fungal and bacterial infections. They also work wonders in soaps and disinfectants, to prevent skin infections and illnesses linked bacteria.

Antioxidants protect the body from oxidative stress, which contribute to ageing and cell damage, including diseases like cancer.

Oregano is a culinary giant but also a real gem in the medicine cabinet! Ready to learn how to grow Oregano? Let’s get started!

Varieties of Oregano

There are numerous different varieties within the Origanum genus. When people say ‘Oregano’, they are usually referring to Origanum vulgarem, of which there are several subspecies and hybrids. The flavour, scent and properties of each of these differ widely, based on factors such as climate and soil quality.

The most commonly used varieties for culinary use are ‘Greek’, ‘Italian’ and ‘Cleopatra’:

Greek

The Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum) variety is often considered to be the ‘true Oregano’ and has a robust, earthy flavour that is somewhat spicy and peppery. Greek Oregano is a compact, woody, plant that grows to less than 10 inches tall. It flowers annually in the summer, with tiny white blooms.

Italian

Italian Oregano has slightly larger leaves than Greek Oregano and is the classic herb used for sauces and soups. The larger leaf size means that it retains its sweet, earthy flavour well when it is dried. The flavour is more delicate and aromatic than other varieties. The plant grows upright, with stiff woody stems, to a height of about 18 inches. It flowers annually in the summer, with pink, purple or white blooms.

Cleopatra

This variety is very popular in American-Italian cuisine. It is milder than Greek and Italian Oregano and has a light, peppermint-y flavour. It is an attractive plant, with creeping, trailing, silvery / grey leaves. Tiny white flowers bloom in summer. It is used both as a culinary herb and as an ornamental ground cover in the garden.

Green Oregano trailing over a terracotta pot
Greek Oregano – Image via Burpee Gardens on Instagram

Propagating Oregano

Oregano is easy to propagate, growing with ease from seed, cuttings or transplant. The easiest method is transplanting Oregano from an existing plant.

Oregano spreads horizontally, by sending out runners and rooting them into the soil around the main plant. To transplant, break the plant apart and divide it into sections. Each section must have both roots and foliage. Plant the sections into individual containers or separate spots in the garden.

It really is that easy!

How to Grow Oregano from Cuttings:

  1. Take your cuttings from the new, green, growth at the top of the plant. Avoid taking cuttings lower down, from the older and woodier stems as these do not grow as well.
  2. Cut them about five inches from the tip. Strip off the lower leaves so that you are left with just the crown of leaves at the top and the rest of the stem is exposed.
  3. Trim the stems by cutting them immediately below a node (leaf joint), as this is the area with the most growth potential for new roots.
  4. Pop the cut stems into a glass of fresh water. The water should be just below the first line of leaves.
  5. Place the glass in a warm, well-lit place (6 to 8 hours of bright sunlight a day). Replace the water every three to four days.

Tiny, hair-like, roots will form in about a week. In another week or two, the new roots will be long enough to support the plant in soil. Once the plant has two or three new leaves, plant the rooted cutting out into a small container.

Have a look at this video by High Desert Garden on YouTube to see the whole process – from cutting to rooting to planting!

How to Grow Oregano from Seed:

Oregano grows easily from seed, although seeds may not always grow ‘true to type’. Seeds can be planted outside in the spring and summer (when there is no frost and temperatures are above 70 F) or at any time of the year indoors, if you have a sunny place to start them or a grow light.

Seeds will need full sun and well-draining, crumbly, soil that is richer in organic matter, such as compost or aged manure. Adding one third of compost to one third potting mix and one third sand / Perlite will produce a good soil for seeds and seedlings.

Water the soil before planting. Scatter seeds loosely over the prepared soil. The seeds need sunlight to germinate so do not cover them with soil, rather sprinkle a very light dusting of soil over them and then dampen it with a spray bottle to settle the seeds.

Keep the soil moist. The seeds will sprout and tiny seedlings will emerge within two to three weeks.

Once the seedlings are a couple of inches tall and have two or three sets of leaves, they can be transplanted to individual containers or out into the garden.  Keep them indoors to harden off before moving them outside.

Bright green Oregano seedlings growing in trays of rich, wet soil
Oregano Seedlings – Image via Easy Come Easy Grow on Instagram

How to Plant Oregano

Oregano is a very low maintenance plant. It needs only the bare necessities and will survive in difficult conditions, particularly in hot and dry climates, where other plants will not.

However, if you want your Oregano to thrive and grow abundantly, you need only get the basic conditions right:

Soil & Water

Oregano loves loose, sandy soils that drain well. They do not need to be particularly rich – one third compost or organic matter will do. It is not too fussy about Ph level and slightly acidic to neutral will be fine.

If you are purchasing potting mix, a cactus mix will work well. When mixing your own, use one third regular potting soil, one third compost and one third sand or Perlite to ensure a nutrient rich mixture that still drains well.

Oregano does not need a lot of water. It tolerates drought well and will benefit from drying out between watering. The soil needs to drain freely and must not become waterlogged. Test the soil around the base of the plant by sticking your finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle. If the soil is dry, it needs to be watered. If the soil is not dry, wait a little longer before you water it again.

Location – How to Grow Oregano Outdoors

Full sun to partial, bright, shade. Oregano needs at least 6 hours of bright sun each day. It will withstand heat and drought well.

In the garden, make sure that it has enough room to spread and that it will get enough sun where it is. As a short plant, it can easily be overshadowed by any taller plants around it. For this reason, it will do well in a rockery or exposed area.

In a hot climate, Oregano will grow as an evergreen perennial outdoors. Oregano does not tolerate frost and freezing winters. Plant it in pots if you are in a cold climate and take it indoors for the winter.

Location – How to Grow Oregano Indoors

Indoors, Oregano needs to be in a warm, bright, sunny position where it will get at least 6 hours of full sun each day. It does well in window boxes and containers, where it will cascade over the edges.

Position your containers where you can access them easily for regular watering and harvesting!

Space & Container Size

Oregano will grow 12 to 24 inches high and spread 18 to 24 inches wide

Indoors, Oregano needs a container big enough to allow it to grow to full size. Medium pots (12 to 18 inches) will accommodate most varieties but larger pots will be better for creeping varieties that spread out horizontally.

Unglazed terracotta pots are a good choice, as they are slightly permeable and allow excess moisture to escape (remember that moisture will seep through any unglazed ceramic, so put it on a glass, glazed or plastic drip tray if you have it on a surface that could be damaged by water).

Two busy Oregano plants growing in large pots outdoors
Oregano in Outdoor Containers – Image via Burpee Gardens on Instagram

 

How to Care for Your Oregano Plants

Watering

Oregano is a drought resistant plant. It does not need a lot of water but it does well with regular watering. The soil needs to be loose, well-draining and sandy / gritty. Always check the soil to see if it is dry and powdery, to 2 inches below the surface, before watering. Avoid over watering, especially if the soil is prone to water retention.

Pruning

Regular harvesting or pruning throughout the growing season (spring to autumn) will encourage new growth. Leave at least two sets of leaves on the stems after cutting to ensure regrowth. Regular, light, pruning will be enough to keep Oregano growing well.

In hot climates, it will grow as a perennial. It does not need to be cut back for the winter, unless you are in a cold climate and will be bringing it indoors.

If you are bringing your plant indoors for the winter, it is best to prune it back by two thirds at the beginning of winter. This allows it to conserve energy and nutrients to regenerate in the spring.

Fertilizing

Oregano grown in the garden needs virtually no fertilizing and will flourish with just an annual mulching of organic compost in the spring / summer.

Grown in pots or containers, Oregano prefers loose, sandy / gritty soils. These soils tend to lose their nutrients over time, especially in hot climates when watering is frequent. Regularly (once or twice a month) fertilize potted Oregano with a diluted, soluble plant food, during the spring and summer.

Pests and Diseases

Oregano is hardy and resistant to most pests and diseases. However, some common problems to look out for are:

Mint Rust is a fungus (Puccinia menthae) which affects members of the Mint family, including Oregano. Leaves will look like they’re rusting, with spots of orange-y red on the underside. Pull any affected leaves off and dispose of them. Avoid watering from above and thin out the foliage to ensure good air flow, which will discourage fungal growth.

Stem and Root Rot will occur in damp conditions. Make sure the plant dries out completely between watering and that the soil drains well. Pull any affected leaves or stems off and discard them.

Aphids & Spider Mites are commonly found on Oregano. A safe and effective method of dealing with these insects is to spray the plant with water from the hose or a spray bottle. This knocks the bugs off and washes them away. Stubborn infestations can also be treated with a natural, organic Neem Oil insecticide if they persist (Neem Oil can also be used to treat fungal infections, such as Mint Rust above).

Harvesting and Preserving Oregano

Harvesting

Once your Oregano plants are 5 inches tall, you can start harvesting. Harvest Oregano all year, by picking or cutting stems from around the edges of the plant. Always leave at least two or three sets of leaves on the remaining stems, to ensure regrowth.

Like most herbs, the oil content (and thus flavour and aroma) is highest right before the plant flowers. This makes it a particularly good time to harvest for drying and preserving. When you see the first signs of budding flowers on your plant, pinch the buds off to delay flowering and harvest as much Oregano as you need. Keep in mind that harvesting right before flowering will delay flowering, in the same way as pruning would.

Vivid green Oregano leaves growing in a terracotta pot in the sunshine
Fresh Oregano – Image via Easy Come Easy Grow on Instagram

Drying

Harvest Oregano stems and tie loose bunches together. Hang them upside down to dry in a cool, dark place. Placing a paper bag with holes punched into it around each bunch will protect them from dust and catch any dry leaves that fall off. Once they are completely dry and crumbly, preserve them in air tight containers, stored in a cool and dark place.

Oregano retains its flavour exceptionally well. The flavour from dried Oregano it is just as strong as when it is fresh. For the best flavour, store the dried leaves whole and only crush them when you are about to use them.

Dried Oregano leaves in a clear glass jar labelled 'oregano' by hand on a pale blue label
Dried Oregano – Image by Sheila R.H. Hernández on Instagram

Freezing

Freeze Oregano whole or in ice trays with water or Olive Oil.

Harvest, rinse off and pat your Oregano dry (be careful not the crush the leaves and release their flavour).

Chop your Oregano finely and put it into an ice cube tray. Cover it with water or Olive Oil and freeze. Once frozen, remove the cubes from the tray and store them in a freezer bag or wax wrap.

Freezing cubes of Olive Oil infused with Oregano is a lovely, convenient way to use the herb for cooking.

Conclusion

Oregano is a kitchen staple that is easy to grow and will flourish indoors and outdoors, in the ground or in containers. It requires little to no attention and will yield all year in warm climates.

You can also use it for a host natural remedies and the health benefits are undeniable.

Have a look at the resources below for more detailed information, recipes and inspiration!

Resources

Gardening Know How – Treating Mint Rust: https://www.gardeningknowhow.com/edible/herbs/mint/treating-mint-rust-fungus.htm#:~:text=What%20is%20Mint%20Rust%20Fungus,the%20fungal%20spores%20to%20germinate.

Balcony Garden Web – Why & How To Prune Herbs | Everything About Pruning Herbs: https://balconygardenweb.com/why-how-prune-herbs-pruning-herbs/

Green and Vibrant – 7 Popular Types of Oregano That You Can Grow: https://www.greenandvibrant.com/types-of-oregano

Medical News Today – What are the Health Benefits of Oregano?: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266259#nutrition

Healthline – 9 Benefits and Uses of Oregano Oil: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/9-oregano-oil-benefits-and-uses

Missouri Botanical Garden – Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum: http://www.missouribotanicalgarden.org/PlantFinder/PlantFinderDetails.aspx?kempercode=q980

Whole Food Bellies – How to Use Up Lots of Oregano: Fresh Oregano Pesto: https://www.wholefoodbellies.com/how-to-use-up-lots-of-oregano-oregano-pesto/

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