How to Grow Rosemary: A Simple Guide for Indoor & Outdoor Gardening

Rosemary feature

In this simple guide on how to grow Rosemary, we will cover all the essential information you need to start growing Rosemary at home! We go over the types of Rosemary, the best locations to plant, the best soils and the best containers to use.

We also cover how to grow Rosemary from seeds and cuttings, caring for your plants and harvesting and preserving your Rosemary.

Growing Rosemary and other herbs at home is both rewarding and easy. When we start to move towards a more considered and thoughtful way of life, growing our own herbs is a great way to live those values.

Buying herbs from a store means that they have been grown somewhere else, transported to the store, stored there (often with the aid of artificial preservative agents), and then transported home by you.

That is a lot of fuel, resources, and energy to produce a small batch of Rosemary. By growing your own, you successfully cut out all the unnecessary steps!

The end result is fresh, fragrant, Rosemary – with no downsides. No waste, no fuel or energy consumption, no pollution and no potentially harmful pesticides or preservatives in your kitchen.

Read on to learn how to grow Rosemary successfully at home!

Two Rosemary plants in terracotta pots in the sunshine on a patio
Potted Rosemary – Image via Sphere The Green Centre on Instagram

Benefits and Uses of Rosemary

Rosemary (Salvia Rosmarinus, previously named Rosmarinus officinalis) is a member of the Salvia family, and a close cousin to Common Sage. It is a hardy, woody, herb originating in the Mediterranean.

Rosemary has been used for centuries in Italian and other Mediterranean cuisine, as well as for its beautiful scent and medicinal properties.

The herb’s strong, piney and floral scent and distinctive flavour make it a culinary staple.

Clear glass jar of green pesto, fresh rosemary, dried rosemary and a bottle of olive oil on a wooden board
Rosemary Pesto – Image via Swetha Sridhar on Instagram

Rosemary essential oil is also used in skin care products and treatments, for its heavenly smell and antibacterial properties. It is used in Aromatherapy, as a soothing, uplifting, clarifying agent to ease stress, improve focus and boost memory.

Some of the many uses and benefits of Rosemary are:

  • Cooking: Rosemary is used in a wide variety of dishes for its distinctive flavour and beautiful scent. It is particularly popular with roast Mediterranean vegetables, potatoes, chicken and lamb. It is also used in stuffing, marinades, dressings and pesto.
  • Natural Remedies: The herb contains compounds (Rosmarinic Acid and Carnosic Acid), which have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial effects. The antioxidants in Rosemary protect you from oxidative stress, which contribute to aging and cell damage. The anti-inflammatory compounds reduce inflammation, associated with chronic illness and diseases like cancer and arthritis. The antimicrobial and antibacterial effects of Rosemary support wound healing and prevent infections.
  • Aromatherapy: Rosemary is used in aromatherapy to calm and soothe, add clarity and mental focus and improve memory. It is often used in conjunction with Mint to make it more suited to perk you up or Lavender to calm and relax.
  • Skin Care: The soothing, antibacterial properties of Rosemary make it ideal for skin treatments. It smells heavenly and soothes and cools irritated skin. The antibacterial properties in the essential oil assist in preventing and treating breakouts.
  • Ornamental Flower Arrangements: Rosemary adds a beautiful and long-lasting touch to cut flower arrangements. Lovely blue, mauve and even pink flowers on leafy stems add form, colour and scent to any flower arrangement.
  • Ornamental Garden Plant: Growing as tall as 6 feet and spreading almost as wide, the standing varieties of Rosemary are popular form plants in landscaping. The beautiful flowers also attract pollinators, like Bees, Butterflies and Hummingbirds.

Ready to learn how to grow Rosemary? Let’s look at how to propagate, plant and care for your plants!

Varieties of Rosemary

There are two different kinds of Rosemary, upright and creeping, which come in several different varieties.

Upright Rosemary generally better for cooking as it has larger, more succulent leaves and higher oil content, giving it a stronger flavour and aroma.

Creeping Rosemary is usually planted as a groundcover.

Smaller standing varieties are better for planting in containers, particularly in cold climates. Rosemary will not withstand very cold conditions and will need to be moved indoors for the winter.

Common varieties of Rosemary:

Tuscan Blue (upright): The most common and popular variety, Tuscan Blue grows to between 6 to 7 feet tall. The leaves are slightly broader than other varieties, with a high oil content and strong flavour and aroma. Flowers are deep blue. It grows densely, tall and wide.

Miss Jessup’s (Upright): A good choice for herb gardens and smaller spaces, this variety grows 4 to 6 feet tall and about 2 to 3 feet wide. It has slender branches and develops pale blue flowers

Prostratus (groundcover): This variety grows wide and cascades beautifully over walls and containers. It grows to about 2 feet tall and 4 to 8 feet wide. The flowers are pale blue. This variety does not tolerate frost as well as others do.

Irene (groundcover):  With showy purple-blue flowers, this variety grows to 1 1/2 feet tall and it spreads widely, growing about 2 to 3 feet per season. This is a good choice for walls and slopes. It is hardier than ‘Prostraus’ and other trailing varieties, tolerating colder conditions to around 15 F.

A sprig of Rosemary with blue flowers beside a small glass bottle with a cork, containing yellow essential oil
Tuscan Blue Rosemary and Essential Oil – Image via Mystiq Living on Instagram

Propagating Rosemary

Propagating Rosemary from cuttings is by far the quickest and easiest method. In water, it takes about two weeks to see roots forming from your cuttings and about another two to three weeks for them to be ready to plant.

You can take cuttings from a live plant or you can use sprigs of fresh Rosemary from your local grocery store (as long as they are green and fresh).

How to Grow Rosemary from Cuttings:

  1. Take your cuttings from the green and soft growth at the top of the plant. Avoid taking cuttings lower down, from the older and woodier stems as green, now growth has the highest potential to make new roots and shoots.
  2. Cut them about six to eight inches from the tip. Strip off the lower leaves, exposing two to three inches of bare stem.
  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. Some people like to scrape the bark off the bottom inch of the stem to assist with water uptake but this isn’t strictly necessary.
  4. Pop the cut stems into a glass of fresh water, with water up to 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.

Once you see little white roots begin to form, in about two weeks or so, you are well on your way! Leave the plants in water for another week or so, to allow the roots to establish, and then you can plant them out.

Check out this lovely video on how to grow Rosemary from cuttings, by Give it a Grow, to see the process and how the rooted plants will look:

How to Grow Rosemary from Seed:

Growing Rosemary from seed is a lengthy and unpredictable process. The seeds do not always grow ‘true to type’ and they have a failure rate of around 50 %. This means that about half of the seeds you plant won’t germinate.For this reason, always plant twice as many seeds as the number of plants you want.

However, the actual planting process is simple:

  1. Prepare your planting tray or container – Use a loose, sandy potting mix and just a handful of organic compost. Cover the bottom of the container about two inches thick. Water and let the excess water drain away.
  2. Plant your seeds – Scatter seeds densely over the top of your soil. Remember to use twice as many seeds as the number of plants you hope get.
  3. Cover and Settle the Seeds – Scatter less than ½ an inch of the same potting mix over the seeds. Use a spray bottle to gently wet the soil on top.
  4. Position your container – Place the container in a warm, sunny spot. Your seeds need to be kept warm (80-90 F). Special heating mats can be purchased to place under the tray. It is best to plant seeds indoors, so that temperatures do not fluctuate too much.

Seeds take as long as three months to sprout and they need their conditions to be quite consistent. Keep the soil moist (but not waterlogged) and keep them warm.

Once they have two to three true leaves, they are ready to plant out into soil. Keep them indoors to harden off before moving them outside.

Two tiny green seedlings growing in brown soil
Rosemary Seedlings – Image by Louise on Instagram

How to Plant Rosemary

Whether you are planting indoors or outdoors, established plants, seedlings or rooted cuttings, you will need to get the basics right:

Soil 

Rosemary prefers loose, sandy soils that drain well. They do not need to be particularly rich and do not need a high percentage of organic matter like compost in them.

A neutral to alkaline Ph (between 7 and 8) is best. If you are using a potting mix, amend it by adding at least 1/3 sand or Perlite to ensure that it drains well.

Location – How to Grow Rosemary Outdoors

Full sun to partial, bright, shade. It needs 6 to 8 hours of bright sun each day. Rosemary will withstand heat well and can flourish in those harsh spots that are too hot and too dry or exposed for many other plants.

It does well with good air circulation and good drainage. Creeping varieties are particularly good for steep, exposed banks as the deep roots will hold and stabilise both the plant and the bank.

Location – How to Grow Rosemary Indoors

Indoors, Rosemary needs to be in a bright, sunny position where it will get at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun. It needs good air flow and will benefit from being near a door or window, in a large room. It also does very well on balconies and in window boxes.

Water 

Rosemary does not need a lot of water. It needs to dry out completely between watering and then receive a thorough soaking, that is allowed to drain away. It does not do well in water logged soil or with the roots sitting in water at the bottom of the pot.

Rosemary is susceptible to Root Rot. The fine roots, responsible for water and nutrient uptake, will die off if they are too wet, for too long. This is a plant that is very hardy until you kill it with kindness and over water it!

Space

The amount of room needed for your plant depends on the variety and location. Standing varieties planted outdoors can reach 6 feet in height and up to 8 feet in width!

Creeping varieties do not grow tall but will spread out horizontally. Regular harvesting and pruning will keep your Rosemary compact, with denser foliage, than plants that are allowed to grow freely.

Containers 

As a fairly deep-rooted plant, it needs depth more than width when planted in a container. It grows vertically quite quickly and it is a good idea to keep an eye on the height of the plant.

Re-pot it into a deeper pot when it is a little over twice the height of its current container. This will also prevent it from becoming root bound.

Because it needs to dry out, containers should always have good drainage (put some stones in the bottom of the pot to aid drainage) and terracotta or unglazed ceramic is the best material to use.

Unglazed ceramic / terracotta allows excess moisture to escape (just remember to have a glazed (or glass or plastic) under tray, if your plant is on a surface that will be damaged by moisture).

Small Rosemary plant in a terracotta pot indoors
Rosemary in Terracotta Pot – Image by Amy Stross on Instagram

How to Care for Your Rosemary Plants

How to Water Rosemary: Rosemary is relatively drought resistant and needs to be in loose, well-draining soil. Depending on the temperature, you can water once a week or even less frequently. Over watering or allowing the roots to sit in wet, waterlogged soil, will result in root rot.

Useful Tip: Rosemary will tell you when it needs water – the tips of the plant will flop over slightly, or, if it is in a container, the soil will pull away from the sides of the pot. When you see one or both of these signs, it is time to give the plant a good soaking.

How to Prune Rosemary: Regular harvesting or pruning throughout the growing season (spring to autumn) will encourage new, tender, growth and dense foliage. The plant will not die back in winter but it will ‘hibernate’ and stop actively growing.

It is a good idea to prune it back by about two thirds at the beginning of winter. This allows the plant to regenerate and grow back well in the spring.

How to Feed Rosemary: Rosemary does not require a lot of fertilizing. Mulching with an organic compost once a year, in the beginning of the spring, will be enough to keep it happy and healthy.

If the soils are particularly poor, or have been excessively depleted from watering and drying during the summer, add a small amount of nitrogen rich fertilizer, once a year.

Managing Pests and Diseases

Rosemary is a particularly pest and disease resistant plant. The high oil content and strong flavour of the leaves even make it unpopular with deer and rabbits. However, there are still a few things to look out for:

Root Rot: When roots are left standing in waterlogged soil for too long, the fine roots, on the outside of the root-ball, will rot and die off. This cuts off the plant’s supply of water and nutrients.

Often, the plant wilt… and look like it needs more water! Don’t kill it with kindness – Always check that the soil is draining freely and that the soil at the bottom of the pot has dried out before watering it again.

Powdery Mildew: This fungal infection can affect plants that are in a damp and crowded position. Indoor plants are more susceptible. Cut out any affected stems and dispose of them away from other plants. Ensure good air circulation and allow the plant to dry out well.  Avoid over watering or watering from above.

Spittle Bugs & Aphids: These pesky little bugs are the most common pests found on Rosemary. Dislodge them and wash them away with a blast from the hose or spray bottle. The plant can withstand a jet of water and the small, narrow leaves make it difficult for the bugs to cling on. This method is effective and completely safe for you and your plants.

How to Harvest & Store Rosemary

Harvesting

Harvest Rosemary throughout the year by cutting the sprigs about 6 to 8 inches from the tip. Choose tender, green growth for the best flavour and aroma.

The oil content (and thus flavour and aroma) is the highest right before the plant flowers, which makes it a particularly good time to harvest for drying and preserving. Harvest when you see the first tiny buds developing for the strongest fragrance and flavour (just remember that harvesting now will function as a pruning and delay the plant from flowering).

Sprigs of Rosemary tied with natural string on a wooden surface
Springs of Fresh Rosemary – Image via Balanced Well Beings on Instagram

For cooking, strip the leaves from the stems by gripping the stem firmly at the tip and sliding your fingers back down the stem to remove the leaves.

Rosemary can be dried and then preserved in airtight containers (find some nice glass and bamboo containers on Amazon here) or it can be frozen whole or in ice trays with water or Olive Oil.

Freezing

Harvest, rinse off and pat your Rosemary dry. Freeze whole sprigs in a freezer bag or strip the leaves off and chop them finely to put into an ice cube tray. Cover the Rosemary with water or Olive Oil and freeze. Once frozen, remove the cubes from the tray and store them in a freezer bag. Cubes of Rosemary on Olive Oil are wonderfully convenient for cooking and can be used for frying, baking, garnishing and in pestos.

Drying

Harvest sprigs of Rosemary 6 to 10 inches long. Tie them in loose bunches. Hang the bunches upside down in a cool, dry and dark place, until they are completely dry and brittle.

Strip the leaves from the stems and store them in an airtight container to use whenever needed. You can crush or grind them in a pestle and mortar before (or after) storing. Dried Rosemary can keep for up to a year without losing its flavour!

Dried Rosemary in a clear glass jar, on a wooden surface
Dried Rosemary – Image via Paddock Wood House and Garden on Instagram

Conclusion

In conclusion, Rosemary is a truly wonderful plant to have in your home. It looks, smells and tastes lovely and has a host of uses that go beyond the kitchen. Once you know how to grow Rosemary, it is quick and easy to grow, needs minimal maintenance and can be grown successfully both indoors and out.

Have a look at the resources below for more inspiration and useful information!

Happy gardening!

Resources:

 

Gardener’s Path – How to Protect Rosemary Plants in the Winter: Https://Gardenerspath.Com/Plants/Herbs/Protect-Winter-Rosemary/

Healthline – 6 Benefits and Uses of Rosemary Tea: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/rosemary-tea

Healthline – 14 Benefits and Uses of Rosemary Essential Oil: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/rosemary-oil-benefits#section11

Medical News Today – Everything You Need to Know About Rosemary: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/266370#drug_interactions

The Old Farmer’s Almanac – Growing Rosemary: Planting, Growing, And Harvesting Rosemary Plants: https://www.almanac.com/plant/rosemary#

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