With its pungent, peppery, and sweet-n-spicy flavor, oregano or Origanum vulgare is a popular ingredient in Spanish, Greek, and Italian cooking. Adding this herb to your dish early in its cooking process allows it time to release its aromatic and savory qualities.
Oregano is a fairly hardy plant and is available in several varieties. Plus, it erupts in tiny clusters of flowers from midsummer into early fall, creating elegant splashes of color in your garden.
Grow this versatile perennial indoors or outdoors. When planting inside, choose a spot in a south- or southwest-facing window where it will get plenty of direct light. Plant seeds or seedlings in six-inch pots, filled with slightly alkaline soil that drains well. Outdoors, oregano prefers well-drained, sandy loam soil.
Don’t worry about creating the perfect soil for this vigorous herb. Oregano isn’t particular about quality and can grow in even moderately fertile soil as long as it gets good drainage.
When growing indoors, oregano tends to trail more than it does when planted in an outdoor garden, so make sure it has plenty of room.
When planting this herb outside, it will grow to a height of up to two feet and spread out about 18 inches. Plant seeds or cuttings between eight and 12 inches apart. Once the plants reach four inches, pinch or trim lightly to avoid legginess and encourage bushier growth.
If your garden has partial shade, choose a golden variety of oregano. Most varieties prefer lots of light and full sun, at least five to six hours. Indoor oregano plants do best with morning sun, or you can choose to grow them under fluorescent or grow lights.
Oregano plants love warm weather, but they can also handle cold temperatures and snowstorms through the winter, then come back in the spring, displaying vibrant leaves.
This is a drought-resistant plant, whether you grow it indoors or in an outdoor pot or garden. Indoor plants perform best with a regular watering schedule, but be careful not to overwater. And in the winter, you may need to provide some additional humidity if the air is dry due to home heating sources.
For both indoor and outdoor oregano plants, touch the soil first, then water only if it is dry to the touch. If the plant sits in overly saturated soil, it may develop root rot. This not only leads to growth problems but also encourages pest invasions.
Generally, oregano doesn’t have serious pest problems. It can attract syrphidae, or flower flies, which eat aphids and other small bugs, so it makes a good companion plant for the pest favorites in your garden.
Sometimes aphids and spider mites become an issue, but a strong stream of water is usually enough to shoo them away from your plants. If the infestation is more serious, prune off infected leaves or try some insecticidal soap. Yellow leaves or those with distorted, dead spots are signs of a pest infestation.
Most diseases that could affect oregano plants are caused by fungi, diseases that thrive in moist conditions, especially where there is poor air circulation.
If you notice that the older leaves in the plant’s center are rotting, it may be a sign that the oregano has a botrytis rot issue. The only solution is to remove the plant and destroy it so that it doesn’t spread to other plants.
Circular spots on the leaves indicate another type of fungal disease: rust. Pruning the affected parts of the plant and discarding them can deter spread.
When it comes to fertilizing oregano, there are some distinct opinions in plant-lover circles about whether or not to feed these robust herbs.
Many herb aficionados say that adding large amounts of nutrients or certain types of compost to the soil changes oregano’s signature flavor. If you feel your oregano needs a bit of a boost, try spraying it with a compost tea, or use a liquid seaweed extract, applied two to three times each growing season.
You can easily create new oregano plants through propagation. In the summer, take five-inch stem cuttings, dip them in a rooting hormone, and set them in moist soil. Once the plants are well-established, divide their roots and plant them. You can also propagate from seeds, but you’ll need to stratify them first. Larger seeds work best.
Some oregano purists claim that cuttings provide a better flavor than plants propagated from seed.
Once the plant reaches about six inches in height, you can snip off leaves as needed to use in your culinary creations. Oregano flavor is at its peak before the plant begins to flower, so it’s best to harvest the leaves before then. Freeze leaves to use throughout the winter, or you can dry them for pantry storage.
Combine chopped leaves with olive oil in a sealed jar to create oregano oil. Place the jar with its contents in a container of boiling water for 10 minutes, shake well, and store for up to two weeks.
Oregano is an excellent all-around plant for the garden and a favorite for pollinators. Not only is it delicious, but it provides a long list of impressive nutrients. Many people use dried oregano leaves and flowers to make a tea that they say eases sore throats, gets rid of coughs, and soothes digestive issues.
Oregano also makes an attractive border plant or ground cover that requires very little upkeep.