Growing Oregano in my Backyard

Interesting facts about Oregano

  • The scientific name of oregano is Origanum vulgare. However, the word oregano usually encloses dozens of different species of the genus Origanum.
  • The word Origanum comes from the Greek language. It is a compound word formed by joining “όρος” which means mountain” and “γάνος,” which means the splendor or celebration. This terminology indicates the importance oregano has and that we can often find wild species of the plant in the mountains of Greece.
  • Oregano is classified in the Lamiaceae family, together with basil, lavender, and thyme.  It is a perennial aromatic plant cultivated for its leaves. It grows in several Mediterranean and Adriatic countries (e.g., Greece, Italy, Morocco, Albania, Turkey, and others)
  • Oregano has small oval opposite leaves containing the precious essential oil of oregano. The plant blooms in summer, producing small flowers (pink or purple). The shoots of oregano become woody as the plant matures.
  • Oregano became popular in America after World War II when many American soldiers fighting in the mountains of Italy were impressed by the strong aroma of the plant and brought back home some twigs and seeds. However, some references imply that the plant was introduced earlier to the continent.
  • Dried oregano is an absolutely necessary ingredient for every pizza, something that has made oregano famous worldwide. Greek oregano industries send their products even to Alaska, as Greek oregano is considered the best spice for a pizza. Dried oregano has countless uses in Mediterranean cuisine and is a part of a large number of recipes.
  • People around the Mediterranean have been consuming oregano for thousands of years. The ancient Greeks and later the Romans used oregano’s essential oil as an antiseptic. The plant serves as a spice and decoction. Pharmaceutical and cosmetic industries exploit the essential oil extracted from its leaves.
  • A commercial crop of oregano usually has an average lifespan of 5-7 years. After this period, professional oregano growers plow and destroy them to plant new, vigorous, and more productive oregano seedlings in their place. However, when growing oregano in a pot or the garden, we can expect to harvest fresh oregano leaves for 4-5 years on average. After this period, we can also renew our plants with younger and more productive ones.

Growing oregano at home – How to grow oregano in the garden or a pot.

In general, aromatic plants are an excellent choice for novice gardeners, as they have minimal requirements and, at the same time, many uses. The best time to plant or transplant oregano is spring and autumn.

When growing oregano in a pot, we need to know the following:

  • Besides buying well-grown plants, oregano can be raised from seeds and cuttings. In general, the seed method is complex for an amateur and pays off after a long time.
  • If we want to start growing the plants from seeds, it is good to remember that the sowing must be superficial, as the oregano seeds are tiny, like grains of sand, as demonstrated in the photo. If we plant them 3-4 cm (0.1 feet) deep, they will not germinate. We need to place them on the surface of the pot’s soil and lightly cover them. Oregano seeds will germinate in about a week. We can mix the oregano seeds with river sand and water. This technique will make the seeds heavier, and it will be harder to get carried away by the wind.
  • If we buy an oregano plant from the nursery, we first need to transplant it into a larger pot, ideally made of terracotta. Unlike plastic, this material has pores and helps the soil emit excess soil moisture that can harm the plant’s root system. Regardless of its material, we need to open holes at the bottom of the pot allowing drainage of the extra water within minutes. Additionally, we need to choose soil that provides good drainage and mix it with a bit of compost.
  • Oregano has low water requirements. When grown into a pot, we may need to water our plants 2-3 times a week in summer and once a week in spring and autumn. We water only after we find out by checking with our fingers that the soil is completely dry. In addition to all the other problems overwatering can cause, it also reduces the quality of the harvested plant material.
  • Oregano plants grown for domestic use have minimum requirements and do not need any specialized fertilizer. We can optionally add once in early spring and once in summer a liquid fertilizer 7-7-7 to help the plant regenerate, especially after a strict pruning of its shoots.
  • If we are interested in having fresh oregano sprigs on a regular basis and using them fresh in cooking, we need to pinch out the tops of the shoots, never letting the plant bloom. If we perform this pruning weekly, the plant will constantly produce new vegetation. Even in winter, our oregano can often stay green.
  • Alternatively, if we are interested in harvesting more plant material at once and drying it, we can prune the oregano once or twice during the summer. Then we can tie the cut oregano shoots in bouquets and hang them so that they dry.
  • During winter, if we expect the temperature to drop well below zero, we can place the pot with oregano in a semi-outdoor or indoor area to protect it for a few days. However, in no case should we place the pot near a heat source, as this will probably lead to the plant’s death.

One last tip: 

Suppose you suddenly see that your plant withers and dies after changing the pot’s position or after transplanting it into a larger pot. In that case, it is not worth worrying about it or spending time and energy to regenerate it. And that’s because you probably won’t succeed. Aromatic plants growing in pots have a specific lifespan, and many factors threaten their robustness and vitality. When your oregano starts senescence, it’s probably time to buy new plants, which will give you more tender and fragrant shoots.

The oregano plant is fairly easy to grow in a garden, provided the soil is well-drained, and we choose a location that offers partial or complete access to sunlight.

Here are the things to look for:

  • We can start oregano plants from seeds or cuttings. Growing from seed is difficult for an amateur gardener, as the seeds are tiny and have low germination rates. Alternatively, we can buy a young, healthy plant from a nursery.
  • Choosing the right spot for transplanting oregano is essential. Sunshine and good soil drainage are crucial for growing healthy oregano plants.
  • After planting oregano plants, and during the first year, if there is no rainfall, we can water them when the soil dries out completely to help the better establishment of young plants. However, we should not overdo it. Oregano is famous for its drought tolerance and can grow relying only on rainwater, even in countries with a relatively warm and dry climate. However, when grown for commercial use in areas without any rainfall during summer, it usually demands at least two to three irrigation sessions to produce a good yield for two harvests.
  • Weed management is vital. Weeds compete with oregano for access to sunlight, nutrients, and water. The best method is to remove them by hand.
  • Like thyme and lavender, oregano is widely known for growing in non-fertile soils, unsuitable for most other crops. According to old farmers and experienced gardeners, oregano, lavender, and thyme are among the few crops that do not depend on fertilization. Nonetheless, when growers cultivate oregano professionally (for commercial use) and aim to obtain a good yield, they apply at least one fertilization during spring. Although the plant can perform well in average soil, we can bust its growth by adding a balanced granular or water-soluble fertilizer (e.g., NPK 7-7-7) in early spring. Alternatively, we can add a bit of compost.
  • Pruning is extremely important for the plants’ vigor and the quality of the harvested material. As with many other aromatic plants, we can prune and harvest simultaneously. The standard method is to prune our plant regularly and cut half the length of each shoot at the beginning of spring. Of course, all year round, we remove any dry shoots that we may observe. The pruning shears we will use must be of high quality and certified.
  • We harvest shortly before flowering for material of optimum quality or collect leaves and shoots all year round. Most oregano lovers cut the shoots about 10-15 cm from the ground with scissors. Generally, we should not remove more than half (½) of plant mass in one session.
  • The fresh leaves harvested can be used fresh in culinary, or dried and chopped. In the latter case, the dried oregano will retain its flavors and aromas for several months.

In most cases, the top of the plant will shrink and wither during the winter but will regenerate next spring.

This post is also available in: Nederlands Ελληνικά

Wikifarmer Editorial Team
Wikifarmer Editorial Team

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