I love Italian dishes, so rosemary (Rosemarinus officinalis) is a permanent fixture in my kitchen garden. Not that it’s hard to do since rosemary just happens to love our California climate and holds up admirably throughout the winter. But if you’re below zone 8, you’ll probably have to bring it in for winter protection. Consequently, we have some robust rosemary plants growing all over this state. This woody perennial has evergreen, needle-type leaves that produces dainty, blue blossoms repeatedly year-round. It’s useful in the kitchen, plus fragrant and good-looking in the garden.
As if rosemary’s traits weren’t enough, this handsome herb requires only the most basic care in order to look, smell, and taste wonderful. There’s basically two types of rosemary, the upright and the trialing or creeping varieties. Some trailing rosemary varieties create a drape immediately and some begin by growing up a few inches and then arching gracefully downward — which is extremely attractive coming out of pots or containers.
Rosemary is typically purchased as baby plants or cuttings are taken from a mature specimen to start new plants as they can be difficult to start from seed. Like many herbs, rosemary doesn’t respond well to “wet feet” (soggy soil), so plant them in a container or your kitchen garden with well-draining soil and full sun. When you’re transplanting them from their store container to their permanent home, plant them so that the base of the plant sits a bit higher than the soil line.
It’s true that rosemary is drought-tolerant; however, when it’s planted in a container, it’s important to keep the soil a bit damp. That sounds contradictory to what I said above, but there is that happy balance — I promise it’s not that hard to find.
Pots dry out quickly and rosemary can be unforgiving once they are depleted of moisture. This fragrant herb doesn’t have a big appetite so adding compost here and there is the best thing as far as soil conditioning. If you feel the urge to fertilize (and many do), a light application in the spring is plenty.
To harvest this fragrant herb for the kitchen, remember that the tender, new growth has the best flavor. Just cut a little rosemary branch off whenever you need it but try not to take more than 1/4 – 1/3 of each branch. If you need quite a bit then take snips from more branches instead of longer pieces of branch.
- ‘ Common’ rosemary — Upright habit; easy variety to find, great for the kitchen.
- ‘Blue Boy’ — Upright habit; Teeny leaves on this teeny plant, but they’re tender with good flavor and fragrance.
- ‘Prostratus’ — Trailing habit; eye-catching in hanging baskets and pots.
- ‘Tuscan Blue’ — Upright habit; lemony-pine flavor and scent.
- ‘Spice Island’ — Upright habit; pungent flavor and extremely fragrant foliage.
- ‘Severn Sea’ — Trailing habit; frost hardy.
- ‘Mrs. Howard’s’ — Trailing habit; but uniquely so! The branches hold twine and curve like no other rosemary plant.
- ‘Lockwood de Forest’ — Trailing habit; dark green leaves, great for a cascading look.
Photo or rosemary branch by Geishaboy500
Photo of full bush by Natalie Maynor
Photo of rosemary along wall by Wallygrom