Note: Today’s guest post comes from Chris from Joybilee Farm. She lives on 140 acres in Southern BC, Canada. Chris Dalziel is a veteran homeschool Mom with 3 graduates, a published writer, with 30 years of homesteading under her nails. Living in a log house, in the mountains and surrounded by pines, and pasture, Chris was a city mouse who migrated to the country, as a young mom. Chris is also an award winning fiber-artist who raises her own medium from her organic garden, and from her own sheep, goats, llamas, and angora bunnies. Chris is passionate about ethical, holistic husbandry — her sheep have garlic breath. Her passion is to revive the skills and knowledge of the “Lost Arts” of homesteading and present this plainly, so that others can master them and live joyfully and courageously in these perilous times.
Sweet marjoram has been cultivated since ancient times. Considered to enhance marital bliss, it was well known in ancient Egypt and Greece and is essential for Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cuisine. Related to oregano, it has a similar flavour but it is sweeter and less pungent. Dried marjoram has a more concentrated flavour than the fresh herb and should be used sparingly in cooking.
Marjoram, in its native climate (zone 9 to 11), grows into a small bush about 18 inches in height, but most of us never see it in its optimal growing conditions. It has small oval leaves, similar to oregano. Sweet marjoram has white flowers, while common marjoram or “Wild Oregano” has pink to purple flowers. When grown as an annual, from seed, marjoram reaches 12 inches in height.
3 Kinds of Marjoram
There are 3 main varieties of marjoram. Pot marjoram (Origanum onites) is a native of Sicily and is a hardy perennial. It has a sharper, less sweet flavour than both oregano and sweet marjoram. Pot marjoram is suitable for growing in containers. It is used in many Greek dishes. It grows wild in Greece. Sweet marjoram (Majorana hortenis)(zone 9 to 11) is a native of Portugal and Spain. A similar species also called Sweet Marjoram or Knotted Marjoram (Origanum marjorana) (zone 9 to 11) is used extensively in French cooking. It has a more delicate flavour than the other marjoram and should be added at the end of the cooking time, to preserve its delicate flavour. The third kind of marjoram is Common marjoram, also called “Wild Oregano” (Origanum vulgare)(zone 4 to 8). It has the strongest, most camphorous flavour and is used predominantly in Italian cooking or for medicinal use. This is the oregano that medicinal “oil of oregano” is extracted from.
How to Grow Marjoram in Zones 3 to 8
Unless the Latin name of the marjoram that you are planting is given, you can assume that it is knotted marjoram or sweet marjoram and is tender to frost. Only the Richters Herbs seed catalogue gives the Latin name of the marjoram that it sells. So treat any marjoram that you find as a tender annual, unless the Latin name is given, and plant early indoors to give it a good start in your shorter growing season.
Marjoram is a native to the Mediterranean region and dies back in frost. Start marjoram seeds indoors, under lights, in March or April. The seeds are slow to germinate. To prevent damping off disease while you wait for the seedlings to emerge, sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on the soil when you plant the seeds. While, you can start the seeds outdoors in warm soil after all danger of frost is past, if you have a short growing season, the plants may not get to flowering stage before they are frost-killed. Since the first harvest of the plant is usually done just as the flowers appear, your efforts will be stifled if you wait to plant them.
You can also obtain marjoram as seedlings from your local garden store. Garden store seedlings are usually grown from rooted cuttings and are already vigorous when they are ready for setting out. These should be planted out after all danger of frost is past and the soil is warmed up. Starting with cuttings instead of beginning with seeds allows you to harvest sooner.
Hardening off Your Seedlings
Whether you start marjoram from seeds indoors, or buy starts from the garden store, the young plants should be hardened off before planting them in the ground. Acclimate your plants to the strength of the sun and the drying nature of the wind by putting them outdoors in the shade for a week. Be sure to bring them back indoors at night to prevent shock or put them in a greenhouse and cover at night. Once the plants have been hardened off, you can plant marjoram in full sun in prepared soil.
How to Prepare the Ground for Planting Marjoram
Marjoram prefers to well drained, porous, pH neutral soil. Prepare the ground by liming well the season before, if your soil tends to be acidic. Incorporate some grit or find gravel into the soil if you have clay soil. Mound up the soil in the planting area and plant your seedlings into the mound, or alternatively, plant marjoram in a raised bed. Marjoram, like other Mediterranean herbs, doesn’t require rich soil and produces more flavour when the ground is less fertile.
Marjoram is a preferred companion plant for vegetables. Its pungent scent confuses caterpillars and pests. Consider planting a few marjoram seedlings among your lettuce, root vegetables, and bush beans – plants that won’t shade them out as the growing season progresses. Marjoram will only reach about 12 inches high, when grown as an annual.