Discover how to grow rosemary easily with this step by step tutorial. Fresh rosemary is one of my favorite spices.
If you love vegetable gardening, be sure to also incorporate fresh herbs like rosemary into your garden plan.
Rosemary is quite hardy and in some zones, will grow right through the winter months, but if you live in colder zones and frost is on the way, don’t despair. It is a very popular Christmas herb which can be grown indoors.
Keep reading to learn how to grow this popular herb in containers.
Fresh rosemary – A great patio herb
I have been growing rosemary for about 3 years in a large planter and it keeps going all through the year, even when the weather gets much cooler in the winter here in NC.
It can be frozen in fall to extend the flavor and use of it over the winter.
There is nothing like stepping out onto your patio with a pair of kitchen shears and walking back into the house with the fresh rosemary leaves that you need for your recipe.
I have all of of my herbs growing in pots on the edge of my patio now and my rosemary plant is one of the largest.
How to grow rosemary in pots
Rosemary is very easy to grow as a shrub in the ground but can be a little finicky to get going in planters. Here is a step-by-step guide on growing rosemary in containers:
Rosemary sun requirements
Rosemary plants thrive in full sun, so they require a significant amount of sunlight to grow and remain healthy. Ideally, rosemary should receive at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day.
The more sunlight this herb plant gets, the better it will grow.
Readers often ask “can rosemary grow in the shade?” The answer is conditional. Rosemary can tolerate partial shade for a few hours, especially in extremely hot climates.
Be careful, though. Too much shade can affect the aromatic properties of the herb, and can lead to weaker growth.
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Soil needs for rosemary
Be sure to have well draining soil. Rosemary does not like wet feet. A soil that releases moisture well helps to prevent waterlogging.
Rosemary thrives in slightly acidic to neutral soil, with a pH range between 6.0 and 7.0. You can check the pH of your soil using a soil testing kit.
How large should the container be?
Rosemary has a deep root system, so choose a pot that is at least 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide to allow for adequate root growth. Ensure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom so that the water will drain out.
A larger pot allows the roots to spread and grow more freely, promoting a healthier and more robust plant. Additionally, a larger pot provides better moisture retention and stability, reducing the need to water as often.
Larger pots are also more stable and less likely to tip over.
If you’re starting out with a small rosemary plant, you can begin with pot just bigger than the root ball, and then repot it into a larger one as it grows.
Gradually increasing the pot size over time will help accommodate the plant’s increasing root ball.
How much water does rosemary need?
Keep the soil evenly moist but not soggy. Before watering, check the moisture level of the soil. Insert your finger about an inch or two into the soil. If it feels dry at that depth, it’s time to water the plant.
When watering, try to thoroughly moisten the entire root ball. Water until you see moisture coming out of the drainage holes at the bottom of the pot.
Rosemary is susceptible to root rot if it sits in overly saturated soil for long periods of time.
Higher temperatures and more sunlight can increase water evaporation, so you may need to water more frequently during hot and dry periods.
Cold hardiness zones
Rosemary is a perennial, so once you have it established, it will come back every year.
Rosemary is typically hardy in USDA hardiness zones 8 and above. For zones 7 and some parts of zone 6, rosemary may survive if provided with extra protection during colder periods. ( I am in zone 7b and my rosemary plants overwinter just fine in a south-facing location.)
In USDA hardiness zones below 6, rosemary is generally not reliably cold hardy and may need to be brought indoors during the colder months. It is easy to grow in an indoor herb garden.
How fast does rosemary grow?
Plants are slow growing at first but will pick up for you in the second year. When starting from seeds or young plants, rosemary may take several weeks to establish its root system and acclimate to its new environment.
After the first year, rosemary will continue to grow slowly, and will typically adds a few inches (5 to 10 cm) of new growth each year. Some varieties growing slightly faster or slower than others.
Under optimal conditions, a rosemary plant will grow to a height of 2 to 4 feet (60 to 120 cm), but some types can grow taller, even reaching up to 6 feet (180 cm) or more.
Rosemary will flower but you can’t really count on them to do this. It sort of “flowers when it wants to!”
My plant has flowered several times but it took a few years for this to happen. If you don’t harvest the herb often, you may find it will flower for you.
Mine gets harvested weekly so it doesn’t get much chance to set buds!
The flowers are small and two-lipped in shades of blue, purple, pink, or white, depending on the variety. They are typically clustered at the ends of the stems and have a tubular shape.
Some gardeners harvest the flowers for use in food garnishing or for making herbal infusions.
Pruning rosemary plants
Rosemary is a pretty easy going plant that can be left to just grow most of the time. But older plants can get a bit woody and mangy looking. If yours is like this, these for pruning rosemary will help.
Older plants will get quite “woody” but still produce fragrant sprigs. Careful pruning of rosemary will keep it producing. You can use the cuttings to propagate the plant for more rosemary plants.
In spring prune the dead wood out of the plants. Harvesting often during the growing season is all the pruning that it needs other than this.
Some people even prune rosemary bushes in the shape of a tree, and use it as a Christmas plant!
With the right soil and water conditions, rosemary can grow into a large evergreen hedge in warm areas. If you want to keep it contained, a planter is best.
How to propagate rosemary
Propagating rosemary is a rewarding way to make your herb garden larger and get new plants for free.
Simply take 4-6 inch stem cuttings from a healthy rosemary plant and remove the lower leaves. Using a rooting powder on the cut ends will help them to root more quickly.
Plant the cuttings in well-draining soil, keep them moist, and provide indirect sunlight. After a few weeks, roots will form.
Transplant the rooted cuttings into pots. You’ll have a supply of homegrown rosemary in no time.
Rosemary cuttings will also root in water.
How to harvest rosemary
Choose a dry and sunny day to harvest your rosemary. Harvesting in the morning is best since this is when the plant’s essential oils are most concentrated.
Use a pair of sharp pruning shears or scissors to make harvesting easier. The branches of mature rosemary plants are thick and the right tool helps.
Look for mature stems that are at least 8-10 inches long and have lots of growth on them.
Position your shears close to where the branch meets the main stem, and make a clean cut at a 45-degree angle. Avoid harvesting more than one-third of the plant at a time to ensure its continued growth and health.
To store fresh rosemary, wrap the sprigs loosely in a damp paper towel and place them in a plastic bag or airtight container. Store in the refrigerator, and it should stay fresh for about a week.
At the end of the growing seasons, don’t just let your plant go dormant. There are lots of ways to preserve fresh herbs to use during the winter months.
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Admin note: this post for growing fresh rosemary first appeared on the blog in May of 2013. I have updated the post to add all new photos, a printable project card, and a video for you to enjoy.
- Rosemary plant
- 12 inch pot
- Organic matter or compost
- Hose or watering can
- Plant rosemary in spring for best results.
- Choose a spot that gets 6-8 hours of sunlight a day (in very hot climates, you can choose a shadier spot.)
- Use well-draining soil, since rosemary doesn't tolerate wet feet. Adding compost or organic matter will help with drainage.
- Start with a healthy rosemary plant. Potted plants will establish more quickly than seeds.
- Choose a pot that is larger than the root ball of your rosemary plant. Repot as the plant grows until you have it in one that is 12 inches wide and deep.
- Dig a hole and plant so that the root ball is level with the soil surface. Backfill the hole with soil and gently firm it around the plant.
- If you plant directly in the ground, space multiple plants about 2 to 3 feet apart to allow for proper air circulation.
- After planting, give your rosemary a thorough watering to help it establish.
- Water the plants regularly, but avoid overwatering as it can lead to root rot. It is best to allow the top inch or two of soil to dry out between waterings.
- Prune your rosemary regularly to maintain its shape and encourage bushier growth.
- Rosemary may need protection during freezing temperatures.
- You can start harvesting rosemary once the plant has enough growth to spare. Trim sprigs as needed, cutting just above a leaf node to encourage new growth.
- Avoid harvesting more than one-third of the plant's growth at a time, as it can stress the plant.
- Rosemary is a perennial herb that thrives with minimal care once established
Use this project card to print out the growing instructions and keep them in your gardening journal.