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January 2008
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Growing Rosemary

Rosemary is one of those wonderful herbs that makes a beautiful ornamental plant as well as a welcome culinary seasoning. Its Latin name, Rosmarinus officinalis, means “dew of the sea” and rosemary is most closely associated with the cooking of the Mediterranean area. Dependent on the variety, it has small, profuse flowers appearing in late spring which range from dark blue through pale blue right down to white.
This aromatic evergreen is an indispensable kitchen herb, it’s used as an ornamental element in the garden, and it is used in aromatherapy. Rosemary is a member of the Labiatae or mint family. Its blue-green, needlelike foliage and compelling fragrance make this tender perennial a must in any garden. Another great advantage of rosemary is that it is a perennial and will last for twenty years or more with only minimal pruning once a year. Rosemary is a good choice if you want shrubs that are able to withstand droughts well. It will survive a severe lack of water for lengthy periods of time.
You don’t need perfect sunshine, sea mist or even a never ending summer to successfully grow rosemary. In fact, more rosemary plants suffer from too much attention than from too little. Growing rosemary indoors in the winter can be a challenge. It is easy to nurture and care for indoor rosemary too much. Excess water will damage the roots and cause the plant to die, so I let the soil dry, then water thoroughly.
Rosemary prefers a light soil, a sandy soil will fully satisfy its meagre feeding needs. Having said that, rosemary is tolerant of most soil conditions as long as they are not water-logged. Rosemary prefers a slightly limey soil (the opposite of acid) because this results in smaller plants with more fragrant leaves. True to it’s origins, rosemary prefers sunny and sheltered conditions. It will stand severe frosts if conditions are not windy and wet as well. If you live in subzero winter temperatures, grow your rosemary in containers so you can move the plants to a cool, sunny room in the winter. If you live in a warm climate, don’t leave your rosemary near a hot window.
Start with plants grown from cuttings, since rosemary often is hard to grow from seed. Propagating Rosemary by cutting requires about an 8cm cutting be taken from new growth in late spring (cut just below a leaf joint). Place the cutting in a small pot filled with potting compost. Stand the pot in water to enable the compost to draw water up. Once the compost is moist place the pot under glass of some kind (I.e. a windowsill propagator or clear plastic bottle) to retain heat. The cutting should develop roots and be ready for transplanting about 2 months after the cutting.
Grow in sandy soil with pH level of 7-8. Pinch the tips to direct growth. Once you have a well-established plant, increase your supply by taking cuttings. Don’t take more than 20 percent of the plant, however. Check container-grown plants twice a year and shift to larger containers when roots become crowded. Some varieties of rosemary grow as high as six feet.
Getting it off ground level will help to reduce humidity and increase drainage. Also, don’t crowd your Rosemary. With a few exceptions they are large plants and need space. This is especially important if you have humid summers, because it allows air to move more freely around the plant. If your soil is rich in organic matter, you should never need to fertilize. If your Rosemary is already planted and you want to improve the soil, layer compost three to four inches around the base of the plant. If you spray no harmful chemicals and use only organic fertilizers, the critters at ground level and below will take your compost to the plants roots and nourish the plants and the soil.
If transplanting from pot to the outside soil make sure to the base of the plant is at the same depth (the top) of the soil as it was in the pot. Transplant rosemary to their its final position not an intermediate position. A compost tea feed can be applied to the soil every month during the growing soil although Rosemary does not require a rich soil. If growing rosemary in containers then water when the potting soil is about to dry out.
The biggest problem with growing rosemary indoors is its tendency to get powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a white, powdery fungus that can develop if the surrounding air is humid and there is not enough air movement. Powdery mildew won’t kill your rosemary, but it will weaken the plant. Keep the humidity low by allowing the soil to dry somewhat between waterings, keeping the plant in sunlight and, if necessary, running a fan for a few hours a day to create a breeze.

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