Grow Your Own Organic Oregano
Native to Greek hillsides, oregano has been a kitchen staple for thousands of years, and you've probably enjoyed it in many Italian-inspired dishes.
If you like the slightly earthy flavor, then try growing this easy perennial herb yourself. It requires very little tending and can handle some "neglect"—it actually prefers if you put that watering can down for a bit. If you live in a warmer climate, oregano will be an evergreen that produces leaves for you all year. If you live in a colder climate, oregano will die back in the winter and then return in the spring.
Follow these five tips to keep your oregano plant happy and maximize the delicious leaves you can harvest.
Oregano Plant Care Tip #1
Grow Oregano from Seed or Invest in a Healthy Plant
Oregano is a perennial herb that can last for years in your kitchen garden, so it's well worth the time and effort to start off with the healthiest plant possible. I've grown healthy oregano from a small nursery-grown plant, from seeds I direct-seeded into the garden, and from seeds I started indoors.
All three methods work, but the fastest and easiest way to get loads of oregano this summer is to grab an organic, locally grown plant from a nearby nursery. When purchasing, ask the growers what methods they use to grow their herbs and if they use any synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, or pesticides. I've had the most success with plants from local farmers and CSAs.
If you'd like to grow your own oregano from seed, look for organic oregano seeds. Wait to sow your seeds until close to your last frost. If you're transplanting a cutting or planting a plant, wait until after the last frost. Late spring and early summer is a great time to get your oregano plants started in the garden.
Oregano Varieties to Start from Seed
There are so many varieties of oregano to choose from if you're starting from seed, which is a huge advantage of starting your own plants versus buying them.
My favorite oregano varieties to grow:
- Greek oregano - Greek is, hands down, my favorite variety. The leaves are large, and the plant holds up well in both heat and cold. In fact, my Greek oregano was the first plant to come back to life in my Chicago kitchen garden after our long and hard winters.
- Italian oregano - Italian oregano leaves are a little smaller than Greek, but the taste is still big.
- Hot and spicy oregano - This variety is, in fact, spicy. It reminds me of a taco seasoning that has a little extra cayenne in there, so if you love some heat, this is a fun variety to try—and certainly not one you'd be able to buy at the grocery store.
- Cuban oregano - Despite the name, Cuban oregano is not actually oregano. It grows large succulent-like leaves that have a velvety texture and a menthol-ish smell. Like regular oregano, the leaves can be used fresh or dried, but use them sparingly in dishes because of their strong scent. I prefer to grow this variety for the beauty of its leaves in a container.
- Kent Beauty oregano - Like Cuban oregano, this is more of an ornamental variety. It makes a beautiful addition to the garden, as the name suggests. If you're looking for an herb that can be used to make decorative wreaths, I suggest Kent Beauty.
Oregano Plant Care Tip #2
Grow Oregano in Sandy Soil
Oregano is a mediterranean plant that grows best in sandy soil that drains well. This herb really doesn't like having its roots stay wet for too long, so amend your soil with some torpedo sand from the hardware store (not the same as play sand).
Oregano enjoys spreading its roots, so it's a good idea to plant oregano in a large and deep pot, a big steel planter (like the one pictured below), or a raised bed. I love planting oregano on the edges of a raised bed or large herb garden planter for three reasons:
- This planting plan gives the herb room to branch out over the edges of the garden and grow as big as it'd like without taking up a large part of the interior of the garden.
- The edges of raised beds and containers tend to dry out faster than the middle, which will be just fine with your oregano.
- Oregano will provide some green color and beauty along the border of the garden even when the interior of the garden is bare during certain parts of the year.
Oregano can also grow in the ground. I've found oregano to be one of the more forgiving of the herb plants. While basil may refuse to grow in wet or soggy conditions without enough sun, oregano tends to be a bit hardier. It may not thrive in less-than-ideal conditions, but it will often persevere more than some of the other herbs.
Oregano Plant Care Tip #3
Water Oregano Conservatively
Don't forget that oregano is used to drier conditions. You're far more likely to overwater this herb than underwater. Water isn't always the answer, and unless you see oregano leaves shriveling or turning brown, the problem with your oregano plant isn't its need for more water.
The best way to make oregano feel like it's at home in your garden is to water less. Generally, a little water each week is all you need to keep you plant thriving.
If you're growing your oregano on the edge of a raised bed or container, the herb will receive enough water as you care for your other kitchen garden plants. The soil dries out faster on the edges, which gives your oregano less time to sit in too much water. If you're growing your oregano in a pot, soak the soil until you see water run out through the drainage hole. Then allow the soil to dry out before you water again.
A sure sign that you've overwatered your oregano is when you see the leaves begin to turn yellow or appear less crisp than normal. The goal is bright green leaves that hold their form even in the middle of the summer heat. Let the leaves tell you when your organic oregano needs water, and you'll be well on your way to herb garden success.
Herb Garden Guidebook
Herb Garden Guide Ebook guides you through the step by step to set up your own container herb garden and how to grow your own delicious, edible herbs at home.
Oregano Plant Care Tip #4
Harvest Often from Your Oregano
Growing organic oregano in the right conditions this summer is going to mean one thing: loads and loads of oregano.
Harvest oregano sprigs weekly to encourage your herb to keep producing leaves for you. Make sure you use a clean pair of pruners or scissors.
There are two ways to harvest oregano.
One, you can cut the tips off the plants just above a leaf node, where the branch splits. This will create a bushier plant because the spot where you harvest will split into two new side branches.
The other way to harvest is to go to the base of the plant and cut the outer, lower branches. This will thin the plant and encourage it to grow longer and more vine-like rather than bushy.
Both methods work, but the key is to not stop harvesting. I usually try to cut from my plants once a week or so, especially during the height of the summer.
Once you harvest, you can enjoy the leaves fresh, or you can hang them in a cool, dark spot to dry.
We love using fresh oregano atop homemade pizzas, spaghetti sauce, or fresh tacos.
Dried oregano is great to add to salt blends or an all-spice seasoning you can create with a variety of herbs.
And if you run out of uses, share your oregano with neighbors and friends.
There's no better gift to give than one you grew yourself!
Oregano Plant Care Tip #5
Pinch Back Oregano Flowers
Make sure you're enjoying your herbs as often as possible throughout the growing season. During the hottest parts of the year, oregano will start to produce purplish white flower spikes. This is a signal to you that the plant is under a little bit of stress or that it's just ready to produce seed and stop producing leaves for the rest of the season.
To keep your oregano production going as long as possible, pinch back the first flower buds and then water your plant deeply. This is also a good time to prune a few of the branches from the outside and lower parts of the plant.
By pinching the flowers and cutting back some of the longer oregano branches, you'll encourage more leaf production and hopefully slow the seed production process.
If and when it seems that it's time to let the plant finish its production for the year and go to seed, you can allow the flowers to fully produce (the pollinators will thank you!) and dry. Then, collect the seeds from each dried flower head to plant again next spring.
The cycle keeps going. Between your current harvests, those that you'll dry for the winter, and the seeds you'll save for next year, you're going to have enough organic oregano to not just supply your own kitchen but to feed the whole neighborhood.
Watch the Video
In this short video, you'll learn the secret to keeping those herb plants alive, we promise!
So, just say goodbye to grocery store oregano with me and enjoy your own homegrown organic oregano this summer and for many many summers to come.
Oregano is an excellent plant for gardeners of all levels. Learn more about setting up your own organic herb garden with our online gardening course, The Herb Garden Guide, inside of Gardenary 365.
Gardening is a skill that can be learned, and herbs are great teachers to help you grow your knowledge before you move on to salad greens, fruits, and vegetables. The best part is that while you're learning, you're adding a bit more flavor to your life (and your tomato sauces)!