What is oregano?
This herb comes from the Lamiaceae, or mint, family. Native to Greek hillsides, oregano has been used for thousands of years to add an earthy flavor to dishes. In fact, you might think of oregano as the "pizza herb" thanks to its prominence in Italian and other Mediterranean cuisines, but did you know oregano oil has also been used to treat health conditions for just as long as it's been cultivated? Oregano oil, which is extracted from the leaves of the plant, has featured in many folk medicines over the centuries.
Herbs like oregano provide antioxidants that eliminate free radicals in our body, and have many other beneficial health effects.
If you're growing this woody plant in a warmer climate, it can be an evergreen, which means you'll see beautiful leaves throughout the seasons. Oregano is a perennial plant that will last for years in your kitchen garden, so if it does die back in the winter, it'll return in the spring. When oregano goes to seed, it produces beautiful purplish white flower spikes that bees and other pollinators love (reason enough, if you ask me, to add oregano to your garden).
Is oregano easy to grow?
This low-maintenance herb is an excellent plant for beginner gardeners to grow. (Actually, most herbs are pretty easy to grow, which is why we always recommend people who are just starting their gardening journeys begin with herbs.)
Oregano is so hardy it can spread quickly, making it good ground cover.
Is oregano a perennial?
Oregano is a perennial herb that will last for years in your kitchen garden. If an established oregano plant dies back during a harsh winter, it can return from the roots once the weather warms.
What is the best way to grow oregano?
Thinking of where oregano originated (the Mediterranean) can tell you a lot about the conditions it prefers to grow in: a hot and relatively dry climate with full sun and sandy, well-draining soil. That's not to say that oregano can't do well in other environments too.
Because oregano is a perennial herb, it's well worth the time and effort to get a great plant or good seeds to start with. I've grown oregano from a nursery-grown plant, by directly seeding oregano in the garden, and by starting seed indoors. All three methods work, though the fastest and easiest way to get loads of oregano is to grab an organic, locally grown plant from a nearby nursery. If you're starting oregano by seed outdoors, 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.
Oregano is easily propagated as a cutting from another healthy and established plant. (The same simple steps from my post on how to propagate mint will work for oregano.)
How do you take care of oregano plants?
Once your plant is about four inches tall, prune the leaves to encourage the plant to grow fuller instead of taller. (And, obviously, enjoy those leaves that you pruned.) To easily remove the leaves, hold the top of the cutting and run your fingers along the stem. Harvest regularly from your plant with clean scissors or pruners to prevent it from growing leggy. (As always, avoid harvesting more than a third of your plant at any one time.) Watch this video on how to prune oregano for more tips.
Around mid-summer, just before your oregano blooms, is when the flavor of the leaves will be most intense, so that's the best time to harvest leaves for drying, which increases the flavor and also allows you to save leaves for winter when you've harvested more than you can possibly use fresh. Allow the leaves to completely dry before storing in an airtight container.
Only water your oregano when the soil feels dry. Water less often but thoroughly, and focus on the base of the plant to avoid getting water on the leaves. Avoiding over-watering your plant is your best line of defense against disease. Prune any browning or spotted leaves.
Oregano is self-seeding, which means it can come back on its own.
Read more tips on how to grow organic oregano, plus my top five recommendations for types of oregano.
Where is the best place to plant oregano?
You can grow oregano in the garden or in a container indoors, as long as you have a sunny spot near a window. In a bed, give oregano some room to spread out. I like to plant oregano in the corners of my raised kitchen garden beds and drape the long stems over the edge so it doesn't take over my whole space. If you're choosing a container, go for one about 12 inches in diameter.
I also grow oregano in steel tubs devoted just to herbs. (Read how to grow herbs in a small space to learn more about growing herbs in containers.)
Can you grow oregano indoors?
You can grow oregano indoors next to a sunny window (try to avoid placement under an AC vent). Oregano does well in containers, making it the perfect herb for those who live in apartments or have small outdoor spaces.
Oregano is an excellent plant for gardeners of all levels. If you think you weren't born with a green thumb (which, by the way, we don't buy into around here), try your hand at growing oregano. 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, your roasted vegetables, and your salads—all things that improve with a little oregano).