In the language of herbs, the rosemary plant is known for remembrance. And if you’ve ever smelled the fresh piney scent of a rosemary plant, it’s not likely something you’ll forget. This easy to grow and versatile herb is a must have for any garden herbs list.
Rosemary is an evergreen perennial herb that’s a member of the mint family and is native to the Meditteranean. In the United States it’s grown as a perennial in warmer climes (zones 6 to 10). In fact, rosemary hedges grace the walkways of Charleston, South Carolina and many other Southern cities, year round. In the north, the rosemary plant is either treated as an annual or moved indoors into containers before the first frost. Growing rosemary in your garden isn’t like growing horseradish or other perennial herbs such as thyme and parsley, that can be overwintered in your garden and will come back in spring.
Rosemary has leathery, needle shaped leaves and blue to purplish-pink flowers. Depending on your variety, it can grow from 1 to 6 feet. But, the good thing about the rosemary plant, is that it can be clipped to keep a form that fits what you need, from those beautiful Southern city hedges to fitting properly in a container.
Rosemary is a kitchen herb staple that goes well with Italian and Mediterranean dishes. It can infused into a simple turkey brine and other holiday dishes. It pairs well with poultry, pork and fish. And it can be used in herbal breads, vinegars, oils and butters. Rosemary makes a fragrant addition to potpourris and its essential oil can be used in bath products such as soaps and hair rinses.
In the garden, rosemary plants should be planted in full sun in an area with good soil and good drainage. Rosemary is not a fast grower from seed, so it’s better to buy it from the nursery as a plant. I like to buy mine early in the season so my plants get the best care early on and the benefits of a full growing season.
Healthy rosemary plants don’t get many pests or diseases, but plants in distress can be susceptible to scale, whiteflies, mealybugs, spider mites. Root rot is probably the easiest problem to prevent by making sure your rosemary plants aren’t overwatered and potted plants don’t sit with a saucer full of water. Herbs, such as rosemary, don’t like wet feet!
Keeping Rosemary Alive in Winter
Remember that the rosemary plant is native to the Mediterranean, so it likes cool mists that come off the ocean. This information is crucial to keeping your rosemary alive in winter. The key is the rosemary plant doesn’t like the hot, dry conditions of a heated home. Move your rosemary plant from the garden to a pot your rosemary plant in early fall, well before the first frost. Or, keep it in a pot all year; just make sure your pot is deep. Make sure to add sand to your soil mix to promote good drainage. Through the cool months, keep your rosemary plant in a sunny window but make sure it’s in a cool area of your house away from heating vents. Make sure to keep your rosemary watered but not too much. Let it dry out a little before watering, but don’t let it dry out too much or your rosemary plant will die.
The key to successfully keeping potted rosemary plants alive in winter is to take them outside as much as possible. Once you pot your rosemary plant, let it stay out during days that are 40 degrees or above. I do this with my rosemary all winter only bringing it in at nights and on days when the temperature drops below 40 degrees. This mimics that crucial Mediterranean environment and will keep your rosemary plant healthy and alive.
One quick note, rosemary can be quite decorative and you’ll find lots of rosemary plants clipped into a tree shape in stores at Christmas. These are beautiful and I recommend buying one, but be careful to buy them early. A rosemary plant that’s been in a store for a while has likely not been cared for well. Since rosemary’s are evergreen, they may be dying, but you won’t see it right away. Once you get your fresh rosemary home, take it out of the decorative wrapper so water doesn’t linger when you water your plant. Most likely the place you’d like to display your plant is not the best place for its health, so keep your rosemary plant where it will thrive and then move it to its display place just before special occasions.
Using Rosemary around the Chicken Coop
You can plant rosemary around the coop or hang it in bundles inside the coop to keep away pests like mosquitoes, flies and ants.
Rosemary is also good for respiratory health, not only for chickens but for bunnies and humans too. I sprinkle rosemary in my nest boxes and add it fresh and dried to my chicken’s feed. For my bunnies, I feed it to them directly. And for me, I like to make a rosemary tea. My favorite is to add some rosemary, along with other herbs, to water along with a couple tea bags and make sun tea by letting it steep for an afternoon outside.
Since rosemary is the herb of remembrance, it’s said that in ancient Greece, students would wear rosemary wreaths and necklaces to help them with exam success. Today rosemary is often used in herbal bouquets to convey meaning to its receiver. This is an ancient practice from medieval to Victorian times that has survived the years. In fact, I have my kids give their teachers a rosemary plant at the end of the school year. We include a little note with hopes their teachers remember the fun times they had over the school year.
Rosemary plants are one of my favorites. Do you like rosemary? What other herbs do you grow with it? Let us know in the comments below.