Oregano, which plays a much loved role in any number of Mediterranean and Italian dishes, tastes wonderful whether fresh or dried. It’s a low-maintenance, high-return plant that grows vigorously without much water or care. The herb pairs well with tomatoes both in the garden and in dishes. It’s an excellent staple for spice cabinet and garden.
climate-smart variety: herb
Greek oregano is a hardy variety most commonly used in cooking. There’s also Mediterranean oregano, a mint relative and more peppery. Other types that are also delicious but not as hardy, include Syrian, Turkestan, and Mexican oregano.
WHERE OREGANO THRIVES
Optimal type of soil
Oregano likes soil on the sandy side, which keeps it well-drained. It prefers a pH balance between 6 and 8 and soil that’s light on fertilizer and organic matter.
Optimal shade & sun
For best flavor, plant oregano where it will receive full sun.
Oregano grows vigorously and requires little water, making it very drought-resistant.
A hardy herb, most oregano can be grown anywhere in the United States. It’s considered a perennial in places where it rarely gets much colder than 10 degrees.
Adaptability to climate extremes
Oregano is adaptable to climate extremes, although it will fare better in drier, hotter zones. If you live in a cold and rainy area, make sure the soil contains a high percentage of sand, which keeps it well-drained.
Sow seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before your last frost. Oregano seeds are very tiny and almost dust like so they are easy to plant too deep. Seeds require light for germination and should be sprinkled on the top of your growing medium and gently pressed into the soil. It is recommended to establish plants by getting a cutting or full plant from your neighbor. Plants should be spaced 8 to 10 inches apart.
Best time of year to plant
Plant oregano seeds indoors approximately six weeks before the last frost or outside after the danger of frost has passed. (Check local frost guides for timing.)
Oregano attracts flower flies, which prey on aphids, so it’s a good neighbor for any plant besieged by aphids, such as tomatoes. Oregano also deters the cabbage moth from laying its eggs on broccoli and cabbage. Other good neighbors include peppers, cucumbers, melons, and squash.
Oregano grows to be 2 to 3 feet tall with small pinkish/purple flowers.
In general, oregano is low-maintenance and does not need regular watering. Wait until the soil is dry in between thorough waterings.
No mulching necessary for this hardy plant. In cooler climates laying a bed of straw over the roots once the soil is frozen will help it weather the winter. Remove the straw in the spring.
Unless your oregano is strictly for landscaping, do not fertilize your oregano. Fertilization will cause your oregano to grow rapidly and lose its flavor.
Attracts both aphids and aphids’ predator, the flower fly. No major pest concerns here.
Oregano is not disease prone, but keeping it well-spaced can help prevent potential mint rust.
Particular growing challenges
Be patient—oregano is an herb known to grow slowly at first. During its first year, trim the plant shoots two inches from the ground to encourage growth.
Harvest your oregano when its stems are about 8 inches tall. Don’t be shy about regularly harvesting and pruning, which promotes healthy growth. An established and healthy plant can be cut to 2 inches above the soil at least 6 times per growing season! Flavor will peak just before the oregano flowers in late July to September.
Hang bundles of oregano in a dark, dry place to dry it for its wonderful preserved flavor. Or, dehydrate it. (You’ll need a dehydrator.)
Fresh clippings can be kept on your kitchen counter in a cup of water for up to a week. Refrigerate oregano in plastic bags or containers with a little bit of added water for moisture for up to 2 weeks.