Oregano is a very popular herb found most often in pizza and pasta sauce. It’s also used frequently in Greek cooking and has made its way into recipes around the world.
If you enjoy this pungent herb, it’s very simple to add oregano to your herb garden or grow it in pots on your porch. Easy to grow and very unfussy, this is the perfect herb for beginners and even has some ornamental appeal.
Here’s a complete guide to growing your own oregano plant, including care tips, harvesting, and storage.
All About Oregano
Oregano (Origanum spp.) is a Mediterranean herb and native to that region of the world and parts of the Middle East. It belongs to the mint family along with other herbs like thyme, sage, and rosemary.
As a perennial herb, oregano is hardy in USDA zones 5-10 and borderline in zone 4. If you live in a region colder than this, you can grow oregano as an annual or plant it in containers that you bring inside during the winter.
A good ground cover, oregano starts out low to the ground but can get up to 2 feet tall with a spread of 18 inches.
The leaves of the plant are small, oval, and usually dark green. They can be fuzzy, depending on what type of oregano plant it is, and are very fragrant. Flowers are edible, small, and bloom in pink, purple, or white.
If you allow your oregano plants to bloom at some point, they will attract pollinators like bees and butterflies. The flowers are also very attractive and add ornamental appeal to the plants.
If you let your plants flower towards the end of summer, they will soon attract bees and other small pollinators.
Types and Cultivars of Oregano
There are several different species of oregano commonly grown in the garden. Lately, there are also some cultivars that have been developed for flavor, growing habit, or appearance.
Here are the most common and most popular choices:
- Common/Italian Oregano (Origanum vulgare)– Common oregano has a mild, somewhat sweet flavor. The leaves are slightly larger than other varieties.
- Greek Oregano (O. vulgare subsp. hirtum)– Frequently referred to as ‘true oregano’, this variety has the most pungent flavor and is used the most in Italian, Greek, and Spanish cooking. Leaves are small, dark green, and packed with flavor.
- Syrian Oregano (O. syriacum)– This is a large variety of oregano that grows up to 4 feet tall and has large, gray-green, fuzzy leaves. The leaves have a more minty flavor than other types. Only hardy in zones 9-11, annual elsewhere.
- ‘Aureum’– This cultivar of common oregano is known as golden oregano because of its golden-yellow leaves. Grown more for ornamental purposes, the leaves still have a subtle oregano flavor and can be used for cooking.
- ‘Variegata’– Another ornamental variety, this cultivar has very attractive green leaves edged in creamy white. The leaves are small but have good flavor.
It’s hard to beat the classic Greek oregano for flavor, but there are several other good types of oregano out there if you want to branch out and try something different.
- ‘Cleopatra’– A variety of Syrian oregano, this cultivar has silvery-gray foliage and a light peppermint flavor. Best grown as an annual.
- ‘Compactum’– This is a dwarf oregano great for small spaces, pots, and window baskets. The leaves are still spicy and flavorful.
- ‘Hot and Spicy’– True to its name, this cultivar packs a punch and will heat up your recipes. Great if you like bold, spicy flavors. Only hardy in zones 6-9.
How to Grow Your Own Oregano Plant
Starting oregano from seed is easy and cost effective. The only drawback is that the intensity of flavor varies a lot from plant to plant.
To deal with this, you can plant more oregano seeds than you need and taste each seedling when it gets big enough. Then, you can keep only the ones that have the best flavor.
Starting Seeds Indoors
The best way to start an oregano plant from seed is to get it going indoors 6-8 weeks before your last average frost date in the spring.
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Here are the supplies you’ll need:
Mix your seed starting medium with enough water to get it damp but not soaking wet. The soil should just form a clump when you squeeze a handful together.
Fill up your tray(s) to the top with the damp soil.
Oregano seeds are tiny and should be sown carefully on top of the soil. If you are using plug trays, place 1-3 seeds in each cell to increase your chances of germination. If you are using an open tray, simply scatter the seeds evenly over the top of the soil.
Water gently so that you don’t wash the seeds away. They need light to germinate, so place them by a window or under grow lights. Temperatures around 60°F are ideal for germination.
Your seeds should germinate in 7-14 days if kept at temperatures between 60-70°F. Once they do, it’s best to place them under grow lights where they can get 10-14 hours of light each day. You can also keep them by a very sunny window.
As your seedlings grow, water them only when the soil has almost dried out, and avoid getting the leaves wet. Run a fan a few times a day to make sure they get good airflow.
Once your seedlings have grown a few inches, you’ll need to thin them out to one per cell by snipping off extras at their base (you can eat them as microgreens).
Because the seeds are so tiny, you’ll likely end up with more oregano seedlings than you need. Be sure to thin them out so that the healthiest-looking ones are left, and don’t be afraid to taste them.
If you are growing seedlings in an open flat, transplant them to individual 3” pots when they have a few sets of true leaves. You can also try a single leaf from each seedling at this point to check for flavor.
Harden off your seedlings a week or two prior to planting by gradually getting them acclimated to outdoor weather.
Starting Seeds Outdoors
Another option is to start oregano seeds directly in your garden after the danger of frost has passed in the spring. For the best results, wait until daytime temperatures are close to 70°F.
Before sowing seeds, prepare your garden bed (or containers) by weeding and getting rid of rocks and debris. Rake the top of the soil smooth so that you have a good place for your seeds to go.
If you want to plant seeds in containers, make sure you choose ones with drainage holes in the bottom. Fill them with a good quality potting soil that drains well, and get the soil damp before sowing your seeds.
Broadcast oregano seeds on top of the soil, either in your garden or in pots. Press them in gently, but do not cover, and water well.
After sowing oregano seeds in your garden, be sure you mark where you planted them. This could be with something simply like a stick, or something more creative like a handmade marker.
Germination can be slower and more uneven outdoors, but seeds should still sprout in one or two weeks. If plants end up being very unevenly spaced, you can dig them up and transplant them once they get a few sets of true leaves.
Growing Oregano from Cuttings
There’s yet another way you can start your own oregano plant: from cuttings.
This method has the advantage of giving you an exact duplicate of the parent plant. This means that the flavor, color, etc. will be exactly the same, so you’ll know what you’re going to end up with.
You’ll need access to an established oregano plant, which could be one you bought or a friend’s or neighbor’s plant. Cuttings are best taken in the spring but can be taken anytime from an indoor plant.
Use a sharp, sanitized knife or small pair of garden clippers to take 4-5 inch cuttings. Make sure you cut from soft, green stems (not woody ones) and take leaf-only cuttings (no flowers).
Remove the bottom 2 inches of leaves from your cuttings. To increase your chances of success, you can dip the cut end of the stems in rooting hormone. Then, place the cuttings in pots filled with a dampened sterile medium like peat moss, vermiculite, or sand.
Keep your cuttings somewhere that gets bright, but indirect, sunlight. Make sure the growing medium doesn’t dry out completely, but don’t let it get soggy, either.
If you have access to a healthy, mature oregano plant, you can take some cuttings to easily grow your own plants. They’ll be ready to go in your garden in just 4-5 weeks.
Your cuttings should root and be ready for transplanting in 4-5 weeks. Be sure to harden them off before planting outside.
Tips for Planting Oregano
When and Where to Plant
Whether you started from seed or bought an oregano plant locally, your seedlings can go in the garden after the danger of frost has passed in the spring. Wait until the soil has warmed to 65-70°F.
You should plant oregano in full sun with the exception of golden or variegated varieties that may need partial shade.
Oregano grows best in light, sandy, well-drained soil. The flavor will actually lessen if you plant it in rich soil. It does much better with low to average fertility and will not tolerate soggy soil.
Because of this, you shouldn’t add fertilizer to your soil before planting. You can add a small amount of compost if you need to improve the texture of your soil, and sand can help as well. Be sure to improve clay soil before trying to grow oregano or make use of raised beds.
How to Plant
If you want oregano to form a ground cover, space plants 8-10 inches apart. They can be spaced further if you want individual sections of the herb. You can plant one or several seedlings per container, depending on the size, where they will eventually trail over the sides.
Oregano grows equally well in containers and in the ground. One advantage of growing in pots is that you can have herbs close at hand for harvesting.
Oregano makes a good companion plant for just about every vegetable in the garden and works well with many other herbs as well. Make it part of an herb garden or a border around your vegetable plot.
To plant, simply dig holes for your seedlings that are equal to the size of the root balls of your plant. Loosen the roots if they are tangled together, and plant each seedling in its spot.
Cover the roots of your plants with soil, firm each one in with your hands, and water well when you’re finished.
Oregano Plant Care
Make sure your seedlings get regular water while they are getting established, although oregano doesn’t need as much water as most other plants do.
Once established, oregano is very easy to care for and an incredibly low maintenance plant. Healthy plants will only need watered during an extended drought with the exception of those growing in containers, which should be watered when the soil dries out.
Start pinching or trimming off the tips of your oregano when it gets about 4 inches tall to encourage bushy, dense growth. You can use these trimmings in a salad or to cook with.
Oregano does not need to be fertilized, since giving it too many nutrients can decrease the flavor.
If you live in zone 4 or 5, you may want to mulch over plants in late fall with leaves or evergreen branches to help them through the winter. Be sure to remove the mulch in early spring.
Frosty weather won’t faze oregano, but extremely cold temperatures may prevent your plants from coming back. Mulch them lightly over the winter if you tend to have harsh weather.
Established oregano plants will keep coming back for many years, but they do start losing flavor when they reach the 3 or 4 year mark.
To rejuvenate your oregano patch, let the plants self-seed and transplant the seedlings where they can grow to full size. Pull out 3-4 year old plants each year and put them on your compost pile.
You can also divide an established oregano plant by digging it up in late spring and splitting it into 2-3 smaller plants.
Pests and Problems
The good news is that oregano doesn’t have any serious pest or disease problems. Its pungent flavor also usually keeps pests like deer and rabbits away as well.
Occasionally, you may end up with aphids, leafminers, or spider mites on your plants. Use a natural control method, like neem oil, to get rid of them if they become a serious problem.
Root rot and other fungal diseases can attack your oregano plants if they are planted in soggy soil or another type of damp condition. Make sure they have a well-drained spot and good airflow to prevent this.
Not many pests bother oregano, but the flowers will attract beneficial insects to your garden. This makes many herbs great companion plants for a fruit or vegetable garden.
How to Harvest Oregano
Oregano is very easy to harvest, and you can begin picking leaves once your plants get 4-5 inches tall.
You can pick off individual leaves as needed, but the best way to harvest oregano is to cut off whole sprigs. Use a clean pair of scissors or garden clippers to snip off sprigs of any length. Make your cut right above a set of leaves so that the plant can regrow.
If you want to do a large harvest, oregano is most flavorful right before the plants bloom. This is the best time to pick leaves for drying if you want to store oregano.
You can harvest oregano pretty heavily, but always leave a good 3-4 inches of the plant intact so that it can recover.
Oregano flowers are also edible and have a milder flavor that works well in fresh salads. Clip some off when they open, but don’t forget to leave some for the bees!
Drying and Storing Oregano
The best way to store oregano long-term is to dry it. The flavor of the leaves actually intensifies as they dry, making the dried herb stronger than the fresh one.
Oregano is one of those herbs that tastes stronger when it’s dried. It lasts for a good while in storage and retains its flavor well.
To dry your oregano, harvest long stems right before the plants bloom. Rinse the stems off well under cool water or swish them around in a bowl full of water. Let them air dry on a towel for an hour or two before continuing.
Next, either tie your oregano stems into small bundles or lay them out flat on a wire rack. The bundles can be hung up to dry and covered with a paper bag that has air slits to catch any falling leaves.
Place the herbs somewhere warm, dry, and out of direct sunlight. With good air circulation and low humidity, the leaves will only take a few weeks to dry completely.
Once the leaves are crisp and crumbly, take them off the stems (but try to keep them whole) and store in airtight containers. Kept in a cool, dark location, dried oregano will retain its flavor for 6 months or longer.
Enjoying Your Oregano Harvest
Add oregano in at the very end of the cooking process so that its pungent flavor doesn’t disappear. Or use it fresh to liven up salads, sandwiches, and other raw dishes.
Knowing how to grow your own oregano plant will give you a fresh supply of this herb all summer and allows you to store a good amount to keep you through the winter.
Once you have growing oregano down, why not try adding in other herbs like lemon thyme, parsley, or cilantro?