How to grow oregano
All you need to know about growing, harvesting and storing oregano, in this practical Grow Guide.
Oregano is an essential ingredient in many southern Mediterranean dishes, from pizza to pasta sauces, Greek salads and Spanish stews.
Also known as marjoram, oregano is one of the key plants in traditional herb gardens. It has medicinal as well as culinary uses – use it in teas to soothe digestive problems. In the past it's also been used as an antiseptic.
With its compact leaves and often very ornamental flowers, oregano also makes a good creeping ground cover plant or an attractive filler for window boxes and containers.
How to grow oregano
Grow oregano in free-draining soil or compost in a sunny, sheltered spot. Harvest the leaves as and when you need to, cutting the plant back completely every so often to encourage a fresh flush of foliage. If growing in pots, repot every couple of years in fresh compost. Prevent water-logging in winter by adding grit to the planting hole.
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Find out how to grow oregano in our Grow Guide.
Where to plant oregano
As plant of Mediterranean origin, oregano needs plenty of full sun with good drainage. It does best in a free-draining compost in porous pots such as terracotta pots. Oregano suffers in wet soil, so if you're planting it in the ground and have heavy soil, make sure you include a handful of grit to the planting hole.
How to plant oregano
To grow oregano from seed, fill small pots with peat-free seed compost and water well, allowing to drain. Sow a few seeds on the surface of the compost. The seeds need heat to germinate, so place pots in either a heated propagator or on a warm windowsill. When seedlings are large enough to handle, pot them on into larger pots filled with peat-free, multi-purpose compost.
Alternatively, buy ready-grown plants from your local garden centre or nursery, and plant them into a dedicated herb garden or pot.
How to care for oregano
Keep your oregano in a sunny, sheltered spot and water sparingly throughout the growing season. Harvest the leaves as and when you need to, either pinching them out with your thumb and finger or using scissors to cut a good-sized bunch.
Cut plants back completely in midsummer to encourage fresh new leaves. Alternatively let the plants flower to provide nectar and pollen for bees.
Plants will die back in winter and regrow from woody stems spring.
In spring, it's a good idea to repot pot-grown oregano into fresh compost with added slow-release fertiliser. This is also a good time to cut the woody stems back to the base of the plant to encourage fresh new growth.
The most common way to store oregano leaves is to dry them. Harvest large bunches and bundle them together in a large paper bag, and then hang them upside down to dry. The paper bag will catch any leaves as they fall. After a week or so, shake the stems while still in the bag to release any remaining leaves. You should then be able to crumble the dried leaves into a container to use throughout winter. Discard the stems.
Oregano leaves can also be frozen. Remove fresh leaves from their stems and freeze in an ice cube for adding to soups and stews.
Preparation and uses of oregano
Use fresh oregano leaves in tomato sauces, soups and stews. Sprinkle dried oregano on top of pizzas and add to tomato sauces and salads. Dried oregano leaves have a stronger flavour than fresh leaves.
Growing oregano: problem solving
Oregano is relatively trouble-free to grow, providing plants have the right growing conditions.
Organic growing tip
Oregano flowers are good for attracting bees and butterflies. It also makes a good companion plant, helping to deter aphids.
Oregano varieties to try
- Origanum vulgare – the wild species herb, with dark-green leaves and pink flowers in summer
- Origanum vulgare subsp. hirtum ‘Greek’ – this is a good variety for drying, with bright green leaves and white flowers
- Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ – a highly ornamental British grown, dwarf cultivar with grey green foliage and large pink, drooping flowers. Not good for cooking
- Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum Crispum’ – wavy golden leaves and pink flowers
- Origanum 'Rosenkuppel' – a compact purely ornamental variety with purple-flushed foliage, and tubular purple flowers with reddish-purple bracts. Not an edible oregano