How to grow rosemary in pots, indoors and out in the garden, and also share how to harvest and use rosemary for both cooking and medicinal purposes.
Rosemary is an easy to grow, versatile evergreen herb that adds a Mediterranean feel to the border all year round. In this piece, you’ll learn how to grow rosemary but also what the plant needs to survive in your garden, indoors, or in containers. You’ll also learn how to propagate rosemary from cuttings and ways to put those green leaves to good use for health and wellbeing.
There many practical uses for rosemary, making it an essential shrub for any garden, large or small. Rosemary can be just as happy growing in a windowsill as it will in vast long borders. Though we know it best as an aromatic culinary herb, it’s also important for health and as a pollinator-friendly plant. Medicinally, it helps focus the mind, improves memory, and aids indigestion. Its nectar-rich spring flowers are also a magnet for hungry bees and other pollinators right when they need it most.
Rosemary Growing Tips
- Common Name(s): Rosemary
- Scientific Name: Salvia rosmarinus formerly Rosmarinus officinalis
- Generally hardy to*: 14°F/ -10°C / Zones 7-10 though some varieties are hardy to just 30°F/ -1°C
- Longevity: Evergreen perennial shrub
- When to plant: Spring or autumn
- Light: Full sun, sheltered spot
- Watering: Fairly drought-tolerant but water regularly during dry summers. Dislikes wet roots.
- Soil: preferred: free-draining loam soil /pH 6.0-7.0 neutral to acidic
- Pests and diseases: Rosemary beetle, froghoppers, scale insects
- Days to Harvest: Six weeks after planting
* This is the lowest temperature the plant can survive in winter
When to plant Rosemary
The best time to plant rosemary is in spring or autumn so that it can get its roots established before dry summers or winter frosts. Rosemary can be bought from your local nursery, online, or even a supermarket. Pick up a pot of rosemary next time you do your shopping and plant that out in the garden. Better yet, order a specific type of rosemary that will suit your needs.
There are many beautiful varieties available all with different growth and flowering habits. For a compact plant with blue blooms grow ‘McConnells Blue AGM’, ‘Lady in White’ for exquisite white flowers, or ‘Majorca Pink’ for a column of pink flowers. Often, rosemary plants are sold without a cultivar name, and with these, growth patterns can be a little more unpredictable.
How to Grow Rosemary in the Garden
Rosemary thrives in full sun but will tolerate partial shade for part of the day. In the right situation, rosemary can get surprisingly large, some varieties grow up to 6ft. It prefers a sheltered spot so position it near a wall for warmth or at the back of a border by a fence to accommodate its height. Try to imitate the warm Mediterranean environment these plants originate from. One way to do this is to build a herb spiral, and plant rosemary at the top.
Depending on your growing zone it may be necessary to protect your rosemary plant in winter against freezing temperatures by wrapping it in fleece to ensure it survives through the cold winter months. Mulch the base of your plant with straw, pine needles, leaf mold, or a thick layer of homemade compost.
For best results, hard prune your rosemary after the first frost, in winter. You can take it down to half its desired size and even pruning down into the woodier pieces is fine. Your plant will bounce back in spring rejuvenated. Regular pruning maintains fresh stems and prevents your plant from becoming woody. Don’t throw out your cuttings, they will be ideal to harvest for cooking.
Grow a Rosemary Hedge
Rosemary makes wonderfully aromatic hedging. ‘Miss Jessopp’s Upright’ is a vigorous grower with needle-like thin dark leaves and pollinator-friendly purple-blue flowers that bloom from mid-spring to early summer. It’s also a real hit with the bees along with these other 50+ Flowers and Trees for a Bee-Friendly Garden.
Space plants roughly 1.5 ft apart and snip the leaves regularly to ensure a plentiful supply of young, succulent foliage. This is a great way to add scent, color, and vertical interest to your herb garden or sunny border. If left unpruned then ‘Miss Jessopp’s Upright’ would eventually grow into a 6ft by 6ft giant in five to ten years so aim to maintain height around 2ft for a neat hedge.
Grow Rosemary in Pots
Rosemary is a drought-tolerate, low-maintenance herb, and many varieties are ideally suited to grow in pots. Prostrate or creeping rosemary is a perfect low-growing herb, which will cascade gracefully over containers. It has gray-green leaves and light purple flowers and looks particularly stunning in glazed or terracotta pots. ‘Spice Island’ and ‘Tuscan Blue’ have fabulous flavors for cooking whereas the compact ‘Joyce de Baggio’ changes hue over the season and gives a dazzling display.
To plant, use peat-free multipurpose potting mix blended with a few handfuls of perlite or gritty sand. This addition helps with aeration and drainage and is important since herbs hate to be waterlogged. To avoid their roots rotting it is useful to place your container on planter feet, raised off the ground so that rainwater can freely drain out of the bottom. Rosemary thrives in low fertile soil so should not need feeding but you feel your plant needs a boost try organic seaweed as a natural tonic.
Growing rosemary in pots also keeps the plant mobile so you can move rosemary undercover if temperatures plummet. If you live in zones 5-7 try ‘Arp’, ‘Athens Blue Spire,’ ‘Alcalde’ and ‘Madeline Hill.’ Arp is believed to be the most cold-tolerant variety available, surviving outdoors down to -10°F/-23C.
How to Grow Rosemary Indoors
Growing rosemary indoors adds the convenience of culinary herbs close to hand for recipes. However, please be aware that they can suffer from too much attention or neglect. Overwatering, lack of sunlight, pests, and powdery mildew can all be problematic. Mist your plants with water to enhance humidity and stop them from drying out but resist overwatering them. Rosemary is drought-tolerant and will thrive on a sunny windowsill. It’s also a sun-worshipper so ensure it is able to bask.
Most rosemary varieties tend to get pot-bound in small containers. To avoid this, pot them on and refresh the potting mix when they outgrow their space. You can alternatively replant your rosemary outdoors. Regular trimming will help retain size but miniature varieties such as ‘Blue Boy’ are ideal for the home as they are slow-growing.
Propagate Rosemary from Cuttings
You can propagate new plants in the summer through layering, a method where you lay a stem flat against the soil and secure it in place until roots form to produce a new plant. At that point, it can then be cut from the parent and be grown on independently. It is possible to grow rosemary from seed but this takes a very long time so propagating from stem cuttings is the most reliable method to multiply your plant stocks and certainly far quicker.
Propagating is basically cloning the parent plant and can save you a tremendous amount of money. It is fun to share cuttings with a friend; there is a great satisfaction to be had growing free plants. You begin with cuttings of new growth 4-6 inches long. You can cut it from an existing plant in the garden, or get cuttings from someone else. Keep the cuttings in a plastic baggie if you can’t propagate the rosemary right away, since it will help keep them from drying out. On the same day, use these instructions to propagate rosemary from cuttings.
Harvesting and Using Rosemary
Harvest rosemary all year round for cooking by snipping off the top three inches of fresh growth. Use rosemary leaves fresh or dried in tomato-based dishes, lamb, chicken, soups, stews, sprinkled on bread, and infused in oil as a marinade.
For medicinal use harvest the stems just as the flowers begin to bloom. The volatile oils, and medicinal properties, are at their peak just before flowering. Harvest stems in the morning after dew dries and before the heat of the day takes hold. Mature plants may require pruners to cut woody stems whereas a new growth can be easily harvested with snips or garden scissors. Rinse the stems before drying or eating fresh. Dry rosemary in a dehydrator, hang it in hand-tied bouquets, or create rosemary wreaths, which also make great air fresheners for the house.
Ways to Use Rosemary
Rosemary is a safe herb to start with if you’re interested in home-herbalism. Infuse leaves to make a soothing tea to aid headaches and colds or concentrate it in herbal syrups and tinctures. It’s known as a circulatory system stimulant so many people drink a cup of rosemary tea to improve memory and focus the mind. The theory behind this is that improved circulation means more blood and oxygen to the brain.
Rosemary is also mildly diuretic, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, can boost your immune system, and relieves stress. If you have the equipment to extract it, rosemary essential oil can help to improve skin health and stimulate hair growth and also works as an insect repellent. To get you started on ways to use rosemary, explore these ideas from Lovely Greens:
- Natural Rosemary Soap Recipe with Cambrian Blue Clay
- How to make Rosemary-infused Honey
- Lemon & Rosemary Drizzle Cupcakes
- Make a Simple Rosemary Herbal Infusion