Meaning “joy/delight of the mountain” in Ancient Greek, oregano is a wonderfully fragrant herb used to season a variety of dishes. Pizza, soups, sausages and meat all benefit from the tasty flavor of oregano. It’s also full of healthy antioxidants.
To help ensure your Oregano thrives, we’ve put together this how-to video and transcript covering topics like:
Glossary of Oregano terms
Varieties of Oregano available
Starting your Oregano seeds
Caring for Oregano at all stages
Fertilizer and/or Mulching
Transplanting best practices
Companion Plants do’s and don’ts
Common challenges and Their Solutions
Pests, Diseases and what to do about them
Harvesting and storing your Oregano
Glossary of oregano terms
Before we get started, let’s learn a little bit about oregano.
When you breed a plant by taking a part from an older plant. To propagate oregano, you can either take cuttings from the parent plant, or you can divide the parent plant into smaller ones.
A plant with a growing cycle longer than one year. Oregano is typically a perennial that lasts and continues to grow for multiple years, though in northern climates it’s known to grow as an annual plant.
Oregano is a plant that re-grows after you harvest its leaves, providing you don’t take too much top-growth. In fact, oregano requires clipping/harvesting to encourage new and continual growth.
Varieties of Oregano
There are a few main types of oregano for you to choose from.
The kind most typically sold in the grocery store, it has green, fuzzy leaves, produces white flowers, and has a strong flavor. Greek oregano is also less aggressive in the garden and doesn’t take over as much as other varieties do.
This variety is not as hardy as others, but grows as a perennial in warm, southern climates. It grows as a woody shrub and has a strong aroma and flavor, making it a staple spice in many dishes.
This variety is crossed with Marjoram, and couples its mild sweet flavor with the sharper taste of Greek Oregano. Italian Oregano grows in upright bushes with green leaves and produces off-white flowers. This variety is does not reproduce on its own, so it has to be propagated from cuttings or plant divisions.
Starting your Oregano seeds
Oregano prefers direct sun, and grows best when it’s transplanted. It also prefers well-draining soil with a pH around 6.5 to 7.0.
Oregano’s ideal soil temperature in order to germinate is between 72-77°F (22-25°C). It can tolerate air temperatures as low as 59°F (15°C), but it can withstand nighttime temperatures of 46°F (8°C).
On the other end of the spectrum, oregano can tolerate air temperatures as high as 86°F (30°C).
When it comes time for sowing, keep in mind that oregano seeds are very small and need sunlight to germinate. Evenly scatter the seeds in your indoor starting pots or trays over moistened soil, making sure not to bury them (remember, they need light.).
Once your seedlings have emerged, place them by a window that gets plenty of light.
Caring for oregano
In this section, we’ll cover everything you need to know about soil preparation, watering and thinning, plus fertilizer and mulching best practices.
We’ll also talk transplanting, companion planting, and your growing structure options.
Oregano can spread pretty fast – so it should either be planted in a spot that’s out of the way of your other crops, or grown in containers.
It needs to get lots of sun, and its soil should be well- draining, fertile and have moderate water retention.
Turn over your soil to a depth of 8 inches (20 cm), and add organic matter to improve its drainage. Finally, level off the surface and remove any debris and/or rocks.
Be mindful that overwatering your oregano can cause root rot. On average, it needs about 1 inch (2.5 cm) of rain per week.
Keep the soil moist (but not wet.) during germination. Then, you’ll want to monitor your soil closely and only water your oregano when it’s dry to the touch.
THINNING & TRIMMING
If you choose to directly sow your seeds, thin your plants to 10-12 inches apart when they have at least 3 sets of true leaves.
Keep in mind that if you follow the recommended process of starting your seeds indoors to transplant, this step isn’t necessary.
In northern climates, oregano grows as an annual crop outdoors.
After your plants set their flowers in autumn, you’ll want to cut them 2.5 inches (6 cm) from the ground to prevent them becoming scraggily and spreading more than you’d like.
PROPAGATING & CUTTINGS
You’ll want to propagate oregano in the late summer/early fall after you harvest. Just make sure it’s done before you trim your plant down for the winter.
Take some stem cuttings that are 2.5-5-inches (7-12 cm) from your already established oregano plant.
Remove the leaves from the bottom half of each stem, then place them in a jar of water, making sure that all the leaves are sitting above the water line. Then, stick that jar or container in a window that gets a lot of light, but little direct sunlight.
Make sure you change the water every few days. Once the new roots are about an inch long, you can transplant the little seedlings into small pots or trays with soil.
First, trim the outer edges of your oregano plant. When the soil is still warm, use a large spade to carefully lift the entire root ball.
Divide the plant into your desired smaller sizes, either with garden forks or by hand.
Get rid of any old, unhealthy sections of the plant, then prepare another spot in your bed or get containers ready for your divided plants.
FERTILIZING AND/OR MULCHING
Oregano doesn’t actually need much fertilization.
Excess nutrients like nitrogen can change the flavor of oregano, so fertilization should be kept to a minimum.
Once your seedlings are 3-4 weeks old, boost their soil using a half-strength complete houseplant fertilizer.
Just be sure to follow the instructions on the packaging for application best practices.
You can apply a 1-2-inch (2.5-5 cm) layer of mulch after transplanting, which will improve moisture retention and keep weed competition to a minimum.
Use an organic mulch like grass clippings, straw, or leaves, and be sure to keep the mulch away from the stem/base of your plants to avoid rotting diseases.
TRANSPLANTING BEST PRACTICES
You can transplant your oregano about 6-10 weeks after seeding indoors.
If you’re transplanting to an outdoor garden bed, your seedlings will first need to be hardened- off.
This gets them used to their new, harsher conditions outdoors. At least one week before you transplant, move your seedlings outside to a sheltered spot where they’ll be protected from wind, rain and direct sun.
Adjust their position each day so that they’re slowly getting exposed to the direct sun.
If there’s any threat of overnight frost, bring your seedlings indoors for the night, then take them back outside in the morning.
Once they’re hardened-off, space your transplants 10-12 inches apart (25-30 cm), digging holes just deep enough to contain the root ball. Water these holes to soak the soil.
Then, loosen the root ball of your transplant(s) and carefully set your plant in its water-soaked hole. Bring the loose soil around your transplant and lightly firm it.
GROWING STRUCTURE OPTIONS
Oregano can be grown with little fuss. It grows well indoors as well as outdoors from transplants.
Most commonly, though, it’s grown in containers or raised beds to help contain it, since certain varieties are known to spread. Keep the required 10-12 inch (25-30 cm) spacing in mind when choosing a container, as you may be able to only fit one plant per pot.
If you start your seeds in small cells, you may need to transplant your seedlings into 4-inch pots before transplanting outdoors, to allow them more time to establish a good root system.
COMPANION PLANTS DO’S AND DON’TS
Plant your oregano with bell peppers, hot peppers, and scarlet runner beans. Also, basil is very aromatic and repels common pests of oregano, making them great companions.
Great news: there are no plants that negatively impact the growth of oregano, or vice versa.
Common challenges and their solutions
There are a few pests and diseases that can potentially harm your oregano. Not to worry – we’ve outlined them below, plus how to either avoid or fix the problem.
These pests can be a light green, red, black, or light orange. Aphids suck the sap out of the undersides of plants and are known to spread diseases. As they feed on leaves, they leave a trail of sticky residue behind that attracts other pests.
Solution: Control aphids by attracting natural predatory insects like lady beetles or wasps.
You can also get rid of them by spraying your plant leaves with a strong stream of water. This should be done early in the morning so that your plants can dry off during the day.
Insecticidal soaps can also be a helpful solution.
These worms feed on seedlings, cutting them at the soil line.
Solution: Keep weeds out of your garden bed or containers, especially while your plants are still young.
You can also try cutting off the bottoms of paper coffee cups, creating a type of collar which you can then place around the base of each plant to protect it.
Small black flies with yellow markings, which first start out as yellow maggots. Leafminers don’t typically kill plants, but they feed on their leaves, leaving behind a trail of erratic lines.
Solution: Monitor your plants and pick off any damaged leaves.
These pests are light yellow to brown in color and are known to spread viral diseases. Thrips damage leaves, distorting them and leaving black fecal spots behind.
Solution: Where possible, use reflective plastic mulches to fight against thrips.
These insects can be red, brown, black, or yellow. They’re tiny, and feed on plant leaves while spitting out toxins, causing white spots to appear. Eventually, leaves can turn yellow and dehydrate.
Solution: Use strong streams of water (like from a garden hose) every other day to wash the mites off your plants. You can also use insecticidal soaps to get rid of them.
This is a threat especially if you’re starting your oregano from seed. Damping off is caused by a fungus in the soil, usually when conditions are too damp. Seedlings will emerge healthy and then die suddenly with little to no warning.
Solution: This disease can also tell you that there’s too much nitrogen in the soil – so make sure not to over-fertilize (young) plants.
Tiny, raised spots will appear on the underside of leaves and will eventually turn reddish/brown in color.
Solution: Avoid overhead watering.
You can use a drip irrigation system, or you can focus your water stream on the soil rather than on the leaves of your plants.
It’s also important to water early in the day, to avoid having damp soil and plants overnight.
A disease that causes spotting on leaves, while the stems appear to be water-soaked.
This disease is caused by a fungus that grows on the surface of leaves in humid conditions. Leaves will start to appear greyish and might also curl inward.
Leaves will start to turn yellow around their edges, which can then spread inward toward the veins of the leaves. Eventually, they can wilt and die.
HOW TO AVOID DISEASE
First, rotate your crops so that you’re not planting members of the same family in the same spot year after year – in general, a three-year rotation is a good place to start.
Also, you’ll want to make sure you’re following recommended spacing guidelines, since air circulation and ventilation is important for avoiding a lot of diseases.
Do not over-fertilize or over-water your plants either. When you do water your oregano, do so in the morning to give your plants time to dry off during the day. And if you plan to grow your oregano in containers, make sure to sterilize them first before planting.
Rotate your crops to help avoid disease - in general, a 3-year crop rotation is a great way to start.
Harvesting and storing
Oregano is best when harvested just before it sets flowers, but small cuttings can be taken once your plant is about 6 inches tall.
Later in the season, as much as one third of top growth of a vigorous plant can be harvested at a time.
Just be sure to allow enough time for regrowth before harvesting again. It’s also best to harvest early in the day on a sunny morning, when your plants are dry.
Oregano needs to be dried before it’s stored. Simply tie the stems of harvested leaves together, then hang them in a dry place out of reach from the sun.
You can also lay the leaves out on clean dry cheesecloth or on a window screen. Then, let them dry in a shaded and dry spot.
A third option is to dry your oregano in the oven using the lowest setting for 2-3 hours. While it’s in there, leave the oven door just slightly ajar.
Once dehydrated, pulverize your oregano and then store it in a sealed jar in a dry, dark cupboard.
For fresh use, strip the leaves off the stem and chop to use immediately, or keep refrigerated to use in the very near future (it won’t keep for very long).
Oregano can also be frozen using water or vegetable oil in ice cube trays.