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Growing Rosemary by Stephanie Suesan Smith, Ph.D.


Rosemary is often used when cooking poultry. In Europe it is often used with lamb. In addition, it is often included in products for the hair and face. It has astringent properties as well as antiseptic ones. Rosemary is also used as a symbol of loyalty and ceremony. This is where the adage, "rosemary for remembrance" comes from.

Rosemary can be pruned to look like a miniature Christmas tree and has the advantage of not dropping needles all over the place. People who do topiary or bonsai use a lot of rosemary. The trimmed stems can be used as skewers for grilling.

For all its' versatility, rosemary is cranky to start from seed. Regular rosemary, R. officinalis, is available from seed catalogs. The germination rate is very low. It takes a long time to germinate when it grows. A packet of seeds may have several different types of rosemary.

If you are adventurous, you need to start the seeds three months or so before you want to use any of the rosemary. Take a flat of damp soil, scatter the seed lightly over it, and just press the seed enough to make sure it has good contact with the soil. Do not cover it.

Cover the flat with clear plastic and place it in a cool area until the seeds germinate. It may take the seeds two or three weeks to come up. Then place them in a warm spot in full sun. Take off the plastic when you move them. A few seeds may germinate after the move.

If this sounds like more trouble than it is worth, you can buy plants at your local nursery. You will want to get them there so that you can see them and choose one you like. Place in a 3 gallon pot or in the ground in the sun.

Rosemary is a woody perennial and won't live outside past Zone 6. If you live further north, plant your rosemary in the 3 gallon pot so you can bring it in each winter. It will take a couple of years for the plant to be strong enough for regular cuttings. Take care in cutting rosemary that you never cut more than half the plant and that there are green leaves on the stems you leave. Otherwise the plant will die.

You can cut the stems and use them as sprigs, or strip the leaves off. The leaves can be dried and the stems will work as skewers. The flowers are pretty and edible, but attract aphids and other pests. Sooty mold can move in, feeding on the honey dew secreted by the aphids. Lady Beetles will help eat the aphids.

If the plants become crowded, they can become more vulnerable to fungal diseases. Downy and powdery mildews are common problems. Keeping the plants pruned so they have plenty of air circulation helps. Watering from the bottom so the leaves do not get wet is also important.

Rosemary is a very versatile plant. With some care, you can grow it yourself and have fresh herbs for your kitchen.


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When a tree, or any plant for that matter, has to compete for water, food and nutrients, it can place extra stress on it.

Try and keep the area under trees and plants weed free. They will grow faster, and healthier.

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