Plant of the Week – Rosemary

Rosmarinus officinalis

Plant of the Week - ROsemary
Rosemary growing in a container in the author’s landscape

Our Plant of the Week – Rosemary is such a versatile plant.  It is a mainstay in the culinary side of the equation as an herb and seasoning, and it serves equally well in the landscape.  It has some many wonderful qualities that I can’t imagine not having rosemary somewhere in my landscape and garden.

Habits

One of the few herbs that are considered evergreen, rosemary can be cultivated as a small shrub in the landscape, making it ideal as the anchor point of an herb garden.  Even in West Texas where we can get some brutal cold spells, we cultivate rosemary as a perennial.  Severe cold weather may cold burn some of the branch tips, but some judicial pruning will return it to good health when spring arrives. 

Pruning will allow you to sculpt your rosemary into an attractive small shrub growing from 1 to 5 feet in height and about 4 feet in diameter.  We try to keep rosemary growing near the approach to our front door.  Not only is it visually attractive, but just a touch of the leaves releases an aromatic wave. 

Planting

The best way to establish rosemary in your landscape is to buy organically grown plants from a reputable nursery or garden center.  If you have friends who have organically grown rosemary, you can start plants from cuttings successfully.  Starting rosemary can be done from seeds, but it is difficult.

Culture

Creeping or Weeping ROsemary
Creeping or Weeping Rosemary growing over a garden wall

Most rosemary varieties are upright growers that tend toward being small shrubs.  However, some varieties will creep and serves well as a small space ground cover.  Edible leaves are the newest ones that grow near the tips of fresh growth.  Flowers will tend to be blue, pink, or white and are fragrant.  Rosemary will bloom in the winter until a hard freeze burns them off. 

Rosemary likes full sun but will tolerate partial shade.  Keep your rosemary well watered but make sure that your soil drains promptly.  Rosemary doesn’t like wet soggy ground or wet roots. 

Pests and diseases

When growing rosemary as a perennial, the most common problem is freeze damage.  Rosemary can also be susceptible to spider mites.  Good drainage is a must.  Rosemary will not tolerate soggy ground.  The root structure of Rosemary is, in some ways delicate.  Water slowly to allow moisture to infiltrate and then drain away.  Mulch your rosemary heavily to help keep soil moisture where it needs to be.  Twice a year, it is a good idea to dust corn gluten meal around the base of your rosemary to help deter root diseases. 

Feeding

Rosemary in bloom

As with all of our landscape and garden plants, we suggest that you only use compost tea fortified with molasses, worm castings and, occasionally, kelp or fish emulsion.  You can foliar feed with compost tea or use the tea straight as a drench.   The compost tea helps the soil as much as the plant, and if you are growing rosemary in containers, this becomes doubly important.

Culinary uses

Use rosemary when cooking beef, wild game, pork, or any other red meat.  Use the dried form of the herb in bread, vinegar, or butter.   Rosemary makes a delicious tea. 

Rosemary bunched for culinary use or drying
ROsemary bunched for culinary use or for drying

To use fresh rosemary, harvest the foliage and flowers anytime, getting the youngest and tenderest leaves where possible.  If you need to store your rosemary, it can be dried or dehydrated and stored in an airtight container.

Medicinal uses

Rosemary has many medicinal uses in herbal medicine.  It is used as an antiseptic, a memory stimulator, to help soothe digestive issues and is said to be a factor in longevity.  Compresses made with rosemary are often prescribed for headaches.  Essentials oil extracts of rosemary are popular for many other uses.

Other uses.

Rosemary flowers are excellent attractors of pollinators and birds.  Because of its antibacterial properties, rosemary baths are used to help repel fleas on dogs and to treat skin disorders. 

Every garden and landscape should include rosemary.  It is a visual and sensory treat in the garden and an essential culinary herb.  If you have never cooked with fresh rosemary, depending on the dried grocery store offerings, you are in for such a surprise.  Easy to grow, shade, and soil tolerant, anyone can be successful with rosemary with just a little care.

For more information on herbs in your landscape, edible landscaping ideas and organic gardening tips, visit our website at westtexasorganicgardening.com.