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How to Grow Oregano

Oregano is a hardy, easy-to-grow herb that thrives in sunny, well-draining conditions. Its attractive foliage, aromatic leaves, and low-maintenance nature make it an excellent addition to herb gardens.

Oregano growing in a terracotta pot.

Growing oregano basics

Oregano (Origanum vulgare) is a perennial herb belonging to the Lamiaceae (mint) family. It is a popular culinary herb known for its aromatic leaves and slightly spicy, pungent flavor. Native to the Mediterranean region, oregano is well-suited to sunny, well-draining conditions.

Key characteristics

  • Growth Habit: Herbaceous, low-growing, and spreading
  • Stems: Square, erect, and branching, covered in fine hairs
  • Leaves: Oval, oppositely arranged, and slightly fuzzy with a green to gray-green color
  • Height: 12 to 24 inches (30 to 60 cm)
  • Flowers: Small, pink, white, or purple flowers on spikes in mid to late summer

Growing conditions

  • Climate: Perennial in USDA hardiness zones 4-10; grown as an annual in colder regions
  • Soil: Well-draining, moderately fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 8.0
  • Sunlight: Full sun, at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day
  • Watering: Drought-tolerant; water deeply but infrequently, allowing soil to dry between watering
  • Planting Time: Plant in spring after the risk of frost has passed or start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost
  • Harvesting: Harvest leaves as needed throughout the growing season; more frequent harvesting encourages bushier growth
  • Pruning: Trim plants back after flowering to maintain shape and encourage fresh growth

Common oregano varieties

There are several varieties of oregano available, each with its own unique flavor profile, growth habits, and culinary uses. Some popular oregano varieties include:

  1. Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum): This is the most common variety, known for its strong, pungent flavor and aroma. It is a staple in Mediterranean and Italian cuisine, often used in tomato sauces, pizzas, and grilled meats. Greek oregano has a compact growth habit and produces small, white flowers.
  2. Italian Oregano (Origanum x majoricum): A hybrid of sweet marjoram and Greek oregano, Italian oregano has a milder, sweeter flavor compared to Greek oregano. It is often used in Italian dishes, such as pasta sauces, and pairs well with tomatoes, garlic, and olive oil. Italian oregano has a slightly larger leaf than Greek oregano.
  3. Turkish Oregano (Origanum onites): This variety has a more pungent, sharper flavor compared to Greek oregano. It is commonly used in Turkish and Middle Eastern cuisine, often paired with meats, vegetables, and yogurt-based dips. Turkish oregano has a more upright growth habit and produces pale pink flowers.
  4. Golden Oregano (Origanum vulgare ‘Aureum’): This variety is prized for its attractive golden-green foliage, which adds a decorative touch to gardens. It has a milder flavor compared to Greek oregano and is often used as a garnish or in salads. Golden oregano has a slightly trailing growth habit.
  5. Syrian Oregano (Origanum syriacum): Also known as Lebanese oregano, this variety has a strong, intense flavor and aroma, similar to Greek oregano. It is commonly used in Middle Eastern and North African cuisine, often paired with grilled meats, vegetables, and legumes. Syrian oregano has a compact growth habit and produces white flowers.
  6. Mexican Oregano (Lippia graveolens): Despite its name, this variety is not true oregano but rather a close relative. It has a more citrusy, earthy flavor with hints of lemon and lime, making it a popular choice in Mexican and Southwestern cuisine. Mexican oregano is well-suited to hot, dry climates and has a sprawling growth habit.

Note: There are also several species of oregano that are grown primarily for their ornamental value, such as Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ and Origanum libanoticum. Choose your variety with care if you want to use the plant for cooking.

When to plant oregano

The best time to plant oregano depends on your local climate and whether you’re starting from seeds or transplants.

  • Starting from Seeds: If you choose to start oregano from seeds, you can begin the process indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last expected frost date in your area. Once the seedlings have developed several sets of true leaves and the risk of frost has passed, you can transplant them outdoors.
  • Planting Outdoors: If you are starting with seedlings or transplants, the best time to plant oregano outdoors is in the spring after the threat of frost has passed. In most regions, this typically falls between March and May. Planting at this time allows the oregano plants to establish a strong root system before the heat of summer arrives.

In mild climates (USDA zones 8 and above), you can also plant oregano in the fall, giving the plants time to establish themselves before winter. However, in colder regions, fall planting is not recommended, as the plants may not have sufficient time to develop a robust root system before the cold weather sets in.

Keep in mind that oregano is a perennial herb in USDA hardiness zones 4-10, meaning it can overwinter and regrow in subsequent years. In colder regions, oregano is often grown as an annual, and new plants will need to be started each spring.

Where to plant oregano

Climate and USDA Hardiness Zones

Oregano is a perennial herb in USDA hardiness zones 4-10. In these zones, oregano can overwinter and regrow in subsequent years.

If you live in a colder region (zones 3 and below), you can still grow oregano as an annual, replanting it each spring.

In areas with hot, humid summers, oregano may benefit from some afternoon shade to prevent stress and maintain leaf quality.

Sun exposure

Oregano grows best in full sun, requiring at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day.

Choose a location that receives ample sunlight, such as a south-facing garden bed or a sunny spot in your yard.

Adequate sun exposure helps promote strong growth, enhances the flavor of the leaves, and reduces the risk of fungal diseases.

Soil

Plant oregano in well-draining soil to prevent root rot and other moisture-related issues. The ideal soil pH range for oregano is between 6.0 and 8.0.

If you have heavy clay soil, consider amending it with sand, gravel, or organic matter to improve drainage. Alternatively, you can plant oregano in raised beds or containers filled with a well-draining potting mix.

Indoor growing

If you have limited outdoor space or live in a region with harsh winters, you can successfully grow oregano indoors.

Choose a sunny windowsill or provide supplemental grow lights to ensure the plant receives enough light.

Plant oregano in a container with drainage holes and use a well-draining potting mix to prevent waterlogging.

Propagating oregano

Oregano can be propagated through various methods, including seeds, cuttings, layering, and division. Each method has its advantages and is suitable for different situations.

Growing oregano from seeds

Sow the seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last expected frost date:

  • Use a well-draining seed-starting mix and sow the seeds on the surface, lightly covering them with a thin layer of the mix.
  • Keep the soil moist and maintain a temperature of around 60-70°F/ 15-21°C until germination occurs, which usually takes 7-14 days.
  • Once the seedlings have developed several sets of true leaves, transplant them into individual pots or cell trays and grow them until they are ready to be planted outdoors.

Growing oregano from cuttings

Propagating oregano from cuttings is a quick and reliable method to create new plants:

  • Take 4-6 inch (10-15 cm) cuttings from the tips of healthy, non-flowering stems in late spring or early summer.
  • Remove the lower leaves and dip the cut end in rooting hormone.
  • Plant the cuttings in a well-draining potting mix, keeping the soil moist but not soggy.
  • Place the cuttings in a warm, bright location out of direct sunlight until they develop roots, which typically takes 4-6 weeks.
  • Once the cuttings have rooted, transplant them into larger pots or directly into the garden.

Note: if you don’t have access to rooting hormone, starting the cuttings in water can be a more reliable method, as it allows you to easily monitor root development and helps prevent the cuttings from drying out.

Layering oregano

Layering is a simple propagation method that involves encouraging a stem to root while still attached to the parent plant:

  • In spring or early summer, select a long, flexible stem and remove the leaves from the portion that will touch the ground.
  • Gently bend the stem to the ground and secure it with a U-shaped wire or pin, covering the leafless portion with soil.
  • Keep the soil moist and leave the stem attached to the parent plant until it develops roots, which usually takes 6-8 weeks.
  • Once rooted, sever the stem from the parent plant and transplant the new plant to its permanent location.

Division

Mature oregano plants can be divided every 2-3 years to rejuvenate the plant and create new ones:

  • In early spring or fall, carefully dig up the entire plant and gently separate it into smaller sections, ensuring each division has a portion of roots and foliage.
  • Replant the divisions in well-draining soil, water them well, and keep them moist until they establish themselves.

Transplanting oregano

The best time to transplant oregano seedlings or rooted cuttings is after they have developed a strong root system and have several sets of true leaves. This usually occurs 4-8 weeks after starting the seeds or rooting the cuttings.

For seedlings started indoors, transplanting typically takes place in the spring, after the risk of frost has passed in your area. This can vary depending on your local climate but generally falls between March and May.

If you live in a region with mild winters (USDA zones 8-10), you can also transplant oregano in the fall, giving the plants enough time to establish themselves before the colder months arrive.

Hardening off

Before transplanting your oregano seedlings outdoors, it is crucial to harden them off to minimize transplant shock. Hardening off is the process of gradually acclimating the seedlings to outdoor conditions, such as temperature fluctuations, wind, and direct sunlight.

Start the hardening off process 7-14 days before the planned transplant date.

Begin by placing the seedlings outdoors in a sheltered location for a few hours each day, gradually increasing the duration and exposure to direct sunlight over the course of a week or two. This process helps the seedlings develop resilience and adapt to the outdoor environment.

Preparing the planting area

Choose a location that receives full sun and has well-draining soil. If necessary, amend the soil with organic matter, such as compost, to improve fertility and drainage.

Remove any weeds, rocks, or debris from the planting area, and loosen the soil to a depth of about 6-8 inches/ 15-20 cm using a garden fork or tiller.

This will help the roots of your oregano plants to penetrate the soil more easily and establish themselves.

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Transplanting: Once your oregano seedlings have been properly hardened off and the planting area is prepared, it’s time to transplant them.

  1. Water the seedlings thoroughly a few hours before transplanting to ensure they are well-hydrated.
  2. Dig holes in the prepared planting area that are slightly larger than the root ball of your seedlings. Space the hole 12-18 inches/ 30-45 cm apart to allow for proper air circulation and room for growth.
  3. Gently remove the seedlings from their containers, taking care to keep the root ball intact. If the seedlings are in biodegradable pots, you can plant them directly in the ground without removing the pot.
  4. Place each seedling in a planting hole, ensuring that the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface.
  5. Backfill the holes with soil, gently firming it around the base of each plant to eliminate air pockets.
  6. Water the transplanted seedlings deeply to help settle the soil around the roots and promote good root-to-soil contact.

After transplanting, continue to water your oregano plants regularly, ensuring the soil remains moist but not waterlogged.

Tip: Applying a layer of organic mulch around the plants can help retain soil moisture, suppress weed growth, and regulate soil temperature.

Oregano care and maintenance

Once your oregano plants are established, they require relatively minimal care to thrive. However, proper maintenance practices can help to ensure they thrive.

Watering

Oregano is a drought-tolerant herb that prefers well-draining soil. Water your plants deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between watering sessions. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot and other fungal diseases. During periods of extreme heat or drought, you may need to water more frequently to keep the soil from completely drying out.

Fertilizing

Oregano plants do not require heavy fertilization, as they grow best in lean, slightly nutrient-poor soil. Excessive fertilization can lead to lush foliage growth at the expense of flavor. If desired, you can apply a light application of a balanced, organic fertilizer once in early spring to support healthy growth. Alternatively, you can top-dress the soil with a thin layer of compost annually.

Pruning and harvesting

Regular pruning and harvesting help maintain the shape and vigor of your oregano plants while encouraging bushy, compact growth. Pinch or snip off the top sets of leaves as needed throughout the growing season, removing no more than one-third of the plant’s foliage at a time. This will stimulate branching and prevent the plants from becoming woody or leggy.

To harvest larger amounts of oregano for preserving, cut back the stems just above a pair of leaves, leaving at least 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) of growth intact. Harvesting is best done in the morning, after the dew has evaporated but before the heat of the day sets in.

Overwintering

In regions with cold winters (USDA zones 5-7), oregano plants may benefit from winter protection. After the first frost, cut back the stems to about 2-3 inches (5-7.5 cm) above the ground and apply a layer of mulch over the remaining plant. In zones 4 and below, consider growing oregano in containers that can be brought indoors during the winter months or treat the herb as an annual, replanting each spring.

Troubleshooting common problems

While oregano is generally a hardy and trouble-free herb, it can sometimes experience issues. Here are some common problems specific to oregano and how to address them:

Powdery mildew

Powdery mildew is a fungal disease that appears as a white, powdery coating on the leaves and stems. It thrives in warm, humid conditions with poor air circulation. Oregano, with its dense foliage, can be particularly susceptible to this issue. To manage powdery mildew:

  • Ensure your oregano plants have proper spacing and good air flow.
  • Avoid getting water on the foliage when watering, and water in the morning to allow the leaves to dry out during the day.
  • Remove and dispose of affected leaves.
  • Apply a fungicide, such as neem oil or sulfur, following the product instructions.

Spider mites

Spider mites are tiny arachnids that can infest oregano plants, particularly during hot and dry weather. They cause stippling or yellowing of the leaves and produce fine webbing. To control spider mites:

  • Regularly mist the foliage to increase humidity and dislodge the mites.
  • Use insecticidal soap or neem oil to manage infestations, following the product instructions.
  • Prune off heavily infested stems and dispose of them away from the garden.

Rust

Rust is a fungal disease that causes small, reddish-brown spots on the undersides of oregano leaves. As the disease progresses, the spots may turn yellow and drop off. Rust thrives in humid conditions with poor air circulation. To manage rust:

  • Ensure proper spacing between plants to promote good air flow.
  • Avoid overhead watering, and water in the morning to allow the foliage to dry out during the day.
  • Remove and dispose of affected leaves.
  • Apply a fungicide, following the product instructions, if the problem persists.

Leafhoppers

Leafhoppers are small, fast-moving insects that can feed on oregano leaves, causing white stippling or yellowing. They are more common in hot, dry conditions. To control leafhoppers:

  • Encourage natural predators, such as ladybugs or lacewings, which feed on leafhoppers.
  • Use insecticidal soap or neem oil to manage infestations, following the product instructions.
  • Use row covers to prevent leafhoppers from accessing the plants.