How to Grow Oregano Herb from Seed
- Scientific Name: Genus Origanum
- Hardiness Zone: Annual, Perennial Zones 5-9
- Days to Harvest: 50-60 days (from date of transplanting)
- Days to Maturity: 2nd Year
- Days to Germination: 7-14
- Seeding Depth: ¼”
- Plant Width: 12-18"
- Plant Height: 12-24"
- Growth Habit: Low-growing and trailing shrub
- Soil Preference: Average, dry, well-drained
- Temp Preference: Warmer, 65-75°F
- Light Preference: Full sun
- Pests/Diseases: Susceptible to rot and mildew in overly moist, heavy, and poorly drained soil. Oregano does not have too many pests or insects and is generally seeded in the garden to help minimize pests.
- Availability: See All Oregano Varieties
Oregano delivers one of the more zesty, peppery, and aromatic herbs in the beloved mint family while thriving in drought and poor soils with a lifespan up to 6 years. And like many species from the Lamiaceae family such as mint and balm, oregano produces a rhizome root system which is responsible for making the genus Origanum fairly invasive and hard to kill. Once established, oregano will readily reseed itself and stay in your garden for as long as you’ll have it around. Weed-like and hardy after its first overwintering, oregano is commonly known as a ‘wild marjoram’ for having a woodier, earthier habit and flavor than true marjoram. Oregano thrives when grown in tandem with the other woody perennial herbs lavender, rosemary, sage, and thyme. Although oregano seeds are extremely small and may be difficult to handle, they are a very tenacious seed known to germinate as early as 4-5 days. Oregano seeds are so hardy that they may be sown directly in the garden or started early for transplanting.
How to Grow Oregano from Seed
- No cold stratification needed
- Cover with no more than ¼” soil
- Keep soil warm during slow germination
A small perennial seed similar to lavender and rosemary, oregano does not require the same period of cold stratification to enhance germination. Many herb and ornamental seeds are dependent on an artificial frost, or cold stratification, to simulate the winter that most seeds would naturally experience if propagated in the wild. Although cold storage is widely popular to store many seeds, oregano is hardy enough without it and known to sprout as early as 5 days. Oregano sprouts are about as small as their seeds and have a very similar sprouting habit to both mint and thyme.
Oregano is a full sun herb best started indoors in early spring. For earliest starts, begin indoors 8-10 weeks prior to your final regional frost. Loosely plant 5-6 seeds per cell or per square inch and mist heavily before placing in full sun. Oregano seeds are best sown with a thin layer of soil no more than ¼” deep, ideally less, and kept warm under a humidity tray. Unlike other perennial herbs, oregano seeds germinate in just 7-14 days with full sunlight. Thin out and transplant your best starts once oregano seedlings have reached about 6” tall, transplanting one start per pot or 12-18” in the garden in full sun. Oregano thrives both indoors and out with full sun and, once established, can be easily propagated by cuttings for clones. Regardless of type and cultivar, oregano is tolerant to drought, erosion, and poor rocky soils.
Oregano is one of the many garden herbs which prefers dry, rocky, shallow, and poor soils. The genus Origanum is home to more than four dozen cultivars of oregano and each one requires the same arid and challenging conditions. Low-maintenance herbs such as oregano are a staple for xeriscaped gardens, container gardening, and grow spaces where other ornamentals traditionally do not perform. Oregano is a choice crop for pots, planters, and containers because they provide plants reliable and through drainage, keep roots free from needless saturation. Regardless of cultivar, all 50+ varieties of genus Origanum are susceptible to root rot and mold in poorly drained and poorly ventilated grow soils. Herbs such as oregano that are harvested for leaves should not be given too much fertilizer, if any at all. Although an early composting or fertilizing will help establish new transplants, continuous fertilizing throughout the season will reduce flavor and fragrance in an otherwise large and healthy oregano plant. Most types of oregano are found to thrive in soils with a pH of 6.5-7.0.
- Less is more
- Drought tolerant
- Allow soil to dry between waterings
The greatest threat to any perennial plant is overwatering, as oregano is highly susceptible to both root rot and mold in consistently wet and saturated soils. Like many Mediterranean herbs, oregano is said to thrive from neglect since too much water is always worse than not enough water. Most gardeners will tell you from experience that under-watered plants can easily be saved while over-watered plants generally are not. Allow oregano soil to dry between waterings and always check beneath the topsoil to be sure that it is truly dehydrated rather than just the top layer drying out in the sun.
Is Oregano A Perennial?
Yes. Oregano is one of the beloved woody perennials along with lavender, rosemary, sage, and thyme that undergoes a winter dormancy in zones 5-9 only to come back in the spring and continue vegetative growth. Most plants like oregano that boast a thick and tenacious rhizome root system are notorious hard-to-kill invasive perennials that will easily reseed and stay in the garden for as long as you’ll allow it. Oregano is known to tolerate a minimum temperature of about 45°F before it will begin its dormancy but, if you live in a region that experiences winters 45-60°F, then you can expect year-round oregano growth. In more temperate regions, oregano is best pruned back in late summer or early fall for most optimal growth. Gardeners in colder grow zones typically allow their oregano to remain overgrown through the winter for maximum protection, only to be pruned back in the spring to allow for a new season of growth.
Oregano in Winter
- Dormant in freezing winters
- Frost hardy to 10-20°F
- Prune back in early spring
Oregano has a lifespan of about 6 years which can be maximized through proper wintering techniques. Oregano grown in zone 5-9 approximately will naturally go dormant for the winter, pausing vegetative growth until the spring warmth returns. If allowing oregano to go dormant through the winter, be sure not to prune plants too heavily in the summer or fall, risking cutting off too much growth to provide adequate protection throughout the frost. Regardless of hardiness zone, oregano grown in moveable pots and containers may be easily brought indoors to overwinter while maintaining at least 6 hours of sun per day.
Growing Oregano in Pots
Oregano is a choice herb for container gardening because it thrives from the thorough and reliable drainage offered by pots and planters. Although oregano is widely compared to mint in terms of tenacity and spreading habits, oregano is strikingly different from mint because it flourishes in arid, rocky, and poor soils while mint requires consistently moist conditions, difficult to meet when grown in a pot. Oregano is arguably best planted in moveable containers because it allows for the easy movement of plants so to best track full sunlight throughout the season. While there are several different types of oregano each with their preferred size of pot or container, it is recommended to give each oregano plant their own 12” deep planter to best accommodate for their bulky rhizome root structure. Some like Golden oregano thrive in smaller, more shallow pots while others such as Mexican oregano require the full 12” planter.
How to Care for Oregano Plants in Pots
- Naturally thrives in pots
- Overwatering is the greatest threat
- Try terra cotta pots for best drainage
If intending to cultivate oregano in pots or planters, be sure to read our sections above for Oregano Soil and Watering Oregano. As mentioned, overwatering is usually the greatest threat to growing oregano and potting soil should always be allowed to thoroughly dehydrate between waterings. Since pots are convenient and moveable, be sure to always provide oregano with maximum sunlight by moving it around the yard or indoors throughout the day, season, and year. If having trouble with oversaturation, try a terra cotta pot for optimal drainage.
Growing Oregano Indoors
Grown in nearly the same exact conditions as thyme and lavender, oregano is a choice herb for growing indoors, or at least overwintering inside until the spring warmth. During the growing season, Origanum vulgare prefers an even 65-70°F similar to its native Mediterranean habitat, conditions that are easily met by the benefits of indoor climate control. Oregano thrives in as much full sun as possible and, if grown indoors, will always perform best with at least 8 hours in a sunny north-facing window. Oregano grown indoors will likely be maintained in a convenient and portable container which always helps to keep it in optimal full sun for as long as possible. Although helpful in seed germination, even the best full spectrum indoor grow lights will never substitute direct sunlight. If growing for culinary use, be sure to rarely, if ever fertilize indoor plants because it will compromise flavor. Varieties grown strictly as ornamentals can be given a regular fertilizing to help boost more vegetative growth.
Pruning your oregano is one of the best ways to guarantee a healthy plant while nearly doubling growth to help it reach its 5-6 year potential. Pruning is often likened to giving a plant a haircut; without a proper cut the hair can’t grow its healthiest or best. Except that pruning herbs is much easier and only requires a few intelligible cuts to ensure your oregano produces the most tender and aromatic greens possible. Pruning also helps keep your stems less woody, allowing fresh tender development to replace older growth. If you have any experience with pruning basil or mint then that should be enough to give you the confidence to prune oregano. If not, follow these simple tips to get you started. Once established, oregano is tenacious, fast to grow, and even the bushiest and most untamed oregano plants can get hacked back down to an attractive and more manageable shrub.
When to Prune Oregano
- After winter dormancy
- Throughout season as needed
- Late summer in regions with warm winters
Climate, hardiness zones, and specific cultivar will determine how often oregano must be pruned. The first trim of the season is likely to happen in early spring after all threat of frost has passed and the oregano plant is no longer dormant. Members of genus Origanum left to winter outdoors should always be pruned in the spring to rid it of its protective woody growth while helping to promote new, tender stems for the warm season. Growers in warmer hardiness zones are free to prune oregano as needed to keep up with fast seasonal growth. Many gardeners will take the opportunity to both harvest and prune their herbs all from the same cuttings, ensuring that nothing is wasted from either process. If growing in cooler northern climates, do not prune oregano in late summer or fall, potentially risking pruning off too much growth to sustain it for freezing winter conditions.
How to Prune Oregano
- Prune about ⅓ of green growth
- No more than 20% of total plant
- Do not prune down to bare stems
Depending on the size and age of your oregano plant, pruning directions will adjust. Younger plants that have yet to develop a woody base can be pruned down to nearly 80% from the original size, while larger plants should only be pruned of about 20% of their tender new stems, never the wooded base. Using garden shears or scissors, simply give your oregano plant a “haircut” to evenly round and shape it, being sure to only ever clip from the softer newer growth. Pruning is only difficult the first time you do it.
Along with other woody perennial herbs lavender, rosemary, and sage, all 50+ species of the genus Origanum are easily propagated and cloned from cuttings. Propagating oregano from mature cuttings is simple and widely preferred to starting plants from seed. If you have any experience with growing just one herb from cuttings, then that should be enough for you to confidently try oregano from a cutting. When cloning and propagating herbs from established and store bought plants, you inevitably limit your selection because most nurseries will only carry one or two of the most common varieties of each herb. To truly experience the diversity of oregano, we invite you to try propagating from both seed and cuttings to ensure that your thumb is the greenest! Grow on your favorite oregano plant as a perennial, supplying 5-6 years worth of fresh cuttings to ensure your plant can be propagated and remain in the garden for many more years to come.
How to Grow Oregano from Cuttings
1. Depending on size and age of the plant, an ideal selection for oregano propagation is to cut the top 5-8” of a fresh young stem with plenty of soft green and no signs of flowering.
2. Take the clipping and strip about half of it bare of its leaves. Most soft cuttings should be about 5-8” long, stripping exactly half of the sprig for rooting.
3. The final step of propagating oregano from cuttings allows for two different methods to root the new cutting. The simplest method simply has you plant the bare end of the cutting into soil, allowing the remaining leaves to collect light for establishing new root structure. However, some gardeners prefer to root oregano cuttings in a glass of water by saturating the stem up to its leaves. Once roots are established in 3-4 weeks, the oregano clone can be safely transplanted to soil.
4. If propagating oregano hydroponically in a glass of water, be sure to change out for fresh water and a new glass every 5-7 days to avoid mold. If propagating oregano cuttings directly into soil, rooting hormones and gels are popularly used to incite growth, but are not required.
Oregano Companion Planting
Oregano is often grown in the garden bed alongside other Mediterranean favorites such as rosemary, sage, and thyme because they all share similar growing conditions while providing some relief from various garden pests. While many of these fragrant, pungent herbs are planted in the garden for culinary use and harvesting, they are also widely believed to help minimize some of the smallest and troublesome insects. The terpenes and chemical compounds responsible for their unmistakable aromas are the same chemicals believed to also function as a natural pesticide, which are extracted and commercially sold as organic insecticide. Although sometimes grown to help minimize pests, oregano is also one of the most pollinator-friendly herbs when allowed to flower, providing a season’s worth of blooms to beneficial insects and pollinators. Herbs are generally harvested and pruned before flowering and, because of such rarity, are known to attract a greater diversity of pollinators than many annual ornamental favorites.
Similar to nasturtium and borage, oregano grows very edible and delicious flowers that serve as both a garnish and culinary delight. While oregano leaves are far more robust in flavor, the much more delicate blooms boast a far more subtle and sophisticated iteration of oregano. Oregano is not traditionally considered a fresh cut flower in the floral industry despite producing somewhat similar blooms to statice or Forget-Me-Nots. Bunches of ¼” softer lavender blooms, oregano has a nearly identical blooming habit to thyme and makes an ideal addition to any garden bed or walkway. Although herbal plants are not popularly permitted to flower since it will cause plants to become woodier and less palatable, flowering herbs are guaranteed to attract all sorts of essential insects and pollinators to the summer garden.
Herbs are always best harvested before the plant has produced flowers and gone to seed. Even with leafy greens and garden lettuce, delicious and tender vegetative greens become far too bitter and fibrous for culinary use once the plant has flowered. Individual stems and sprigs may still be harvested as long as those particular stems are without any flowering. Oregano can be harvested as early as 50-60 days from transplanting, guaranteeing the youngest, most flavorful, and tender leaves possible. Harvesting from established oregano plants will require a more scrupulous eye to differentiate the woodier, more mature sprigs from the new and aromatic growth preferred for culinary use. Unlike garden fruits and vegetables which have specific harvesting windows, herbs generally do not have any type of limiting harvest dates and are free for harvest as long as the plant hasn’t flowered. Harvesting and pruning often will keep oregano from expending all of its energy on seed and flower production as opposed to herbal leaves.
When to Harvest Oregano
- Year-round as needed
- Spring and summer in cool regions
- Prune, propagate, and harvest together
How to Harvest Oregano
- Use scissors or shears, never pull
- Harvest the top ⅓ of non-flowering stems
- Same as pruning, cut above the woody base
As mentioned, harvesting and pruning herbs are almost always done in tandem because they rely on the same exact cuttings from the same tender growth. Whether pruning or harvesting, always choose cuttings from the more green and tender stems and never from the tough, woody base where growth has ceased. If only needing a sparing amount, then leaves may be individually clipped from the most tender stems. If intending to dry, choose the size and length of clippings based on the dehydrating method you choose.
Oregano is among the easiest herbs to dry and can be easily done so in one of three popular ways. When drying oregano, it’s always recommended to use fresh homegrown herbs rather than store bought plants because they were likely treated with chemicals before reaching the store, whereas homegrown herbs can be guaranteed organic. Dried oregano is a preferred herb for countless tomato-based and olive oil heavy dishes and, if drying to add to your own spice rack, be sure to harvest and dehydrate Greek oregano which is widely considered to be the premier cultivar of oregano. Drying oregano is only intimidating the first time you try and, after that, you’ll be drying a dozen herbs or more at once, knowing that basically all herbs harvest and dry the same. Herbs such as oregano are highly susceptible to mold and leaf discoloration if not dried in a dark, cool, and well-ventilated space.
How to Dry Oregano
Hang Dry: Cut about 5-8” of newest growth per stem and then bundle together. While larger plants will yield longer stems, still harvest just the tips for best flavor. Hang the oregano bundle upside down in a dry, cool, and well-ventilated area for 7-21 days until soft leaves are brittle and no longer pliable.
Oven Dry: Oregano can be easily placed on a baking sheet and dehydrated in a convection oven at 160° F for 20-30 minutes or until leaves and stems are brittle. Open the oven door every 5 minutes to vent some heat. After 20-30 minutes, turn off the oven and allow oregano leaves to remain in the oven for another 30 minutes, leaving the oven door open to cool.
Food Dehydrator: Herbs, fruits, and flowers are ideal for countertop food dehydrators for reliable and thorough drying. Food dehydrators feature step-by-step instructions for herbs and is the preferred method for many cooks and home gardeners. Many herbs such as oregano should only take about 2 hours in any household food dehydrator.
Types of Oregano
The oregano genus Origanum is host to about 50+ different cultivars of oregano even including varieties of marjoram (Origanum majorana). The word "oregano" can be a fairly loose term and is often used to label species that share similar properties but are not true oregano such as Cuban oregano (Coleus amboinicus) and Mexican oregano (Lippia graveolens). As mentioned above, store bought oregano will often only ever be sold in either Italian or Greek varieties and any hopes of growing more exotic cultivars are solely left to the devices of the home gardener. Regardless of variety, you can expect all members of oregano to rely on the same soil, pruning, and growing requirements.
Italian Oregano: (Origanum vulgare) - Widely regarded as the most preferred cultivar of sage for its flavor, aroma, and tenderness, common sage is the variety you can expect to find in grocery stores, nurseries, and greenhouses throughout the country. Salvia officinalis is the culinary standard for dried spices and herb blends and is so prevalent that it is just simply referred to as “sage”.
Greek Oregano: (Origanum heracleoticum) - Greek oregano is exclusively grown to create spice blends for culinary use. Greek oregano grows just as tenacious as the Italian variety, yet boasts more flavorful and herbal leaves, the preferred choice for cooking and seasoning.
Benefits of Oregano
Similar to thyme extract, oregano oil is a well-known antibacterial boasting both carvacrol and thymol, two phytonutrients found to help combat numerous types of bacterial and fungal infections. Thymol is also a well-known antiseptic that has been popularly used in several commercial brands of mouthwash including Listerine, and is still the active antimicrobial in Johnson & Johnson’s toothpaste brand Euthymol. Pure oregano oil can still be applied as a topical and all-purpose disinfectant. And, as mentioned above, the same beneficial and fragrant oils used in antiseptics are believed to be responsible for warding off pests and insects from the garden as an essential companion plant to broccoli, cabbage, and even grapes.
Brewed oregano tea offers all the same relaxing and herbal benefits while making the oregano leaf more palatable and digestible. Dried oregano leaves pair well with sage, lavender, rosemary, and chamomile and always goes great with a touch of honey. Be sure to properly strain oregano leaves to keep tea from becoming bitter and fibrous.
How to Make Oregano Tea
1. Using any type of tea infuser, satchel, or tea bag, add about 4 tsp of dried oregano to every 8 oz of boiled water.
2. Allow oregano to steep for about ten minutes. Done!