Rosemary is a favorite among gardeners, but it’s also a plant that is a struggle to care for. We decided to reach out to the author of The Modern Plant Parent and store owner of Wesleaf, Weslie Etienne Pierre, to get expert advice on how to take care of rosemary.
Rosemary has a lot of versatility. “You can plant it in a pot (preferably terracotta for increased oxygen) or in the ground and live indoors or outside,” shares Weslie Pierre with House Beautiful. And you might be surprised to learn rosemary thrives in bright and dry areas. “It needs a bright full sun and no shade. Plant it away from trees and if indoors south facing windows with full access to the sky.” A lot of people run into issues by over-watering rosemary. It only needs water every other week or until the soil is dry.
Find out everything you need to know to grow rosemary with a step-by-step guide and expert tips along the way.
Rosemary is a Perrenial
With its pleasant, piney scent and handsome dark green foliage with silvery-green undersides, rosemary is a must-have for any and every garden. As a member of the mint family, rosemary (Rosmarinus Officinalis) comes in both upright and creeping varieties, and it’s super-easy to grow. Small purple-blue, pink, or white flowers appear clustered along the branches in late spring to early summer. It grows equally well in garden beds or in pots on your deck, patio, or balcony.
Native to the Mediterranean, rosemary is drought tolerant once established. In zones eight and warmer (find your zone here), it’s a perennial evergreen shrub that can reach up to six feet tall and four feet wide, depending on the variety. In colder parts of the country, you can bring your rosemary indoors for winter before nighttime temperatures drop into the forties. Pierre advises, “plant rosemary after the last frost, even wait an extra week to be on the safe side.”
How to Grow and Care for Rosemary
Rosemary can be grown from seed (if you have lots of patience because germination is iffy and can take up to a month!) but it’s easier to purchase a small plant, which will grow quickly, especially under the right conditions.
Exposure and Weather Preferences
For starters, rosemary loves the sun and lots of it. It needs at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. It will develop weak, spindly growth if you try to grow it in shade. Rosemary doesn’t mind the heat, though it can get powdery mildew if it’s particularly humid or rainy. It usually doesn’t kill the plant; just don’t use any affected branches for cooking. To prevent disease, try to give it plenty of good air circulation around the plant.
“Rosemary prefers a rich soil with a sandy mix and ample drainage,” notes Pierre. Rosemary can tolerate poor soils but it thrives in sandy types similar to its native range. If you have heavy clay, grow it in pots instead. An unglazed terra cotta pot is a great choice because excess moisture can evaporate. Also, make sure any container has a drain hole because no plant likes soggy feet.
Watering and Fertilizer Needs
Although rosemary prefers soil on the dry side, water your plant every few days if there’s no rain. Indoors, let it dry out slightly before watering again. Stick your finger in the pot, and if soil clings to it, wait another day or two to check again.
Also, rosemary isn’t a heavy feeder, so you really don’t need to feed it like other garden plants. If grown in-ground in a warm climate, you can add some compost every spring, if you like. Otherwise, you’ll probably find potted rosemary grows quite vigorously without any help from you.
Growing Rosemary Indoors
If you don’t have a ton of outdoor space and are wondering if you can grow rosemary indoors, the answer is a resounding absolutely! And it’s actually as simple as following the same tips for growing rosemary outdoors. The biggest challenge is making sure it gets enough bright light. Keep it in a bright east, west, or south-facing window, or use a grow light. North-facing windows don’t offer enough light, especially during the winter in northern climates. Insufficient light will cause your rosemary plant to develop weak growth and drop leaves.
How to Harvest Your Rosemary
Rosemary is amazing when used in both fresh and dried forms. Simply snip off a piece a few inches long for use (like DIY popery or displayed in a vase!). Throughout the year, harvest from different parts of the plant to encourage branching all the way around. If drying for later use, tie together a few branches, hang upside down out of direct sunlight, and allow to air dry. Rub the branches gently with your fingertips to remove the leaves once dry, and store them in a lidded glass jar or in the freezer.
For mature plants in warm climates, you can shape them with gentle pruning to maintain their globe form. Pruning also helps it develop into a bushier shape. You can even prune it into a topiary form, such as a Christmas tree shape if you’re feeling particularly ambitious.
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Arricca Elin SanSone has written about health and lifestyle topics for Prevention, Country Living, Woman’s Day, and more. She’s passionate about gardening, baking, reading, and spending time with the people and dogs she loves.
Angela Belt is the contributing Assistant Shopping Editor at House Beautiful. She’s also an interior designer and is the host of her own podcast, The Mood Board. When it comes to design, she’s an esteemed expert with some of her work also appearing in HGTV, Better Homes & Gardens, The Washington Post, and more.