Marjorams are easy to grow, sun-loving Mediterranean herbs. They're closely related to oregano and the two groups are easily confused. There is a lot of overlap between them and the distinction is often not clear. In culinary terms, the main difference is flavour – marjoram’s leaves are usually milder and sweeter, while oregano is spicier and more pungent. They're all types of Origanum and form low bushy mounds of aromatic foliage and rounded heads of small pink or white flowers in summer, up to 50cm (20in) tall. The flowers are very popular with bees and butterflies.
Marjoram - origanum vulgare compactum
Marjoram leaves can be picked in spring and summer and are widely used in Greek and Italian cuisine, especially in tomato, meat and poultry dishes. When used fresh, the leaves are usually added near the end of cooking, to maintain their flavour. They can also be sprinkled in salads or infused in oil, vinegar or salad dressings.
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There are several types of marjoram to choose from – different species and varieties with variations in flavour, plant size, leaf colour, flower colour and tolerance for cold. In general they need protection from wet cold winters.
You can explore a wide range of herbs, including marjoram, in all the RHS gardens, so do visit them for more herbal inspiration and growing tips.
For advice on choosing and growing all kinds of herbs, see our related guides below.
What and where to buy
Seeds of species like sweet or knotted marjoram (Origanum majorana) are available in garden centres and from online seed suppliers.
Young plants are readily available in spring and summer from many plant retailers. Specialist herb nurseries offer the widest choice. It’s well worth buying plants in person, so you can choose your favourite aromas.
(Some Origanum varieties are grown as ornamental rather than edible plants, including the oreganos O.'Kent Beauty’ and O. 'Rosenkuppel’, so be sure to choose from the herb section when buying, if you want culinary plants.)
Sweet marjoram and pot marjoram can be grown from seed indoors, but they more often bought as young plants. When grown from seed, you can produce lots of plants, but the seedlings need careful attention and plants take longer to reach harvesting size. Ready-grown plants are widely available, settle in quickly and you can start harvesting lightly almost straight away.
Sow marjoram seeds indoors in spring into small pots or modular trays filled with seed compost. There is no need to cover the tiny seeds. Keep at a temperature of at least 15°C (60°F) and the seeds should germinate in one to two weeks. See our step-by-step guide to sowing seeds indoors.
When the seedlings are large enough to handle, move into individual modules or plant three in an 8cm (3in) pot of multi-purpose compost.
Transplant young marjoram plants outdoors once they are growing strongly and their roots fill their module or small pot, after all risk of frost has passed. Harden them off first to acclimatise them to outdoor conditions.
Seed-raised and newly bought marjoram plants can be planted outdoors in late spring or summer, after the last frost. They need a warm, sunny, sheltered spot, either in well-drained soil or in a container. If you have poorly draining soil, plant in a raised bed or container, where drainage will be better. In poorly draining conditions the roots are liable to rot.
If planting in a container, it should be at least 15cm (6in) wide for one young plant. Fill it with a free-draining mix of peat free soil-based compost and coarse grit or perlite (up to 25 percent by volume). You can also plant several young marjorams, or a mix of Mediterranean herbs, in a larger container at least 30cm (1ft) wide.
Marjoram forms a spreading clump, so should be positioned 20–30cm (8–12in) from neighbouring plants. For full planting instructions, see our handy guides.
Marjoram is very easy to look after – simply harvest sprigs of young leaves regularly to encourage bushy new growth and cut back the flower stems once they’re past their best.
Apply a thick layer of mulch, such as gravel or garden compost, around the plants in spring to help stop the soil drying out in hot weather.
Marjoram thrives in poor soil and doesn’t need feeding. However, you can give plants in containers a liquid fertiliser in spring and summer, especially if they need a boost after flowering.
Weeding and cutting back
Keep young plants weed-free, to reduce competition for light, water and nutrients. Low-growing varieties are easily swamped or shaded out by larger, more vigorous weeds.
See our tips on controlling weeds.
After the last frost in late spring, clip back established plants to keep them compact and remove any dead or straggly stems. This will encourage a flush of new growth.
Cut back the flower stems once the blooms fade, to keep plants looking neat.
Marjoram is a Mediterranean herb and thrives on warmth and sunshine. Not all species are fully hardy, so bring those that need protection, such as sweet or knotted marjoram, indoors over winter. Even in milder locations, the hardier types like Origanum 'French' don’t like to be waterlogged over winter, so move potted plants into a sheltered spot, out of heavy rainfall.
For a winter supply of leaves, take potted marjoram indoors in autumn and keep it in a sunny, frost-free place.
It’s easy to make new marjoram plants using any of these methods:
Layering – low stems can be pegged into the soil to root. This often happens naturally, so check for rooted stems around the edge of the clump and simply replant these into pots until well established
Dividing clumps of mat-forming plants in autumn or spring
Taking softwood cuttings in summer
Harvest marjoram leaves as required in late spring and summer – simply snip off a few shoots, then strip off the leaves. The flavour is best before the flowers open.
To keep marjoram plants productive over winter, move potted plants indoors in autumn, onto a warm, sunny windowsill.
Marjoram leaves are usually used fresh but can also be dried or frozen in ice-cube trays. The flowers are also edible and can be scattered in salads to add extra colour. See our guide to edible flowers.
To dry marjoram leaves, hang up leafy sprigs in a dark, well-ventilated place for a few weeks. When fully dried, strip off the leaves and store in an air-tight jar.
Marjoram is generally healthy and productive when grown in a warm, sunny location. Some species, such as sweet or knotted marjoram, should be kept out of freezing temperatures over winter. Even hardy species require well-drained soil/compost to survive British winters outdoors, to avoid their roots rotting in cold, damp conditions.
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