Grown for its spicy, pungent leaves, oregano is a sun-loving Mediterranean herb. Easy to grow, compact and drought tolerant, it thrives in pots or in the ground. It’s widely used in Italian and Greek cuisine, especially when dried.
Oregano forms a low clump of small aromatic leaves and sends up attractive pink or white flowerheads in summer, about 30cm (1ft) tall. It’s a perennial, living for many years, and is usually hardy enough to survive the British winter if grown in a warm sunny spot, in a container or in free-draining soil.
Oregano looks great planted in a herb bed or herb container with other aromatic sun-lovers, such as marjoram, sage and thyme. It also works well in gravel gardens, dry gardens, Mediterranean-style plantings and pollinator-friendly borders, as the flowers are a magnet for butterflies and bees.
Oregano and its close relative marjoram are often confused – they look very similar, like the same growing conditions and both are types of Origanum. There is a lot of overlap between them, but as a general distinction, oregano leaves tend to be spicier, more pungent and more often used dried, while marjoram leaves have milder, sweeter flavour and are usually used fresh.
Month by Month
There are many varieties of oregano to choose from, providing variations in flavour, plant size, leaf colour and flower colour. All like similarly warm, sunny, free-draining growing conditions and are happy in containers and in the ground.
You can explore a wide range of herbs, including oregano, in all the RHS gardens, so do visit them for more herbal inspiration and growing tips.
What and where to buy
Oregano seeds 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 of varieties. It’s well worth buying plants in person, so you can select your favourites from all the various delicious aromas.
Some oregano varieties are grown as ornamental rather than edible plants, including Origanum ‘Kent Beauty’ and ‘Rosenkuppel’, so be sure to choose from the herb section when buying, if you want culinary oregano.
Although oregano can be grown from seed indoors, it’s more often bought as young plants. With seeds, you can grow as many plants as you like, 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 picking leaves almost straight away.
Sow oregano seeds indoors in spring, into small pots or modular trays filled with seed compost. Don’t cover the tiny seeds. Keep above 15°C (60°F) and seedlings should appear in a couple of 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 oregano plants outdoors once their roots fill their module or small pot, after all risk of frost has passed. Harden them off first to gradually get them used to outdoor conditions – see our guide to hardening off and our guide to transplanting.
If planting in a container, choose one that is at least 15cm (6in) wide for a single young plant, and at least 30cm (12in) wide for several. Make sure there are drainage holes in the base. Fill the pot with a mix of soil-based compost plus coarse grit or perlite (up to 25 percent by volume) to provide good drainage.
Oregano needs minimal maintenance – simply harvest sprigs of young leaves regularly to encourage bushy new growth and cut back the flower stems once they go to seed.
Water newly planted oregano regularly for at least the first summer.
This Mediterranean herb is drought tolerant once established and shouldn’t need additional watering when growing in the ground. In containers, the compost will dry out rapidly, so water regularly over the summer months.
Mulching and feeding
Apply a thick layer of mulch, such as garden compost or gravel, around the plants in spring to help stop the soil drying out in hot weather. See our guide to mulching.
Oregano is happy in poor soil and shouldn’t require feeding. However, plants in containers may benefit from a liquid fertiliser in spring and summer, especially if they need a boost after flowering.
It’s easy to grow new plants from an existing oregano by any of these methods:
layering – simply bury low-lying stems in the ground to root. This often happens naturally, so check for rooted stems around the edge of a clump and pot up until well established
dividing clumps in spring or autumn
taking softwood cuttings in summer
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.
In late spring or early summer, after the last frost, clip back established oregano plants to keep them compact and remove any shoots damaged over winter. This will encourage a flush of new growth.
Remove the flower stems before they start to set seed, to keep plants compact and looking their best.
Most oregano varieties are hardy, so don’t need protection from frost, but a few may not be fully hardy in colder parts of the UK, so do check the label or seed packet. See our guide to checking plant hardiness and our guide to protecting plants from frost.
Oregano doesn’t like to be waterlogged over winter, so move potted plants into a sheltered spot, out of heavy rainfall, and raise onto pot feet to ensure excess water drains out. In locations with cold, wet winters, plants in the ground can be protected with cloches, as long as there is plenty of ventilation.
Harvest oregano 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 oregano productive over winter, you can move potted plants indoors in autumn, onto a warm, sunny windowsill.
Oregano leaves can be used fresh or dried, or can be frozen in ice-cube trays. Dried leaves have a stronger flavour.
Oregano is widely used in Mediterranean cuisine, especially when dried, to flavour pizza and pasta sauces, grilled meats and many other dishes. Fresh leaves can be added to salads or at the end of cooking. The flowers are also edible and can be scattered in salads – see our guide to edible flowers.
To dry your oregano 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.
Oregano is generally healthy and productive if grown in a warm, sunny location. Most varieties are hardy, but do require well-drained soil or compost to survive British winters outdoors, as their roots can rot in cold, damp conditions.
A few pests and diseases may occasionally affect oregano, including:
sage and Ligurian leafhoppers
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