Savory is compact and easy to grow, needing little attention. Although not a widely known herb, its small, peppery-tasting leaves have many culinary uses. It’s not generally sold in supermarkets, so the best way to enjoy it is to grow your own.
Savory Creeping Satureja spicigera
Winter Savory Satureja montana
Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) – an annual, so lives for just one year. It’s usually sown in spring and harvested from mid-summer until it dies off in autumn. It forms a bushy plant about 30cm (1ft). The leaves have a milder but superior flavour to winter savory, but are harvested over a shorter season
Winter savory (Satureja montana) – this is a perennial, so lives for several years. A shrubby plant up to 40cm (16in) tall, it is semi-evergreen, so keeps its leaves in mild winters, which means they can be picked all year round. It’s hardy, so will survive freezing temperatures but may shed its leaves, so in colder regions bring it indoors if you want to continue harvesting in winter
Both types of savory like full sun and free-draining conditions, in the ground or in pots. These attractive small plants are ideal for growing alongside other Mediterranean herbs, such as rosemary, thyme and sage, in a herb bed or large container. The tiny white or purple summer flowers also attract bees and other pollinating insects.
The narrow, aromatic leaves have a spicy flavour and are said to aid digestion. They are often used in bean and lentil dishes, and are a traditional flavouring in salami, stuffings and sausages. Summer savory is also a key ingredient in herbes de Provence.
Month by Month
Both types of savory look similar and like the same growing conditions. The main differences between them are harvesting period, strength of flavour and how long they live.
Summer savory (Satureja hortensis) is an annual, completing its lifecycle in a year, so is usually grown from seed every spring. It can be harvested throughout the summer, then dies in autumn once temperatures fall. It has a milder, more refined flavour than winter savory.
Winter savory (Satureja montana) is a perennial, so lives for several years and is semi-evergreen, so can usually be harvested across the seasons. It is hardy, so can be kept outdoors all year round, although in cold winters it may lose its leaves. Its flavour is similar to but more intense than summer savory.
There are also several varieties of each type, offering slight variations in flavour, plant size and appearance.
You can explore a wide range of herbs, including savory, in the RHS gardens, so do visit them for more herbal inspiration and growing tips.
What & where to buy
You can buy seeds of both species of savory in garden centres and from online seed suppliers. Young plants may also be available in spring and summer from the same sources. Specific varieties may be more tricky to find, but herb specialists will offer the widest range.
Buying young plants is often a more convenient option than growing from seed, especially if you’re short on indoor sowing space, as you don’t need many plants to ensure plentiful harvests. You can start picking lightly from bought plants almost immediately, whereas seed-raised plants take several months to reach harvesting size.
Savory can be grown from seed in spring, ideally indoors in warm conditions, or bought as young plants in spring or summer. Choose a warm, sunny growing site, with free-draining soil.
Seedlings should appear within two to three weeks. Once they are large enough to handle, move them into individual pots or modules, keep in warm, bright conditions and water regularly. They can be planted outside once they’re well rooted and growing strongly. See Planting, below.
Well-rooted plants, either grown from seed indoors or newly bought, can be planted outdoors in late spring or early summer.
Indoor-grown savory plants should be gently acclimatised to outdoor conditions by hardening off before you plant them in the garden.
Choose an open, sunny planting spot with well-drained soil. If your soil is heavy or stays damp, plant in a container or raised bed instead, where drainage will be better.
Allow 20cm (8in) between plants.
Planting in containers
Savory grows well in large pots. Choose a container that’s at least 30cm (1ft) wide, with plenty of drainage holes in the base. Use a peat-free, soil-based John Innes No. 3 compost. Stand the pot in a warm, sunny, sheltered spot.
Savory is easy to grow and needs little maintenance, apart from watering in dry spells, especially when newly planted. Harvest regularly to keep plants producing lots of fresh new leaves.
Water savory regularly, especially during hot, dry spells, but don’t over water. Plants dislike constantly moist or waterlogged soil. Established winter savory is generally drought tolerant when growing in the ground.
Plants in containers have less access to rainwater, so need regular watering through the growing season, but especially in hot dry weather.
Apply a thick layer of mulch, such as well-rotted manure or garden compost, around the base of savory plants to help hold moisture in the ground and deter weeds.
There’s generally no need to feed savory, but if you harvest shoots regularly, then an occasional feed of balanced liquid fertiliser will keep plants growing vigorously.
Savory plants in containers will also benefit from a few applications of balanced liquid fertiliser over the summer months.
Keep young savory plants weed-free to reduce competition for light, water and nutrients.
You can collect and sow seeds of savory, especially annual summer savory, as this needs to be grown afresh each spring. It may also self-seed if you don’t trim it after flowering.
Winter savory can be grown from softwood cuttings taken in summer.
Pruning and Training
Regular harvesting of the shoot tips will keep plants compact and encourage fresh leaves for more harvests.
Trim back summer savory after flowering to get a flush of new shoots for harvesting into early autumn.
Winter savory can become straggly or leggy over time, so prune lightly in early spring to keep it neat and bushy.
With both summer and winter savory, harvest the leafy shoots and use fresh for the best flavour. You can start harvesting lightly from plants grown from seed once they reach about 15cm (6in) tall. Newly bought plants can be harvested almost straight away. Plants can become straggly if not harvested regularly, so snip them back as often as you can.
As winter savory is semi-evergreen, it can be harvested for most or even all of the year. In cold winters, it may drop its leaves, so if you want to continue harvesting, grow it in a pot and move it indoors from autumn to spring.
Summer savory is best harvested before it starts to flower, when the flavour is stronger and sweeter. Cut back after flowering to stimulate fresh new growth for harvesting in late summer. As it’s an annual, summer savory dies in autumn, but the leaves can be dried for use in winter – hang up sprigs in a warm, dark, well-ventilated place. When fully dried, store the leaves in an air-tight jar. The leaves can also be frozen.
To use fresh leaves in the kitchen, strip them from the stems, then chop finely. They can be added to a range of dishes, including beans, lentils, soups and stews.
When growing in warm, sunny, well-drained conditions, savory plants are generally healthy and trouble free. Winter savory should live for several years, while annual summer savory will naturally die off in autumn and should be sown afresh every spring.
Winter savory is semi-evergreen and may drop its leaves in cold winters. To keep it in leaf, move potted plants into a frost-free location, such as a greenhouse or indoor windowsill over winter, especially in colder regions.
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