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Rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) belongs to the family of the labiates (Lamiaceae) and is a typical Mediterranean plant. It is increasingly to be found in the coastal regions and particularly often at rock slopes in the Mediterranean area. Its Latin name “rosmarinus” means “dew of the sea”. The name probably refers to its frequent occurrence on Mediterranean coasts. Others suspect that the name is derived from the Greek name “rhops myrinos” (“balsamic shrub”). It indicates the high content of essential oils.
The evergreen, strongly fragrant half-shrub was already used in ancient times by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans as an incense substitute for ritual incenses, among other things. It stood as the herb of the goddess of love Aphrodite symbolic of love and loyalty. From 800 A.D. Charlemagne had rosemary cultivated in his gardens and even in the Middle Ages the half-shrub played an important role as a medicinal herb. For centuries the spicy herb with a slightly bitter note has also been used in the kitchen to refine meat, fish, vegetables and potatoes. Dried it is suitable for herbal potpourris or teas. Due to its essential oils, tannins and bitter substances, rosemary tea has a strengthening and stimulating effect. Rosemary tea or tincture is also used for headaches or nerve pain.
Rosemary is a perennial shrub, since its shoot tips do not completely woody by winter. It grows densely bushy upright and can become quite expansive with age. The shoots are strikingly angular and strongly branched. Depending on climate and location, some varieties can reach heights of up to two metres.
Already in early spring, around March to early May, the tubular lip flowers appear in the leaf axils of the shoot ends. Depending on the variety, they are blue-violet, light blue, pink or white and attract numerous insects.
Location and soil
Because of its origin, rosemary prefers sunny and warm, protected sites with a favourable microclimate. It is well tolerated by heat and can be planted in milder regions as well as kept in pots. It prefers moderately dry and very permeable calcareous soils, which may be somewhat stony.
Planting and care
Since rosemary is not reliably hardy in most regions of the United States, it is advisable to cultivate it in a pot on the terrace or balcony and then overwinter the plants in an unheated greenhouse in autumn. At protected locations in a mild wine-growing climate, outdoor cultivation is also possible if the plants are provided with good winter protection. In a spiral of herbs, rosemary feels most at home next to lavender, thyme or hyssop at the highest point. If necessary, loosen up heavy soil with sand or gravel. A rock garden has also proven its worth as a location. If you want to keep rosemary in a pot, you should mix conventional potted plant soil or herb soil with plenty of sand or clay granulate, as the half-shrub prefers low-humus, mineral substrates. And: The pot should have a drain hole so that the water can drain off well. Rosemary needs water regularly, but only moderately. While the plant tolerates dryness without problems, it is very sensitive to waterlogging. The older a rosemary is, the rarer you should repot it. Therefore, make sure that the pot is large enough.
For rosemary at the end of March, cut back all shoots from the previous year to short stumps so that the shrub remains nicely compact. You can completely dispense with fertilizing outdoor plants. Potted plants should be supplied with slightly low-dose liquid fertiliser two to three times per season.
Rosemary tolerates frost to minus eight to ten degrees and should also be kept outside as a pot plant for as long as possible. You can overwinter the evergreen half shrub in an unheated greenhouse, which does not necessarily have to be frost-free in winter. Alternatively, dark wintering is also possible at temperatures close to freezing, for example in a garage. Rosemary usually loses all its leaves here, but sprouts again in spring. Only water your rosemary so much in winter that the root ball does not dry out completely. From March you can move the plant back to the terrace.
You should protect a planted rosemary in the root area with a thick layer of autumn leaves. The crown can also be wrapped in winter fleece or covered with fir twigs. For outdoor plants, a very permeable dry soil is essential for survival. Winter wetness often means certain death even in milder regions.
Harvesting and recycling
You can harvest rosemary all year round. Pick individual leaves or cut off whole shoot tips with a sharp knife.
The aromatic leaves can be used fresh and cooked together to refine meat dishes such as lamb and poultry, but also with vegetable casseroles, potato dishes and in low dosages as a special touch for desserts, chutneys or jams. In general, rosemary is an extremely popular ingredient in Mediterranean cuisine. Fresh rosemary twigs can be preserved in oil to flavour it. Rosemary can also be used dried as it does not lose its aroma.
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Arp’: a robust, relatively hardy variety with light blue flowers and thick grey-green leaves.
Davor’: the variety is small and suitable for pots on balconies and terraces. It bears pink flowers.
Blue lip’: as the name suggests, the compact variety has dark blue flowers. It is relatively sensitive to frost.
Majorca Pink’: the variety grows columnar, bears numerous pale pink flowers and light green needles. It is rather sensitive and suitable for pots.
Severn Sea’: grows broadly, has narrow leaves and violet-blue flowers. It should be wintered in a bright and cool place.
Tuscan Blue: grows fast and upright. The leaves have a blue-green hue and an intense aroma.
Rosemary can be easily propagated by cuttings. To do this, cut off about ten centimeter long shoot tips that are already slightly woody in the lower area. Strip the lower leaves from the stem and put the shoots individually or in groups of several about five centimetres deep into pots with growing soil. Moisten the soil and put a transparent foil bag over the pots. As soon as strong roots have formed and new leaves appear at the shoot tip, the young plants are isolated as needed. Reproduction by sowing is possible in spring, but the young seedlings are sensitive to fungal diseases and grow slowly.
Diseases and pests
Rosemary is not very susceptible to disease. From time to time powdery mildew occurs in plants that are too close together. If the soil is too wet, root rot often occurs. It in turn favours infestation with other fungal diseases, as it weakens the plants. Rarely aphids, mealybugs and spider mites can occur. However, most pests are kept away from the high content of essential oils.
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Whether fruit, vegetable and ornamental plants in the garden or indoor plants in the house: spider mites can infest and damage many different plants. Here René Wadas, a herbalist, will tell you his tips on how you can effectively fight the arachnids.Credits: Production: Folkert Siemens; Camera: Fabian Primsch; Editing: Dennis Fuhro, Photos: Flora Press/FLPA, GWI
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.