Oregano originates in the Mediterranean. It is closely related to the herb marjoram; in fact oregano is actually wild marjoram (oregano has a more intense flavour). Oregano is a half hardy annual; this means it will only last for one season and it is unlikely that it will survive through the winter months.
Oregano prefers a well-drained site in full sun. Oregano does not require many nutrients and will thrive on a sandy or chalky soil. It grows well in containers and is extremely useful in the kitchen.
How to Grow Oregano
Oregano grows best in full sun in a well-drained soil of average to low fertility. Prepare the bed by digging it over thoroughly and incorporating organic matter such as leafmould, well-rotted animal manure or homemade compost. This will help break up any heavy soils and improve drainage. Sow seeds from late April, 2cm deep and approximately 15cm apart in a well-prepared seedbed. After about 2-3 weeks, thin seedlings to 30cm apart to give the plants room to grow to their full size.
Caring for Oregano
As oregano is tolerant of most conditions, it requires very little care. In the first few months, ensure the plants do not dry out, but after they have become established they should cope well with drought. Try to avoid letting the plants become waterlogged, however. Oregano is a Mediterranean plant and is not used to wet conditions. If you can’t grow oregano in a well-drained soil then grow it in a container with plenty of grit to aid drainage.
The leaves of oregano should be harvested in July, just before the flowers appear. If the leaves are harvested after the flowers appear they can taste bitter. However, removing the flower heads before they open can keep the leaves tasting great, and can ensure you can harvest them right up until November. Oregano is most commonly used as a dried herb (if you want to use fresh leaves, use pot marjoram as an alternative). Pick the leaves on a dry day and store them in a dark, dry warm place until they are crumbly in texture. Then store the dried leaves in an airtight container where they will retain their flavour for up to 6 months.
Growing Oregano in a Container
Oregano is well suited to being grown in pots. Sow seeds indoors in March in a small pot then transplant into a 30cm diameter pot in May. Water the pot when the soil dries out (terracotta pots tend to dry out much quicker than plastic alternatives). As with all herbs, feeding oregano can impair the flavour of its leaves. Only feed once or twice during the season and use an organic feed such as seaweed.
Oregano is a fantastic herb to grow in the garden. It is best used dried and is a great accompaniment to pizza and pasta dishes. Oregano is easy to grow and does well in containers. It has a more intense flavour than marjoram and so only a few leaves are needed to perk up a meal.