10 Tips For Growing Amazing Oregano in Pots or Containers
If you’re craving some fresh oregano for your latest culinary creation, nothing beats walking out to the garden and snipping some directly from the plant. In this article, gardening expert Danielle Sherwood gives you tips on growing this tasty herb in containers.
Have you always wanted your own herb garden? Start with oregano! Growing this hardy herb couldn’t be easier. Growing oregano in a container is simple and gives you the flexibility to locate it in an ideal spot. Native to mountainous regions of the Mediterranean, oregano is a robust plant with few demands.
Oregano is also a fantastic ornamental plant. While each variety is a bit different, all oreganos have attractive foliage and pretty pollinator-friendly blooms when allowed to flower. You can even highlight it in a patio pot or at the entry to your raised bed garden.
Oregano is full of antioxidants, calcium, and vitamin A. Most of us are familiar with its delicious flavor in cooking. Bring all of this goodness to your garden by planting some oregano in a container, which is by far the easiest way to grow this appealing and useful herb. Let’s dig into some helpful tips so you can get growing!
Pick the Right Container
Oregano is a forgiving plant. You can grow it in a round pot, a garden border, or a raised bed. The most important considerations are:
Oregano likes to spread out. It has woody, upright stems that will gladly grow up to 2 feet tall and wide. If you prefer to stick to a smaller container, pick one at least 12 inches in diameter. Even better is a larger bed where you can let it do its thing.
Oregano will weaken and potentially rot if left to sit in soggy soil. Good, well-drained soil and a container that lets water run through freely are crucial for a healthy plant.
I have my oregano, which is about 6 years old, thriving in a raised bed with some other herbs. It loves the ability to spread out, and I love how it looks at the entrance of my raised bed garden.
If you’re searching for a good option for your oregano, try Birdie’s Metal Raised Garden Beds. They’re made of durable galvanized steel coated in long-lasting, non-toxic paint. They’ll hold in warmth for the oregano during the cold season, allow for good drainage, and look stylish.
If you prefer the flexibility of moving the oregano whenever you want, check out Epic Grow Bags made of a permeable felt that allows water to drain and the roots to breathe. They’re lightweight and will make moving your herbs to a sunny location easy. They can be used indoors, too with a tray underneath them!
Choose the Right Spot
Oregano needs at least 6 hours of full sun to perform well. Its ideal conditions are between 60-80℉, followed by cooler nights. If you have especially hot summers, it will appreciate a bit of afternoon shade.
When picking a spot, keep in mind the mature size of the plant (this is a member of the mint family, after all!). It will gladly fill a gallon pot all on its own and take up a significant portion of a raised bed. My oregano recently choked out some of my alpine strawberries!
While its shallow roots are easy to pull out (and gift to a friend), space it at minimum 1-2 feet from other plants if you want them to live.
Oregano can handle winters down to -20 ℉. If your climate dips below that, place it where you can easily provide some protection with frost cloth or mulch.
Choose Proper Soil
Oregano doesn’t mind lean soil but prefers a well-draining sandy loam. A good quality organic potting or raised bed mix will do the job. Look for something fairly lightweight that contains some perlite or horticultural sand to help with drainage.
This herb isn’t picky about pH, though it prefers to be close to neutral, anywhere from 6.5-7.
Choose The Right Variety
Most plants in the oregano family are robust growers who prefer similar conditions. When choosing, keep in mind the flavors you enjoy best and the aesthetic of the plant. Many gardeners harvest so often that their oregano never flowers, but I try to let mine grow because the pollinators love it!
Two varieties, commonly called Mexican and Cuban Oregano, are not actually part of the Oreganum genus at all. They contain the same essential oil, carvacrol, that gives oregano its signature taste and smell. While delicious in their own right, we’ll stick to true oreganos here.
Origanum vulgare var. Hirtum
This is the variety most associated with the classic oregano used to season popular dishes. It’s intensely flavorful, with high oil content that stands up to cooking and tastes amazing paired with tomatoes. It has olive green fuzzy leaves and small clusters of white to lavender flowers.
Origanum vulgare var. Majorana
This Italian oregano is actually a hybrid of greek oregano and sweet marjoram. It has a milder, slightly sweeter taste than classic Greek oregano. Leaves are fuzzy, dark green and produce light pink to lilac colored flower clusters.
This is the variety most commonly used for extracting medicinal essential oils, prized for their antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties.
Hot and Spicy
Origanum vulgare ‘Hot and Spicy’
This oregano is a more intense version of the Greek herb, with spicy leaves and a pungent aroma. It’s great in Mexican or Italian dishes or anytime you need a bit of a kick. It looks similar to Greek oregano, with pink flowers.
While still edible, some varieties are valued more for their attractive blooms and draping habit than their flavor. ‘Kent Beauty’ and ‘Kirigami’ both have a mild taste and are gorgeous plants in containers.
Try ‘Kent Beauty’ for draping, hops-like bracts that spill over the edges of a pot, and ‘Kirigami’ for its tight and colorful whorled rosettes. Both are drought-tolerant and excellent in rock gardens. ‘Aureum’ is another appealing choice, with upright, small flowers and golden leaves.
Seed vs. Nursery-Grown Plants
Oregano grows easily from seed (this is my go-to since I’m cheap). You can direct-sow it into the garden after your last frost date. Once temps reach about 70℉, it will germinate. You should see sprouts in 1-2 weeks.
If you’d like to get a jump on the season, you can start the seeds indoors 6 weeks before last frost and transplant them out. The fastest way is, of course, to buy a plant at the nursery. They transplant easily and will be harvestable before those sown at home from seed.
Water Deeply and Infrequently
Oregano does best with deep, infrequent watering rather than shallow daily doses. Water thoroughly, soaking the roots. Give it about an inch a week once established.
When taking care of small seedlings or during weather above 80℉, you may need to water more often. Water immediately if you see wilted leaves (but check that they’re not a result of soil sogginess first).
Oregano likes to dry out a bit between watering sessions. Test the soil with your finger and water only when completely dry. Mature oregano is drought-tolerant and can handle some neglect. If made to sit in wet soil, the roots will rot and kill the plant.
Oregano can grow unwieldy, left unpruned. I like mine to get a bit wild so the pollinators can go nuts over the flowers, but if you like to maintain a tidy, mounded shape, you’ll need to prune it.
You’re unlikely to harm this plant, so get in there and shear it down. In fact, I chop mine down to the ground as soon as new growth appears in early spring, right down to the top of the crown. It likes the haircut and responds by sending out lots of new, bushy growth.
In addition to pruning, oregano likes to be divided every few years. This refreshes the woody growth at the base and creates more new plants for friends!
Simply use a spade to dig out a large clump, roots included. Replace the disturbed soil around the original plant. Pot up or plant the clump, and you have more oregano to harvest.
Skip The Fertilizer
Oregano performs better in poor soil than in overly nutrient-rich growing mixes. There’s no need to fertilize it. Enjoy your hands-off herb success and pamper your blueberries instead.
However, a large oregano plant can sometimes deplete the soil in a container over time. Amend it with some organic compost while you do the early spring chop.
Watch For Pests
Complete honesty here. I’ve never seen a pest on my oregano! Although beneficial pollinators love the flowers, the plant has a spicy and strong aroma that bugs tend to avoid. If you see any, get rid of them with a strong, direct spray of the hose.
If overwatered, oregano can succumb to fungal issues like root rot or Botrytis blight. If you notice stunted growth, droopy appearance, or mushy roots, check to make sure the soil isn’t soggy. Once the roots have rotted, you’ll need to replace the plant.
Avoid these issues by watering only when dry and aiming your spray at the base of the plant rather than overhead. Keep some space between the oregano and other plants to keep the air circulating.
This is why you planted oregano in the first place! This vigorously growing herb will surprise you with how much it can produce, so don’t be shy about using it often. Let baby plants grow to at least 6 inches tall before harvesting so they can recover.
When you want to harvest oregano, simply snip off a few stems. Pull off the leaves, rinse, and pat dry. They’re ready to use! Remember that fresh oregano is milder than dried, so you may want to use a larger amount.
You can also make your own version of the dried oregano you buy in the store. To dry, line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Spread out the leaves and cook them in a 170-180℉ oven for an hour. Leave them in longer if not completely dry. When cool, crush them up, put them in a jar, and you’ll have plenty of garden-grown oregano to use in recipes.
If a friend just starting out in gardening asks me for the easiest herb to grow, I tell them to try oregano! This tough perennial will give you copious amounts of delicious leaves for all your desired uses, even if you lack the mythical green thumb.
Growing oregano in containers is a great way to keep it contained (there is just a tiny bit in my lawn. Oops!) and to highlight its beauty while providing the well-drained soil it needs. Have fun in the garden, and enjoy your oregano!