Can Rosemary Grow in Shade? How Much Sun Should My Rosemary Plant Get?

Are you growing rosemary in your garden, but aren't sure how much shade or sun it should get? Rosemary can be a relatively tricky plant to grow, but it gets easier once you figure out how much sun it should get. In this article, gardening expert Taylor Sievers walks through everything you need to know about how much sun rosemary needs to grow quickly and efficiently.

Rosemary Grow in Shade

Looking to plant some rosemary in your home, but aren’t sure how much sun it should get? Rosemary loves sun, but that doesn’t mean it can’t grow in the shade.

This plant is steeped in tradition for thousands of years. It’s multi-purposeful, you may find yourself desiring to add the tender perennial herb rosemary (Salvia rosmarinus, formerly known as Rosmarinus officinalis) to your garden.

In this article, you’ll learn about rosemary’s light and growth requirements. This way, you can choose the best spot for this evergreen perennial shrub. Let’s jump in!

Can Rosemary Grow in Shade? 

Rosemary in the Shade
Rosemary thrives in full sun but can tolerate a partial shade environment.

Depending on how intensely shaded the spot is, yes. Rosemary is tolerant of some shade, but will not thrive in full shade. This plant loves full sun (6-8+ hours of direct sunlight) but will grow in partial shade (2-6 hours of direct sunlight) as long as the area is dry and has excellent drainage and air circulation. 

Rosemary Plant Needs

If you’re unsure about how to care for a specific plant, sometimes it’s best to research the basic needs of that plant, like soil, water, and pruning requirements. Here’s a snapshot of the herb rosemary’s basic needs so that you can be growing like a pro in no time.  

Seasons & Zones

Herbs in the Summer
This aromatic herb loves to grow during the warm months of summer.

Rosemary is an evergreen perennial shrub in USDA Zones 8 and above, which means it will thrive in dry, warm Summers. This herb does not overwinter well, particularly in the Midwest, so the plant should be brought indoors before the first frost during the wintertime if you live in Zone 7 and below. Rosemary can tolerate cool temperatures down to about 50 degrees Fahrenheit and can survive down to 20 degrees F. 

Plant Location 

Herbs on a Sunny Day
Ful sun is recommended for rosemary to do well.

Rosemary thrives in full sun (6-8+ hours of direct sunlight). Similar to Tumeric, rosemary can tolerate part shade (2-6 hours of sunlight). These plants are great candidates for patio containers because of their dislike for root disturbance and need for excellent drainage. 

Soil 

Person Putting Soil into a Pot
The soil you plant your rosemary in should be slightly acidic and well draining.

Well-draining soil is a must for rosemary, as the plant is very susceptible to root rot. A slightly acidic pH is best, with ranges between 6.5 and 7.0. The plants are particularly salt and drought tolerant. In fact, the species name rosmarinus is derived from the Latin words ros, meaning dew, and marinus, meaning sea.

Therefore, rosmarinus translates to “dew of the sea”, which corresponds to the ability of rosemary to survive on the coastal sea cliffs exposed to the salty ocean sea sprays and mists. The plants will not thrive in clay soils as they prefer light sandy or sandy loam soils, though they will benefit from more organic matter additions, like compost. .  

Moisture Needs

Person Watering a Plant
Too much water can harm rosemary, so be sure to only give it what it needs.

Rosemary is not tolerant of heavy moisture. Select a well-draining site in your landscape or plant this herb in a pot to ensure adequate drainage. When rosemary plants are brought inside for the winter, they can often dry out rather quickly due to the low humidity in homes during the Winter.

However, watering this plant during this period of low growth can also be detrimental. Instead, mist the plant with water periodically to give the plant adequate moisture during its stay inside. Placing the pot on a pebble-lined saucer filled with water will keep the humidity high around your indoor rosemary as well. 

Mulching 

Organic Mulch
We do not recommend mulching around rosemary.

Mulching is typically used in the garden to conserve moisture and to prevent weeds from germinating. In this case, because rosemary is susceptible to root rot, mulching heavily around this plant is not advised. A light layer of mulch may be applied to prevent weed growth, but make sure to keep the mulch away from the stems as you don’t want moisture to collect and cause root rot. 

Pinching and Pruning 

Person Pruning Some Herbs
The most ideal way to have a full rosemary plant is to pinch or prune it.

Rosemary is often grown as a topiary, so using methods of pinching and pruning can lead to a desired shape of the plant. Tip-pinching, when the plant is small, is the best way to achieve desired sizes and shapes of your plant. But even older plants can be pruned or pinched lightly to shape the plant. Pruning the plant severely after flowering will also encourage fresh, green growth. 

Fertilizing 

Person Adding Organic Fertilizer to a Plant
Adding some organic fertilizer can help your rosemary to grow.

Amending your soil with compost can provide nutrients to your soil while also promoting drainage as well. Over-fertilizing rosemary will prevent flowering, but light applications of fertilizer will also keep your plant looking healthy. 

Planting & Growing Basics

We’ve covered what rosemary needs to grow properly. But without understanding how the basics of growing Rosemary, you aren’t setting a proper foundation. By following the basics below, you’ll set yourself up for planting success.

Propagation

Propagation of Herbs
Using the propagation method of growing rosemary is the best way to start.

Rosemary can be started from seed, but this is not the recommended method of propagation as seeds can be finicky about germinating and it can take a few years before the plant is of a good size. Plants started from seed also may not have the desired traits that cultivated varieties grown from cuttings may have. Therefore, it is best to propagate rosemary by cuttings.

Take 4 to 6-inch cuttings from the flower-free tips of established plants. Strip off the lower leaves and plant into a light mixture of sand/loam or vermiculite until roots have formed, then plant these into pots after adequate root formation.  

Sunlight

Rosemary on a Sunny Day
Full sun is best for rosemary.

Rosemary prefers bright sun, excellent drainage, and good air circulation. The plants can be pinched to promote a bushier habit and also clipped into desired shapes when larger. Rosemary does not tolerate root disturbance, so it is best to grow this plant in pots.  

Temperature

Herbs on a Warm Day
Rosemary does better in warmer climates.

If you desire to grow this plant in the landscape, but you live in an area where rosemary will winterkill, you can bury the plant and pot into the soil in your landscape so that the pot can be dug up in the Fall and brought inside.

Make sure that the rim of the pot is buried below the soil line. If you plant your rosemary directly into the ground, be sure to dig it up about two to three weeks before your first expected frost and transplant it into a pot. Leave the rosemary outside as it establishes in its new container, then bring the pot inside before the first frost.  

Planting in a Pot

Herbs Growing in a Pot
Keep an eye out for your rosemary becoming root-bound when planted in a pot, which can be harmful.

When rosemary is brought indoors, choose a spot with bright light, but do not put this plant in an area of high heat. Keeping the plant cool during the winter is fine. Just make sure the plant receives adequate humidity in the form of misting or keeping the pot on a pebble-lined saucer filled with water. Rosemary will not grow much during the Winter.  

A slightly pot-bound rosemary plant will promote flowering. A plant is pot or root-bound when the roots begin to circle in the pot. This is usually when it is time to transplant to a bigger pot, but in this case, you may leave your rosemary plant in the container slightly longer than other plants to encourage flowers.

The flowers will be pale to dark blue and even pink or lavender, depending on the variety. Once flowering has passed, you can severely cut back the plant to promote fresh green growth.  

Harvesting

Person Harvesting Herbs With Clippers
It is best to harvest the tips of this plant instead of the woody stem.

Harvest rosemary by cutting off branches or tips and using the leaves or sprigs fresh or dried. Do not remove more than 20% of the plant at one time or this will hinder its growth. Harvest the tender tips rather than cutting into the woodier part of the plant, although branches can be harvested for use as skewers for kabobs.

To dry, you can hang the sprigs or branches in a bundle. After the leaves are dry, you can strip them off the stem and store them in an airtight container.  

Rosemary Uses

Roasted Chicken With Herbs
This herb is an absolutely delicious way to flavor many dishes!

Rosemary is an herb with many meanings and uses from as long as 5,000 years ago to now. Sprigs of rosemary were said to symbolize remembrance and fidelity, which is often why a sprig may have been thrown in a casket during a funeral or laid in the linens of a marriage bed.

Medicinally, this herb was used in the past mostly for respiratory ailments, but also for treating the plague, melancholy, gout, arthritis, and more. Today, rosemary can be used in herbal remedies for sore throats, colds, and even bad breath.  

Rosemary is an excellent accent for food, especially when used to flavor fish, pork, lamb, poultry, and even wild game. Adding dried or fresh leaves to roasts, dressings, garnishes, mushrooms, cheeses, and eggs are also other great uses for rosemary.

The oil from the leaves can be used in soaps, creams, lotions, and perfumes. Rosemary is used as an astringent and cleanser in bath and beauty products also.  

Frequently Asked Questions 

Why is my rosemary plant dying?

This is a broad question, but we’ll cover the basics of why your plant may not be looking up to snuff. First off, examine the environment within which your rosemary plant is living. Is it inside? Outside? Full sun? Full shade? Wet? Dry?

Rosemary thrives in a warm, dry area in full sun. High humidity can cause disease, so excellent air circulation is a must. Rosemary can tolerate part shade, but if your rosemary plant is in full or part shade and it isn’t thriving, try moving it to a spot with a little more sun.

Have you recently disturbed your rosemary’s roots? Rosemary dislikes root disturbance, so if you’re digging it out of your landscape to bring it in as frost approaches, make sure you’re not digging right next to the plant and damaging the roots.

Are you overwatering? The tips of rosemary leaves will start to turn brown if you’re overwatering your plant or if it is too wet. Overwatering is the biggest cause of rosemary plant decline and death. Let your container-grown rosemary fully dry out between waterings. You can also try moving your rosemary into a pot if it is planted in a wet area in your landscaping. If your rosemary is inside, remember that misting the leaves rather than watering the roots while the plant is dormant during the Winter is the best option to prevent root rot.

Keep your rosemary in an area with bright light, but don’t put your rosemary in front of a heater. This will dry the plant out too much while it’s dormant. Don’t expect much growth in the Winter from your indoor rosemary.

When should rosemary be pruned?

There are a few different times that you can cut back your rosemary. First, you can pinch the top of your rosemary transplant when it is small, which will promote branching and keep the plant more compact.

Second, after your rosemary plant has flowered, you can cut back the branches hard to promote new fresh, green growth. You can also prune your rosemary like a topiary by cutting it into various shapes when the plant has become more established. If harvesting sprigs or branches, make sure that you do not cut off more than 20% of the plant at one time.

Can I plant rosemary in shade?

Rosemary requires full sun. Not only that, but it loves the hot afternoon sun. That being said, rosemary is a hardy plant and can tolerate some shade. Make sure your rosemary plant is getting at least 2 hours of direct sun per day, with the other 4 to 6 hours being at least dappled sunlight. Full shade is not recommended. If you are planting in part sun/part shade, make sure that the area has good air circulation and is well-draining.

Final Thoughts 

Rosemary is a well-loved evergreen perennial used medicinally, herbally, and ritually for thousands of years. The aromatic leaves are still a favorite today in herb gardens and modern recipes. This shrubby plant is a superb candidate for container gardening because of its need for excellent drainage and little root disturbance.  

Growing rosemary in a pot also allows you to satisfy its light requirements easily by simply moving your rosemary container across your deck or patio to a sunny spot. If you’re worried that you don’t have enough sun for this Mediterranean herb, just know that you’ll need at least 2 to 6 hours of direct sunlight for rosemary to do well. Ideally, the more sun the better! 

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