How to Grow Rosemary as Kitchen Herb and Dry Landscape Flowering Shrubs

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Fragrant rosemary (rosmarinus officinalis) is a perennial, evergreen shrub. Not only are they wonderful cooking herbs, they are also dependable plants to use in any drought tolerant garden. These small shrubs are native to the Mediterranean region which is known for mild winters, hot summers and generally low rainfall.

Some common names for rosemary include, Dew of the Sea, Compass Weed and Elf Leaf. In medieval lore, rosemary was used to promote good health, healing and protection. Rosemary was hung over doors to keep thieves away and worn to relieve depression and improve mental powers. It can be burned as an incense whole and has been used as a substitute for frankincense. In Victorian times, rosemary was used as a symbol of remembrance and carried by brides on their wedding day.

Rosemary has fragrant, sticky, pine needle-like leaves with deep green on top and white underneath. Mature rosemary branches are brown and have a thin papery covering that looks like peeling bark. Rosemary plants are easy to grow in containers and can also be used for bonsai. Rosemary can be shaped into small cone-shaped trees for Christmas, or grown inside of mesh cages and shaped into fantastic topiary creations. Left untrimmed, rosemary has a draping growth habit and will be seen hanging over pots, or tumbling down slopes. Pinch the tips of the branches to encourage shrubbier growth - and use the fragrant leaves in your dinner.

Rosemary plants blooms in winter and early spring. Flowers are usually blue, but white and pink varieties can be found at specialty nurseries or online seed catalogues. The flowers are small, just under 1/2 across, but they cover the tips of the stems in a way that makes the entire plant turn blue. For dramatic impact in the landscape plant a row of rosemary up high in a rock garden, or on the top of a set of garden steps. A bank of blooming rosemary tumbling over the edges looks like a wave of blue and green. When rosemary is brushed it releases a cloud of refreshing fragrance into the air.

Rosemary plants grow slowly to six feet tall, but are generally seen much smaller when potted in containers. Rosemary likes full sun but can be grown in light shade. Rosemary can tolerate regular garden water, but will happily survive in drought conditions. They will tolerate sea spray, alkaline soil and hot summers.

Rosemary shrubs are also subject to root rot, so do not let the plants sit in a wet pot. In the garden, if your soil is heavy clay, or retains a lot of water, you should make sure the soil is dry before watering again. Although, if it has been 120 degrees in your area, you might want to throw in an extra watering. Giving your plants a good soaking once a month instead of a few sprinkles every week will encourage deep root development, which helps them withstand drought.

Rosemary plants are a tasty herb for all types of recipes. You can use it fresh from the garden, just pull the leaves off the woody stems. Rosemary tastes good with meat, in soups or stews or with vegetables. Whole branches are great to stuff into whole baked chickens or turkey. Or put a spring of rosemary in olive oil for dipping with French bread. Layer slices of bread with fresh rosemary then warm slightly. The essential oils will seep into the bread and the springs can be eaten raw.

Today promising research is being done on rosemary's ability to improve mental capacity and mood. Research on asthma, skin conditions and scalp issues are also promising.

Rosemary is a good choice for container gardens, herb gardens or desert gardens. Happy gardening.

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Author: Laura Zinkan
Laura Zinkan cultivates a gardening site at with plant profiles and growing tips on cactus, succulents and California native plants. Drop by to smell the flowers. Or visit the new garden blog at for up-to-date seasonal information.

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