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How to Grow Oregano: From Tiny Seeds to Abundant Harvest

  • Bob Styer
  • Herbs
Dried Oregano And Fresh Leaves

Here’s everything you need to know about how to grow oregano, the herb that launched a trillion pizzas and tomato sauces.  One of the earliest written records about pizza is in Virgil’s Aeneid.  Virgil wrote that Aeneas and his men made thin wheat cakes.  Then they loaded them with mushrooms and herbs scrounged from the forest.  Wild oregano is so common in that part of the world that it had to be one of the herbs they used.  We’ll tell you about the different types of oregano and how to grow oregano from seeds, cuttings, or root division.  We’ll then dive into harvesting, storing, and drying oregano.  There’s all that and more…

What is Oregano?

Oregano is a woody perennial herb with square stems and oval leaves.  It’s a member of the mint family (Lamiaceae) and spreads by runners like other mints.

Common oregano is a native of the Mediterranean area and is also called wild marjoram.  This can be confusing because oregano and marjoram are in the same genus but not the same species.  That makes them related, but they’re not the same plant.

Oregano’s name comes from 2 Greek words, “oros” meaning mountain, and “ganos” meaning joy.  “Joy of the mountain” is a fitting description for oregano.  It covers the Mediterranean hillsides with beautiful pink, white, or pale purple flowers.  Add in the fragrance, and you’ll grab a seat to enjoy the experience as long as possible!

Brides and grooms wore crowns of oregano in ancient Rome and Greece.  The ancient Mediterranean cultures made a lot of herbal crowns for different situations.

Oregano wasn’t well-known in the United States before World War II.  Then, the soldiers returned with rapturous stories of pizza and other Italian food.  That changed everything, and the demand for oregano took off.

As a perennial, oregano will grow for 3 – 4 years in areas with mild winters.  In areas with cold winters, it’s often grown as an annual.  If you have colder winters, you can grow it in pots and bring the pots indoors before winter.

Would you like to learn about other herbs? Check out our post “The Complete Guides to Growing Culinary Herbs” for links to those articles.

Types of Oregano

The flavor and intensity of oregano can vary depending on the type.  Some are ornamental oreganos since they look good, but the flavor is too mild.  They’re all drought-resistant and prefer full sun and well-drained soil.  Here are a few different varieties of oregano:

  • Common Oregano (Origanum vulgare).  This is the type that’s also known as wild marjoram, and it has a pungent flavor.  It’s a commercial crop and is sometimes labeled as Greek oregano.  This is deceptive because the two types have very different flavors. The pink flowers are good when dried, but the plant is very invasive.  This variety grows 1 – 2 feet tall and 18 inches wide.  This type prefers Zones 4 – 8.
  • Italian Oregano (Origanum x majoricum).  The grayish-green leaves have a milder and sweeter flavor than Greek oregano.  Oregano leaves covered with tiny hairs always look grayish-green.  The plants grow to two feet tall with white to pale pink flowers.  Italian oregano grows as a perennial in Zones 6 – 9.
  • Greek Oregano (Origanum vulgare hirtum).  The leaves are small with purple undersides and tiny silvery hairs.  This oregano has an intense flavor, making it a favorite for cooking.  It grows as a perennial in Zones 5 – 11 and reaches two feet tall with white flowers.  Another type of Greek oregano is Origanum vulgare kaliteri.  “Kaliteri” means “the best” in Greek, and it’s milder than the hirtum variety.
  • Golden Oregano (Origanum vulgare aureum).  This variety has mild-tasting gold-colored leaves and is hardy in Zones 4 – 9.  Golden oregano is more popular as a decorative plant rather than a culinary herb.  The leaves will become more green if the plants are in shade.  It grows 6 – 12 inches tall and 12 – 18 inches wide and doesn’t spread like other varieties.  The flowers are light pink.
  • Sweet Marjoram (Origanum majorana).  This variety has a flavor like common oregano, but it’s milder and less spicy.  It grows as a perennial in Zones 9 – 10 but as an annual in cooler zones.  The plants grow 1 – 2 feet tall and 18 inches wide with white to pale pink flowers.
  • Syrian Oregano (Origanum syriacum).  Also known as Lebanese oregano or za’atar.  Za’atar is also the name of a food flavoring used in Middle Eastern cooking.  Besides Syrian oregano, other ingredients include sesame seeds, ground sumac, salt, and pepper.  It will grow in warm, dry climates and is often harvested in the wild.  This variety won’t tolerate cold winters but likes hardiness Zones 9 – 10.  It grows 3 – 4 feet tall with white to pale pink flowers.
  • Mexican Bush Oregano (Poliomintha longiflora).  This is also known as rosemary mint or Mexican sage.  It’s in the mint family but not a true oregano.  The plant has purple tube-shaped flowers and is very aromatic and edible.  It prefers Zones 8 – 10.  This plant will reach 3 – 4 feet high with tubular lavender pink flowers.
  • Cuban Oregano (Plectranthus amboinicus).  Also called Spanish thyme, it’s also in the mint family but not a true oregano.  Indian, African, and Caribbean cuisines use this variety.  It’s happy in Zones 9 – 11.  Cuban oregano grows 1 – 3 feet high and 2 – 3 feet wide.  The flower colors are white, purple, lavender, and pink.
  • Mexican Oregano (Lippia graveolens).  This is a perennial shrub native to the southwestern US and Mexico.  This relative of lemon verbena is also known as Puerto Rican oregano.  It has a more robust flavor than Italian oregano and prefers Zones 9 – 11.  This large plant will grow 6 feet high and 6 feet wide and live up to 20 years.

PET WARNING:  ALL TYPES OF OREGANO ARE TOXIC TO DOGS, CATS, AND HORSES.

Oregano flowers
Oregano flowers

Preparing the Soil

Oregano prefers full sun, but it will tolerate partial shade.  If you live in an area with hot summers, partial shade will protect the plants during the hottest part of the day.  The soil should be loamy and well-draining, with a pH of 6.0 – 8.0.

If the soil is too dense, mix it with garden sand to make it more loamy.  Oregano prefers soil on the dry side.  It won’t grow well in moist soil that’s full of organic matter.

Growing Oregano from Seed

You can sow oregano seeds straight to the garden, but it’s better to start them early in peat pots (see below).  When planting straight to the garden, wait until after the last spring frost.  Daytime temperatures should be about 70o F when sowing these seeds.

One oregano plant provides enough leaves all year for the average family.  We never grow more than two plants in pots to cover family dinners (17 people when everyone shows up!). Organic herbs are always in demand and make a good cash crop.  That can justify growing more plants.

Plant the seeds on the soil’s surface, but don’t cover them; they need light to germinate.  Give the seeds a gentle press so they stay in place.  It’s hard to sow individual oregano seeds since they’re so tiny.

The seeds will sprout in 7 – 14 days.  Once they sprout, you can thin the seedlings to 8 – 10 inches apart.  If you’re planting in rows, put the rows 18 – 24 inches apart.

Keep the soil moist until the sprouts are about six inches tall.  Once they get that tall, let the soil dry before each watering.

Once the plants are 6 inches tall, pinch off the tips to encourage bushy growth.  Feed the plants by spraying the leaves with liquid seaweed extract or compost tea.  Do this only two or three times during the growing season.

Oregano Seeds and Plants to Help You Get Started

Sow Right Seeds - Oregano Seed for Planting - Non-GMO Heirloom- Instructions to Plant and Grow a Kitchen Herb Garden - Indoor or Outdoor - Gardening Gift - Produces Flavorful Leaves for Seasoning (1)
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Seed Needs, Sweet Marjoram Seeds - 500 Heirloom Seeds for Planting Origanum majorana - Perennial Culinary & Medicinal Herb, Non-GMO & Untreated (1 Pack)
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Bonnie Plants Italian Oregano Live Herb Plants, Perennial in Zones 5 to 10, Full Sun to Part Shade, 4 Pack
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Oregano Seeds, 500+ Greek, Heirloom, Non GMO Seeds, Origanum vulgare VAR. Hirtum
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Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Italian Oregano Seeds - Non-GMO Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions - Heirloom Origanum Vulgare 85% Germination Rate 220mg
Gaea's Blessing Seeds - Italian Oregano Seeds - Non-GMO Seeds with Easy to Follow Planting Instructions - Heirloom Origanum Vulgare 85% Germination Rate 220mg
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Origanum Syriacum Seeds Syrian Oregano, Za'atar Hardy Woody Perennial Evergreen Fragrant Patio Border Contianer Outdoor 20Pcs Herb Seeds by YEGAOL Garden
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Starting Oregano Seeds Early

  • Start the seeds in peat pots or trays filled with seed starting mix.  That way, they’ll be easier to transplant.
  • The best time to start oregano indoors is late winter to mid-spring.
  • Oregano seeds need light to germinate, so sprinkle the seeds on the surface of the seed starting mix.  Press on the seeds a little so they stay in place.
  • The seeds are tiny, so having several seeds in each container is OK.  You can thin them after they sprout.
  • Moisten the seeds with a misting spray.  Misting once a day should keep the soil moist enough.
  • To help with germination, place the containers on a heating pad.  The soil temperature should be 70 degrees F.
  • Keep the seeds in sunlight. If you don’t have a sunny spot, use a grow light or fluorescent light to give the seeds eight hours of daily light.
  • Germination will occur in 7 – 14 days.

When the seedlings are about three inches tall, move them outside for about a week to harden. Ensure the last frost has passed before moving them outside.

Transplant the seedlings to the herb garden or larger pots in late spring or early summer.  Since the peat containers can go right into the soil, there’s no risk of damaging the roots.

Select Your Accessories for Starting Seeds Early

Baxrou 120 Pack 3.15 Inch Peat Pots Plant Starters for Seedling, Biodegradable Herb Seed Starter Pots Kits, Garden Germination Nursery Pot wit 30 Plant Labels, 2 Transplant Tools.
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Growing Oregano in Pots

When planting seeds or seedlings into larger pots, fill them with potting mix.  Potting soil gets too dense in pots and doesn’t drain well.  If you need to use potting soil, mix three parts of it with one part of organic compost.

Also, add one part of perlite or vermiculite.  This mixture will improve the drainage and fertility of the potting soil.

Oregano growing in larger pots spreads to fill the entire pot over a year or more.  When this happens, take out some of the plants by root division and replant them.  If you don’t want more plants, then harvest the leaves from the plants you removed.

Any potted plant ends up using all the soil nutrients.  Oregano isn’t very picky about low nutrients, but it’s still a good idea to repot the plants every few years.  If there’s enough room in the pot, mixing in fresh compost or some organic fertilizer will work.

If you live in an area with cold winters, bring any potted oregano inside to protect it.

Growing Oregano from Cuttings

The best time to take cuttings is in late spring when the plants are at their mature height.  Cut individual branches so they’re five inches long.  Then, remove the leaves from the bottom third of each branch.  Make the cuts at an angle so the cut end has a larger surface area.

To root the cuttings:

  • Fill a pot with moistened potting mix.
  • Push the cuttings about two inches deep into the potting mix. Rooting hormone could be used but it isn’t necessary.
  • Press the soil around the cuttings so they remain upright.
  • Keep the potting mix moist until roots take hold in about a week.
  • If you want to transplant the cuttings out of the pot, wait until the roots are about two inches long.  Be careful and check the root length by digging into the potting soil.

Another way to root the cuttings is to place them in a clear glass with about 1 inch of water.  Change the water when it gets cloudy.  Roots will appear in about a week, and the cuttings can go into the garden or pots when the roots are about 2 inches long.

Propagating Oregano by Root Division

After three years, oregano gets so thick that the plants need separated by root division.  This will keep the plants productive and prevent them from getting woody.

  • First, dig around the plants enough to loosen them.
  • Next, separate the plants by cutting through the roots with a garden knife (hori-hori knife).
  • Don’t try to separate the roots with large hand tools like a shovel, or you could damage the plants.
  • Transplant the divided plants or harvest them.

How to Prune Oregano

Lush green oregano plants in pots.
Oregano thrives in pots, but spreads quickly

Pinching off the tops encourages bushy growth and prevents flowering.  Once an oregano plant flowers, the leaves become less flavorful.

Cut off the top 2/3 of the plants in the summer to encourage fresh growth.  It’s possible to cut the plants as low as the first layer of leaves.  And don’t forget to harvest the leaves from the cut sections!

Harvesting Oregano

Harvest the leaves as needed after the plants are 6 inches tall.  Pinch off the leaves, but don’t take more than 1/3 of the leaves from one plant to prevent damage.  Regular trimming encourages bushier growth.

The best time for a total harvest is right before the plants flower.  Once the plants flower, the leaves lose their perfect taste.  To harvest the entire plant, clip off the stem but leave the lowest level of leaves.  The plant will start new growth about two weeks after cutting.

Harvesting Oregano Seeds

If you want to harvest seeds, let some of the plants flower.  Another advantage to flowering is that it attracts pollinators.

To save the seeds, cut off the seed heads when they start to turn brown.  Ensure you leave a few inches of stem on them.  Tie the stems together, hang them upside-down, and cover them with a paper bag.  Once the seed heads dry, shake the seeds into the bag.

Any seed heads left on the plants will cast their seeds to the ground.  These seeds will sprout in the spring, and you’ll have even more oregano.

Overwintering Oregano

In cold winters, oregano will go dormant.  Cut back the dead plants but leave about 2 inches of stem.  This applies to plants in the garden or in pots left outside.

Spread a few inches of straw, shredded leaves, or grass clippings on the garden to protect the roots.  Cover any pots left outside during the winter with straw or bubble wrap.

Potted oregano will stay alive during the winter by bringing it inside.  Keep it near a sunny window or give it eight hours under a grow light or fluorescent light.

Storing Fresh Oregano

Fresh oregano can stay in the refrigerator for up to a week.

  • Rinse the sprigs in cold water, then pat them dry.
  • Wrap the sprigs in damp paper towels and place them in a Ziploc bag, but don’t seal the bag all the way.
  • Another option is to put the sprigs in a glass with about one inch of water.  Put an unsealed plastic bag over the sprigs like a tent and change the water if it gets cloudy.

Freezing Oregano Leaves

Frozen oregano will stay good for up to a year.

  • Rinse the sprigs in cold water and spin dry them or pat them dry with towels.
  • The leaves need to be completely dry to prevent freezer burn.
  • Strip the leaves from the stems and loosely place the leaves in a freezer bag.
  • Remove all the air from the bag, but don’t crush the leaves.
  • Place the bag in the freezer in an area safe from crushing.
  • Use the leaves without thawing them.

Another way to freeze oregano is by chopping it and putting it in ice cube trays.

  • Rinse and dry the oregano as described above
  • Strip the leaves and chop them with a knife or a food processor.
  • Place the chopped oregano in ice cube trays and top each cube with water.
  • Once frozen, remove the cubes from the trays and place them in freezer bags.
  • Put the cubes into cooking foods as needed.
  • You could also puree the leaves with a food processor and put the puree in the ice cube trays without adding water.

How to Dry Oregano

Most people prefer dried oregano over fresh oregano since the flavor is a little softer.  

Before drying, rinse the sprigs with cold water and pat them dry.  Don’t rub the leaves because they are easy to bruise.

The leaves shouldn’t have any moisture, or they could become moldy when air drying.  Water droplets could also cause hot spots on the leaves when drying with heat.  Throw out any yellow, brown, or diseased leaves.

Fresh oregano with a jar of dried oregano.
Make your own dried oregano and enjoy the mellow taste

Air Drying Oregano

Air drying could be problematic in areas with high humidity.  Excess moisture at any time could cause mold or mildew on the leaves.

  • Tie several sprigs together and hang them upside down in a dark, well-ventilated area.
  • Cover the sprigs with paper bags to catch leaves that might fall off.  Cut some holes in the sides of the bags for ventilation.
  • It takes about two weeks for the sprigs to be dry enough.  Large bunches could take up to a month.
  • Leaves are dry enough when it’s easy to crumble and break them.
  • Strip the dried leaves into a large bowl and discard the stems.

Another option for air drying is to remove the leaves from the stem and place them on a cookie sheet in a single layer.  Put the cookie sheet in a dark, well-ventilated area until the leaves are dry.

Drying Oregano in a Microwave

Remove the leaves from the stalks and place them in a single layer on paper towels.  Microwave them for one minute and then check the dryness.  Continue microwaving in 20-second increments until the leaves are crumbly.  Remove any leaves that get fully dry as you’re microwaving.

How to Dry Oregano in an Oven

The oven should be set at the lowest possible temperature.  The lowest temperature varies with the oven model.

  • Cover a baking sheet with parchment paper and lay the sprigs or leaves in a single layer.
  • Turn the sprigs or leaves every 10 minutes and remove any that are completely dry.
  • Keep an eye on the leaves in case they scorch.
  • It takes about an hour for all the leaves to dry.  Loose leaves will dry faster than the ones attached to stems.

Drying Oregano in a Dehydrator

A dehydrator is the best way to dry oregano since it provides the most flavorful dried leaves.

  • Place the leaves in a single layer on the dehydrator trays.
  • Follow the dehydrator instructions for drying herbs.

Accessories for Drying Oregano

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Storing Dried Oregano

  • Strip any dried leaves that are still on the sprigs.
  • Store or grind the whole leaves with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
  • Store the whole or ground leaves in air-tight containers in a cool, dry place.

Dried oregano starts to lose its flavor after about six months, but it’s still useable for 1 – 3 years.  The problem with older dried herbs isn’t spoilage; it’s the complete loss of flavor after a few years.

Oregano Companion Plants

  • Oregano repels many pests and attracts beneficial insects.
  • It protects cucumbers, grapes, melons, pumpkins, squash, asparagus, and cole crops are protected from cucumber beetles, squash bugs, worms, caterpillars, and beetles.
  • The aroma of oregano also repels deer and rabbits.
  • Flowering oregano attracts pollinators and beneficial predatory insects. This makes it helpful for tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries.
  • Since oregano repels mosquitos, it’s a good companion plant for people.
  • Oregano grows well with herbs that have similar growing conditions.  This includes basil, lavender, rosemary, thyme, tarragon, and sage.
  • Although they’re in the same family, mints don’t grow well with oregano since they prefer moister soil.

Get more companion planting options by checking our comprehensive Companion Planting Chart.

Oregano Pests

Since oregano is in the same family as mints, they can suffer from the same pests and diseases.

Use caution when spraying oregano with neem oil or organic insecticidal soap.  Too much of either can burn the leaves.  It’s always best to experiment with different concentrations.  Spray it on a small section of the plant to see if there will be a problem.

Neem oil and organic insecticidal soap protect against all the pests listed below.

  • Aphids and Spider Mites.  These pests attack many plants that other insects won’t touch.  Remove them by spraying them with a strong blast of water.
  • Leafhoppers.  These are sucking insects; their saliva creates a small white spot on plants.  Leaves become deformed, curl, and turn yellow.  Neem oil works well against them.
  • Leafminers.  Pale tracks or spirals on the leaves are the marks left by leafminers.  Since they live within the leaves, pesticides have little effect.  Remove the infested leaves and destroy them.
  • Thrips.  These are tiny white pests that don’t move unless they’re disturbed.  Infected plants won’t look healthy, and they’ll lose vigor.  Thrips love dense foliage, so keep plants separated enough for good airflow.  Organic insecticidal soap keeps them in check.
  • Cutworms.  They’ll attack many garden plants by chewing off the stems of young plants at the soil line.  Spread diatomaceous earth around the base of the plants.  This makes the cutworms feel like they are crawling on broken glass, and they won’t get near the plants.  Diatomaceous earth can injure insects enough to kill them.  Cutworms hide under leaves and other matter during the day.  Remove residue from the soil surface so they won’t have a place to hide.
  • Armyworms.  These beasts skeletonize the leaves.  Like cutworms, they like to hide under matter on the soil surface.  Diatomaceous earth will cut them as they crawl around.  When you see them, remove them by hand-picking.

Armyworms and cutworms are both brown caterpillars about an inch long.  They’re the larvae of moths that lay eggs on the underside of leaves.

These moths can lay over 100 eggs at a time and go through several generations yearly.  They can quickly destroy entire garden crops.

For more information about controlling pests organically, see our article “Top 5 Natural Pest Control Methods You Can Use Now.”

Oregano Diseases

When disposing of diseased plants, never add them to the compost pile.  Composting doesn’t affect these diseases, so they’ll spread to any crops using the compost.

Mix the soil with neem cake to prevent fungal diseases or other soil-borne problems.  This is a powerful fungicide and pesticide.  See our article “How to Save Your Plants With Neem Oil and Neem Cake” for more information.  Spraying the plants with neem oil will prevent infections above ground.

The keys to dealing with fungal diseases are preventing overwatering. high humidity, and poor ventilation.  It’s also important to treat infected soil before planting more crops.  There isn’t a cure for infected plants other than pulling them up and destroying them.

  • Mint Rust (Puccinia menthae).  This fungus spreads from nearby mint plants.  It shows up as small dusty pustules under the leaves, which turn yellow, brown, or bright orange.  This fungus kills large areas of leaves.  Prevention consists of keeping oregano far from mints.  It also helps to avoid overhead watering.  To treat this problem, remove any plants with the fungus, including the roots, and destroy them.  Any healthy plants should have their roots immersed in hot water that’s about 110o F for 10 minutes.  Also apply hot water to the soil.  Then, cool the roots with cool water and return the plants to the soil.  Hopefully, this will control the fungus.
  • Powdery Mildew (Caused by several different fungi).  This is a fungus that prefers to infect plants during high humidity.  It shows as a white or gray powdery coating on the surface of leaves.  Pull out the infected plants and destroy them.
  • Anthracnose (Colletotrichum lindemuthianum).  This shows up as watery black spots on leaves and stems.  The spots soon turn into masses of spores that are pink and gelatinous.  This disease starts in cool, wet weather and continues at a temperature of 75o – 85o.  The fungus needs high moisture to continue developing.  Remove infected plants and destroy them.
  • Damping Off (Caused by several different fungi).  This fungus infects seeds.  A healthy-looking seedling sprouts but then curls up and dies.  The fungus prefers air temperatures over 68o F and high soil moisture.  Using high nitrogen (non-organic) fertilizer also encourages this fungus.  To prevent this disease, don’t crowd the plants or overwater them.  Also, avoid over-fertilizing with high-nitrogen products.  These are usually chemical fertilizers that shouldn’t be part of organic gardening.
  • Verticillium Wilt (Verticillium dahlia and other species).  The leaves turn yellow at the edges, then curl up and die.  Pull up infected plants and destroy them.
  • Root Rot (Caused by several different fungi).  Overwatering almost any plant can cause this fungal disease.  The roots become soft and water-logged, then rot.  Infected plants soon die, so pull them up and destroy them.  Prevent this disease by using less water.

Final Thoughts

We don’t want to imagine a world without this noble herb.  It’s a perfect flavor for many of the foods we enjoy.   You could even say they wouldn’t exist without it.

Mix up some olive oil and oregano right now and dip in a chunk of fresh crusty bread.  This connects you with something people have done for thousands of years.  Mangiamo!

Last update on 2024-07-18 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Bob Styer

As a child, I hated gardening. That was mainly because Dad expected us to work in the garden every so often even though we thought play was more important. Over the years, though, I've developed a real appreciation for growing things. Whether you're growing plants for food or to enjoy their beauty, gardening can make your life better. Seize the moment!

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