What can enhance the taste of your homemade Italian dishes better than fresh herbs? Nothing else can compare to the flavor and fragrance they add to these dishes. Here are 4 popular and useful Italian herbs to grow in your kitchen garden, with plenty of tips on planting, maintaining, and harvesting.
Neither the season nor the size of the garden can prevent you from having a fresh supply of these herbs all year round! Growing Italian herbs in the home garden isn’t difficult as you might think.
You can grow them anywhere, from the balcony to the windowsill and of course, the outdoor garden. They can be part of the garden or stay in containers. They don’t need big pots and they are easy to maintain!
Italian parsley, also known as flat-leaf parsley, is a variety used in cuisines all over the world, but when it comes to Italian recipes, it’s a must-have. With a fresh, clean taste that’s slightly peppery, with a hint of citrus, it’s often used to give a finishing touch in soups, stews, and pasta dishes.
In appearance, it’s similar to cilantro but has darker, shinier leaves and a milder flavor and aroma. It’s also superior in flavor to curly parsley, which, though it does have its culinary charms, is more often used as a garnish. Italian parsley enhances other ingredients and brings vibrancy to recipes.
Growing Italian Parsley
Parsley is a slow starter. If growing from seed, you should plant them in individual pots indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost date in your region. You can even use a grow light to help your seedlings grow.
If you decide to go with a starter plant (and skip starting from seeds), then you’ll just need to go with the following instructions to ensure that your Italian parsley plants grow well.
- Italian parsley is an herb that grows best in full sun to partial shade, with at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. You might find a sunny windowsill in your kitchen if you’re not planning to grow the parsley outdoors.
- Keep the soil evenly moist, but not waterlogged, by watering deeply once or twice a week.
- Italian parsley prefers well-draining soil rich in organic matter, with a pH of between 6 and 7. You can use commercial potting soil or make your own by mixing equal parts peat moss, compost, and perlite.
- Apply a balanced fertilizer, (the 10-10-10 NPK one proved best for us) every 2 to 4 weeks during the growing season to encourage abundant growth and prevent soil nutrient deficiencies.
You can start harvesting your Italian parsley when the plants are about 6 inches tall. To harvest, snip off the upper leaves or sprigs as needed, being careful not to damage the plant.
Whether adding to a marinade, sprinkling it on a slice of delicious pizza, or infusing a vegetable broth, there is no savory dish that can’t be enhanced by oregano. Since its first cultivation thousands of years ago, oregano has been, along with parsley and basil, one of the most beloved ingredients of Mediterranean cuisine, and also a must-have in your Italian herb garden.
Oregano has gained wide popularity due to its characteristic aroma and sharp taste. It is a great fit with grilled vegetables, sauces, bean dishes, and marinades. Here’s more info about taking proper care of your oregano plant.
You can start oregano seeds indoors in pots or purchase seedlings from a nursery at any time, and these are tips that could be of great help to you:
- Oregano grows best in a location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day, and a bright window with morning sun is perfect.
- Be sure to use a well-draining soil mix. You can use commercial potting soil or make your own by mixing equal parts peat moss, compost, and perlite.
- Keep the soil moist, but not soggy. It is very important to water the oregano only when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
- The plant needs to be fertilized every one to two times a month with a balanced liquid fertilizer.
You can start harvesting your oregano beauty when it reaches 6 inches tall. Just snip off leaves or small sprigs as needed, being careful not to damage the plant.
According to ancient belief, rosemary was wrapped around the Greek goddess Aphrodite when she emerged from the sea. Native to the Mediterranean region, this woodsy evergreen shrub has a complex blend of citrus, lavender, pine, sage, pepper, mint, and sage aromatic notes. It has been in culinary use since at least 500 B.C., and is the subject of much lore and legend.
Rosemary has traditionally been paired with meaty dishes but you can’t go wrong adding it to plant-based protein and bean dishes either. It’s quite compatible with potatoes as well as roasted vegetable medleys.
Rosemary is a herb that can be grown in pots or containers as well as in the herb garden and since its seeds are known to germinate and grow quite slowly, we recommend starting them three to six months before the growing season. More practical would be to start with a small plant rather than seeds. Here are some tips for growing rosemary:
- Rosemary grows best with full sunlight, and it is only moderately tolerant of shade. This can be quite inconvenient when it comes to growing it indoors, so to increase your chances of success, try placing it on a bright windowsill that gets light all day. Better yet, you can get the plant going indoors, but then replant outside for the warm seasons.
- A good soil mix for rosemary should be rich in organic matter and well-draining. You can buy this soil readymade or make your own by mixing equal parts peat moss, compost, and perlite.
- As for watering, be generous but don’t overdo it, Water when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
- Fertilize the rosemary plants every two to four weeks with a balanced liquid fertilizer.
Harvest sprigs of rosemary as needed from the mature plant.
Fennel, a relative of the carrot family has a fresh, aromatic taste with a strong note of anise. It’s considered both an herb and a vegetable, and can be eaten raw, cooked, or roasted. True fennel lovers don’t hesitate to add it to their soups and sauces.
When eaten raw, fennel has a crisp texture similar to celery, and when exposed to high temperatures in the kitchen, it caramelizes and takes on a much sweeter taste and characteristic melt-in-your-mouth texture. The feathery leaves are the herb portion of the plant. They look quite a bit like dill, yet are milder in flavor and can be sprinkled into soups, roasted vegetables, salads, and more. Not surprisingly, they can enhance the very same dishes in which the vegetable part of fennel is used
Fennel seeds, regardless of where you plan to grow them later, must be started indoors in early spring, about 8 weeks before the last frost. Follow these steps and enjoy this Italian vegetable/herb when it’s ready:
- This zero-waste veggie should be placed on a south-facing window that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight, otherwise, if it doesn’t receive enough hours of sunlight, fennel won’t have as intense a flavor and scent. Growing it outdoors is preferable.
- The perfect soil for this Mediterranean beauty should be well-draining, have a specific pH level, and be high in nutrients as well. You can use commercial potting soil or make your own using the previously mentioned formula to achieve the perfect medium for a happy fennel plant.
- Watering a fennel plant will take a moderate amount of effort, so only when the top inch of soil feels dry to the touch.
- Given that they love to live in soil that is very rich in nutrients, be sure to fertilize your fennel plants every two to four weeks with a diluted, nitrogen-rich fertilizer.
Fennel is usually ready to harvest about 90 days after planting, if the growing season has been favorable. Harvest when the entire vegetable (bulb and celery-like stalks) is mature, and the herb-like, feathery leaves are the bonus.
Contributed by Tony Manhart, the founder and editor-in-chief at Garden Song. Tony’s enthusiasm and rich experience in all things related to growing plants have led him to share his knowledge with gardening aficionados all over the world. When he is not working around his garden, Tony spends his time writing tips and tricks on various subjects related to plant cultivation and soil maintenance.
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