How to grow rosemary in pots
Ah, rosemary. One of my all-time favorites. Rosemary is like a tiny, yummy Christmas tree with evergreen, needle-like leaves. Like many culinary herbs, it grows fast and does well in containers. Whether you’re just starting out with container gardening or looking to expand your lineup, I highly recommend it.Growing rosemary in pots is easy and low-maintenance, perfect for a container herb garden on your patio or deck.
It’s not only low-maintenance, it’s actually pretty hard to kill.
Like David says to Alexis on Schitt’s Creek about his healthy adult Tamagotchis: You have to, like, actively murder them in order for that to happen!
And best of all, once your rosemary plant is established, you’ll have plenty to use in the kitchen and beyond.
Not sure how to grow rosemary in a pot or container? Read on for tips about how to plant rosemary in pots, how fast it grows, and how to prune and harvest it.
As an evergreen member of the mint family, with a pungent, earthy scent and flavor, it’s such a versatile herb and a little goes a long way. Read to the end for some interesting suggestions … from steak to martinis to stress relief to moisturizer. Who knew!
How to plant rosemary in containers
Start rosemary from seedlings or bedding plants
Rosemary is hard to start from seed and takes weeks to germinate, so unless you’re looking for a horticultural challenge, go for starter plants.
Where can I find the best rosemary seedlings?
Most garden centers will carry rosemary in spring, since it’s an herb garden staple.
Your local farmers market (find one here) is also a great place to look for seedlings. Farmers markets are A. awesome and B. have the added benefit of locally grown plants and producers who can give you advice specific to your climate.
Choose a container and a sunny spot on your deck
Rosemary is a Mediterranean herb, like basil and oregano, and it likes the same things they do: full sun, heat, and moderate water.
Your patio might be a far cry from the Italian mountainsides where they originated, but their little plant DNA remembers the sunny homeland, so recreate those general conditions and you’re golden.
One of the unique things about rosemary is its evergreen, shrub-like nature. It grows up rather than out and can even be used as a woody shrub or hedge, with enough years and room to grow.
Since you’re probably here because you’re looking for tips for your patio, deck or balcony garden, you probably aren’t trying to grow a full hedge …
Don’t worry – rosemary is perfect for growing in limited spaces too.
Keep these factors in mind when deciding where and how you’re going to plant:
- Use a container at least 8” deep with a 12” opening. Fill with good quality potting soil for each plant. Add a handful of compost to the potting mix, if you have some. (If not, no worries.)
- Next, find a spot in your container garden that gets full sun at least 6-8 hours per day, if possible. Rosemary can tolerate some morning shade but prefers full sun.
TIP: Rosemary is a perennial and can live for years with minimal care, as long as basic sun and water needs are met and it isn’t exposed to deep frost for extended periods.
- To keep rosemary alive in a container through the winter, bring it inside. If you live somewhere with cold winters, bring your rosemary containers indoors around the first frost and give them a sunny window until spring.
- That said … I’ve left rosemary out through numerous light frosts without doing much harm. If you forget or don’t have room inside, don’t stress. REMEMBER: You almost have to intentionally murder it for rosemary to go wrong.
If you do move it inside, to help the rosemary adjust to indirect sunlight, try to move it into partial shade for a couple of weeks before you transition it inside.
How to take care of a potted rosemary plant
Rosemary likes light, well-drained soil (vs dense and clay-like) and doesn’t need much fertilizer.
These minimal requirements make it really easy to help a rosemary plant thrive on your deck or patio.
How much should I water rosemary in a pot?
Water potted rosemary regularly while getting established, keeping the soil just moist for the first couple of weeks. After that, water sparingly.
Rosemary doesn’t like soggy soil. But since its leaves don’t wilt like many other plants, it’s also hard to tell when it needs water.
Tip: With rosemary, less water is more. Aim to give it a good soak once every week or two.
Does rosemary in a container need fertilizer?
Fertilize with a little compost or organic fertilizer two or three times during the growing season.
Add a handful of compost when planting, and spray diluted liquid fish fertilizer on the foliage a couple of times in the summer.
TIP: I’ve successfully grown rosemary many times without even going to this much trouble … if you’re looking for a low-maintenance herb, this is the one.
How fast does rosemary grow?
In the first year, rosemary grows about the size of the container, slow but steady.
If you want to speed up growth, replant into a bigger container halfway through the growing season.
If you keep it alive as a perennial over winter, growth will pick up in spring (with proper care and pruning). Flowers generally appear starting in the second year.
Do I need to transplant rosemary into a new pot next season?
Yes, if possible. If you’re treating your rosemary like a perennial and carrying it over to next year, consider giving it more room to grow. To encourage growth and prevent it from getting root-bound, carefully transplant your rosemary to a larger pot each year.
Remove from the current pot carefully. Gently untangle or trim any bound roots and replant with fresh potting soil and a handful of compost. Water thoroughly and set it back in its sunny spot.
How much rosemary should I grow in a container garden?
If you have very limited space on your deck, patio, or balcony, you’re in luck with rosemary. It grows fast and a little goes a long way.
If you’re planning to use it fresh and/or have limited space
One plant should suffice. Harvest and trim regularly to encourage continued growth.
If you’re using it fresh and want some leftover for preserving
Plant two or three. Rosemary is easy to dry and infuse in oils, so if you have the space on your patio or deck, it’s worth it to grow extra and make the most of it.
How often should I prune rosemary?
One of the most important steps to getting a full, bushy herb plant is to trim the stems. Trim the more flexible part of each stem for quicker regrowth.
Use sharp gardening shears; rough ones could damage the stems, which invites disease and pests. Never trim back more than ⅓ the size of the rosemary plant.
How and when to harvest rosemary
You can start harvesting leaves when it’s just 6” tall. Trim evenly around the top and sides throughout the season, and always be sure to clip just above the next set of two leaves on a flexible (not woody) stem. That’s what encourages bushy growth.
TIP: When harvesting for fresh use, be sure you trim flexible stems above any woody sections. Use small scissors to trim just above a set of leaves on a flexible stem to encourage more growth. The difference is obvious when you’re looking closely at the plant.
In the fall, if you aren’t keeping the rosemary over the winter as a perennial, cut the whole plant down close to the ground into sprigs for using fresh, drying or otherwise preserving.
If you are keeping it over winter, bring it inside and find it a sunny spot as mentioned above. In winter or early spring, trim a few inches all over to encourage tender new growth. If your rosemary has a lot of woody stems, trim even farther back to stimulate new growth.
Here’s how to trim your rosemary and dry it with a simple paper bag:
There are so many amazing uses for rosemary in the kitchen and home!
Like the other Mediterranean culinary herbs (oregano, thyme, basil, sage, parsley, saffron …), rosemary is an incredible seasoning for poultry, fish, soups, pasta and sauces.
As I said earlier, one of my favorite easy, healthy comfort foods is baked chicken and potatoes seasoned simply with rosemary and salt. Maybe a few lemon slices.
What are the best ways to use rosemary in cooking?
- Marinade chicken
- Add flavor to soups and stocks
- Season baked chicken, potatoes and veggies (my favorite!)
- Bake in focaccia
- Infuse flavored oil or compound butter
- Make rosemary-lemon sea salt
- Season steak with a chunk of butter in a cast-iron skillet
- Make a Christmas tree martini
The list goes on and on … here are more great examples of things you can do with rosemary in the kitchen.
What unique ways can you use rosemary?
- It’s easy to distill into rosemary essential oil, which is known to have a wide variety of benefits including easing muscle pain, reducing stress, stimulating hair growth and repelling some bugs.
- Some good ways to use rosemary to take advantage of those benefits (remember, essential oils should never be ingested):
- Use in a diffuser anywhere you want to ease stress or improve focus
- Add a few drops to bath water for relaxation
- Add to shampoo or moisturizer
- Massage a few drops into your scalp
In short, rosemary is so versatile and can thrive in pots and containers with minimal care and planning.
Just give this perennial herb some sun, some water, and a little space to grow on your deck, patio or balcony.
The first time you throw a home-grown sprig of rosemary into a soup pot or pan of baked chicken, or take a sigh of relief when the oil rises out of your diffuser, you’ll be very glad you added it to your container garden family.
More articles about growing herbs in pots:
- How to grow basil in a container on your deck
- How to grow oregano in a pot or container
- How to grow thyme in a pot in your patio garden
- How to grow dill in a pot
- How to grow parsley in a pot
- Growing cilantro in pots