How to grow rosemary indoors and out

I can grow a lot of herbs both indoors and out but the one that gives me the most trouble is rosemary! Oh, I can keep the plant alive and thriving just fine when it's summer (and I'll teach you how too!) but once I bring the rosemary plant inside for winter all bets are off! We can get to that later though. For now, let's talk about how to grow rosemary in your garden.

How to keep rosemary plant alive

Rosemary has a long list of historical uses, dating all the way back to the Egyptians when they used it in burials. It's well known for its use in lamb dishes, as an essential oil and for it's healing properties. Also known for the pop culture reference in Practical Magic "Keep Rosemary by your garden gate". 

Rosmarinus officinalis or Salvia rosmarinus, commonly called rosemary is an aromatic herb indigenous to the Mediterranean area. It is a member of the mint family. Rosemary is a woody, shrubby, aromatic perennial. As a perennial it prefers a warmer, moist climate but can be grown as an annual above zone 6 or moved indoors as a potted plant during winter. 

Rosemary has needlelike leaves and delicate purple, pink, white or blue flowers. Let me clarify, needle shaped leaves but much thicker and a bit softer. Rosemary’s leaves are dark green on top with silvery undersides. They are so fragrant that you can smell the herb just by brushing your fingertips over the leaves.

Mature rosemary plants can live for over 30 years.

Which is crazy to me, because I haven't even made it to 3 years yet! Almost there though! lol Admittedly I don't totally kill it the minute I move it indoors, it just stops thriving. I can keep it alive till spring and it perks back up when I start taking it outside on warm days. I'm pretty sure the air inside my house is to blame, so I bought my plant humidifier balls this year. More on that down below...

Rosemary topiary.

How to grow the rosemary plant


Rosemary is slow to germinate and grow from seed so it is best to buy plants or propagate rosemary from stem cuttings. If propagating from cuttings, chose soft cuttings from new growth and strip the bottom leaves off before planting directly in moist soil. You can also propagate rosemary from cuttings in water.

I like to leave rosemary in a container while outside as it seems to be able to adjust to moving back in-doors more easily. I'm in zone 5B.

Rosemary grows best in full sun and prefers 6-8 hours of sun each day, but will tolerate semi-shade. This herb grows best in light, well-drained soil. Bright light and well draining soil is essential whether growing indoors or out! 

Rosemary is drought tolerant. Let rosemary become moderately dry between watering, as root rot can be a problem in soggy soils. Don't water until the top 1" of soil is dry, then water thoroughly allowing the excess to run out of the pot. Rosemary does not like to have wet feet, so 1 thorough watering is better than more frequent shallow watering. Mist the leaves every other week.

If your rosemary is growing in a pot, check it yearly (or after buying a new plant) to make sure it is not rootbound. If it is, loosen up the roots and repot in a larger container.

I do not fertilize my rosemary plant while it is outside. I do add compost mixed with soil when I move it to a larger pot. Sometimes I refresh some of the soil with compost when checking for root binding. 

Rosemary can grow 3 – 6 feet tall outdoors. In the garden, rosemary deters cabbage moth, bean beetles, and carrot fly when planted near cabbage, beans, carrots, and sage.  

Above zone 6, move your rosemary plant back indoors before the first frost. Don't forget to debug and clean your plants before bringing them indoors!

This is my almost 3 year old rosemary plant. I harvest quite a bit before I bring it indoors for winter each year.

Rosemary plant indoors.

Growing rosemary indoors successfully


Rosemary requires at least 4 hours of direct sunlight a day. If you are growing rosemary on a windowsill, turn regularly to ensure every side receives light. If you are growing rosemary under lights, hang fluorescent lights 6 inches above the plants and leave on for 12 hours. 

Water indoor rosemary the same as you would outdoors but mist much more often, more like 1 - 2 times a week while indoors. Make sure the foliage stays pretty moist as this keeps the spider mites at bay plus the leaves appreciate the moisture in the air. Rosemary prefers slightly cooler air temps in winter and lots of air circulation. You might want to put a fan on it for a short while each day. 

To add moisture to the air there are a variety of humidifiers from stones to electronic devices. Or you could just leave a bowl of water near the base of the plant. The water evaporates into the air and the plant pulls the moisture from there. 

Indoors, rosemary benefits by harvesting tip cuttings that will keep the plant fuller and bushier. When spring approaches I like to fertilize the plant with some compost tea right before I start taking it outside during the day. I slowly acclimate the plant to being outside by putting it out for longer each day but bringing it in during the cooler nights.


Ok, so I'm pretty sure I know what I was doing wrong with my indoor rosemary plant in winter. It's the lack of moisture in the house air that is the problem. Although, I may be being too hard on myself about this! I just asked in a popular plant group and almost everyone said their rosemary plant looks pretty sad by spring each year! 

Apparently growing rosemary indoors is tricky for everyone. So be prepared for that if it's your first time growing rosemary indoors. 

How to use fresh rosemary


Cut rosemary sprigs can be kept in the fridge for a few days either in plastic bags or with the stems immersed in water. The leaves can be dried by hanging fresh sprigs in a warm, dry place. Strip off leaves before storing. The leaves, stems, and flowers of the rosemary plant are all edible. To release the flavour of dried leaves, crush them just before using.

Rosemary can be added to the cooking water to enhance cauliflower, potatoes, green beans, and peas. It's often used to enhance the flavor of lamb and other meats. It can also be made into a medicinal tea to help boost immunity and digestive health.

Hopefully I have my indoor rosemary problems solved. I bought the cute tree shaped rosemary plant up above this year and it is doing really well so far! I'm hoping that this one will make it till spring and then I'll have 2 plants to take out when the weather warms up! Wish me luck!

Related reading: Want more information on growing herbs? Check out this collection of articles on herb growing.


~L

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