Rosemary Babies

“There’s rosemary, that’s for remembrance.”
— Ophelia in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.

Long associated with memory and remembering, rosemary is an ancient herb that has many habits of growth and even more uses. Its name derives from the Latin, ros, meaning dew, and marinus, of the sea, giving it one of its common names “dew of the sea”.

For those not familiar with growing it, rosemary is an evergreen Mediterranean shrub with resinous, pine needle like leaves. The upright forms usually grow between two and five feet tall, while the creeping varieties grow more horizontally and are useful for rock gardens or trailing over walls. The upright forms are typically preferred for culinary uses, since they usually have more taste and scent.

Many varieties are not reliably hardy in our zone 6 climate, so I grow quite a few plants in pots as well as those I plant in the ground. Rosemary can be grown from seed, but the named varieties will have to be grown from cuttings. The cultivars “Arp” and “Madelene Hill” (aka “Hill Hardy”) are two of the hardiest selections, while “Tuscan Blue” is less hardy but a favorite in the kitchen.

Cuttings taken from woody or semi-woody parts of the plant will root in 3-4 weeks if taken while the plant is actively growing. I often make my cuttings in fall. They’ll take longer to root then, but I find the cooler temps of late fall are easier on the cuttings. I’ll root them in a gritty potting mix and by spring they’ll be ready for potting up or for setting out in the garden.

rosemary cuttings with lower leaves stripped

rosemary cuttings with lower leaves stripped off

If you have a plant, or have a friend who’s willing to let you have a few cuttings, here’s how to go about growing rosemary from cuttings:

  1. Snip or pinch off a 3-4 inch cutting from a well-established plant.
  2. Remove the leaves from the bottom inch of the stem, then dip the end into some rooting hormone (available from your garden center).
  3. Stick the dipped end into a container filled with a coarse, sterile potting mix. Perlite works well, or use perlite mixed half and half with a peat based seed starting mix. You want a well-draining mix.
  4. Place the container in a warm spot, out of direct sun. Fluorescent plant lights work well for rooting cuttings. Some sources recommend covering the container with a plastic bag, but I’ve found it unnecessary and it can cause the foliage to fall off and the cuttings to fail. Misting can help if the air is dry, just don’t overdo it.
  5. Check daily, and water as needed. Do not allow medium to dry out, but don’t keep it waterlogged either.
  6. In 3-4 weeks, check for root growth by gently tugging on cuttings. If you feel resistance, the cutting has rooted. If not, give it some more time.
  7. Once rooted, pot the cuttings into individual 3-4 inch pots, using a coarse potting mix (rosemary hates having wet feet).
rosemary cutting in perlite

rosemary cuttings in perlite

I took this “Madelene Hill” rosemary cutting last month, and after 4 weeks it is well rooted and ready to be potted up:

rooted rosemary cutting

rooted rosemary cutting

To encourage branching, you can pinch off the tip of the plant after potting up. Below is a young “Arp” plant that was rooted and potted up a couple of months ago. It’s already developing a nice bushy shape.

young "Arp" rosemary plant

young “Arp” rosemary plant

If you like growing rosemary, why not try making a few babies – Rosemary babies that is!

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3 Responses to Rosemary Babies

  1. What a great tutorial. I have not rooted Rosemary before. It does grow outdoors year-round here, but I would like a little pot near my kitchen window…

    • Dave says:

      We’ve got one plant that has been in a pot for over 5 years. My wife had it before we met, and I sort of took over its care. I put it outside in spring and then bring it in before weather gets too cold. It overwinters in the basement, in my light garden. It seems to like the cooler temps down there, and it’s so nice to have fresh rosemary year round.

  2. lisaschaos says:

    How neat! I love rosemary but the one plant I had I quickly killed. 🙁 So I guess I’ll leave it to people with a greener thumb. 🙂

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