The cultivation of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis) is widely practiced in Italy. This evergreen medicinal plant is well-known for the unmistakable aroma it adds to our culinary delights in the kitchen. Rosemary is a hardy plant that adapts well to various growing conditions. In this article, we will focus on its botanical characteristics and essential tips for successful cultivation.
Through a detailed photo gallery, we will explore how and when to propagate rosemary through cuttings.
This aromatic plant is a must-have in our vegetable gardens and home gardens, as it can be easily grown even in containers on balconies.
Botanical Characteristics of Rosemary
Rosemary is an evergreen shrub belonging to the Lamiaceae (or Labiate) family. It grows naturally in Mediterranean scrublands or “garighe.” In the wild, it can reach a height of up to 2 meters. Its roots are sturdy and deep, anchoring the plant firmly to the ground, which is especially beneficial on rocky terrain.
The structure of the plant is highly branched, with prostrate (more or less parallel to the ground) and ascending branches.
The leaves are linear and needle-like, sessile (meaning without a stalk), with lengths ranging from 1.5 cm to 3.5 cm; the margins are rolled backward, with a resinous texture and dark green color on the upper side and a whitish hue on the lower side.
The flowers are grouped in axillary or terminal racemes, with bilabiate corolla in shades of bluish-violet. Flowering occurs in spring and summer in cooler growing areas, while it can occur intermittently throughout the year in warmer regions.
Thanks to its abundant and prolonged flowering, rosemary cultivation is highly appreciated by bees. They collect large quantities of nectar and pollen from its flowers, forming yellowish-gray pollen balls. This makes rosemary cultivation beneficial for apiculture, especially in the spring season.
Cultivating rosemary is relatively easy, as it is a hardy plant. It is grown extensively throughout Italy, with the Mediterranean region being the preferred location due to its mild climate. Rosemary suffers from prolonged cold, so in northern regions, it’s best to position the plants in a sheltered south-facing area protected from the cold.
In any case, it is advisable to provide adequate protection from frost during the winter months.
Rosemary cultivation thrives even in nutrient-poor soil. The key is to ensure good drainage. For container cultivation, you can add sand to universal soil, creating a soft and well-draining mixture.
Rosemary cultivation is abundant in many Mediterranean regions, suggesting limited water supply is sufficient. Only during the initial growth phase should the soil be kept consistently moist. Once the plant is well-rooted, water supply should be limited to the summer season and during prolonged dry periods.
Biological Pest Defense
Fortunately, rosemary cultivation is favored by pollinating insects (such as bees) and less appealing to common garden pests. In fact, it acts as a natural repellent against pests.
The few potential pests attacking rosemary include the planthopper Eupteryx decemnotata, which causes damage through feeding punctures, and the leaf beetle Chrysomela Americana, which nibbles on the leaves.
Both pests are not widespread in most areas. If an infestation occurs, treating with neem oil is recommended.
Reproduction of Rosemary by Cuttings
Reproduction of rosemary can be done from seeds, sowing them towards the end of winter, or, as recommended, through cuttings. This is because the plant can easily produce new root systems through this method.
The best periods for making cuttings are at the beginning of spring and autumn. However, under specific conditions, it is also possible to perform cuttings during winter, as long as there is adequate protection for the young plants from frost.
We start by taking a strong and robust branch from the upper part of a well-developed rosemary bush. As you can see from the sturdy branch we’ve cut, several smaller branches emerge from it.
Other necessary elements are good quality soil and river sand.
At this point, we proceed to cut the end part of a branch (our cutting) to a length of about 20 cm.
Clearing the Cutting
Now we need to remove the leaves from the lower part of the cutting.
After cleaning the lower part of the cutting from leaves, we need to make two cuts at specific points. The first cut is at the bottom part, just below a node.
The second cut is at the top apex, about half a centimeter. This operation helps to strengthen the root system of the cutting.
The Soil for the Rosemary Cutting
At this point, the delicate phase of the process is done. Simply mix the soil and sand in the ratio of 70% soil to 30% sand. Fill a pot with a diameter of 10-12 cm with this mix and insert the rosemary cutting into the soil until it reaches the level of the cleaned leaves.
With our starting branch, we were able to create 7 rosemary cuttings.
The recommendations we give for successfully propagating rosemary through cuttings are as follows:
- Always choose a cutting from a strong and healthy branch of the plant.
- Keep the soil consistently moist, but not overly wet.
- If the cutting was done during winter, protect it from frost, perhaps by placing it in a small greenhouse and sheltered from precipitation.
Some people use rooting hormones to ensure the successful rooting of the cutting. However, we believe that this step can be avoided.
Others soak the cutting in water for a certain period until new roots naturally emerge from the stem. However, if the conditions we mentioned are respected, this additional practice is unnecessary.
The cutting typically takes an average of 2 to 3 months to root properly. Afterward, it can be transplanted directly into the ground or a pot.
Rosemary cultivation generally does not require pruning interventions. The cuts are mostly aimed at removing dry or damaged parts of the plant, or for ornamental purposes.
Harvesting, Drying, and Preservation
If you have a rosemary plant available, you can harvest as needed, meaning you can cut the plant only when you actually need to use it.
The cutting should be made at the top part, at the tip of one of the sturdier branches.
Drying should take place in the shade and in a well-ventilated place. Typically, it lasts about 15 days.
Properties and Uses of Rosemary
In addition to its most well-known and widespread use as an aromatic spice in cooking, rosemary is used as a medicinal plant for its antiseptic and balsamic properties. Moreover, its essential oil is extensively used in perfumery and homeopathy.
- University of Illinois Extension – “Rosemary” – Provides information on how to grow and care for rosemary.
- WebMD – “Health Benefits of Rosemary” – Discusses the various health benefits of rosemary, including its potential to reduce the risk of cancer, support the immune system, reduce stress, and improve memory and concentration.
- PubMed Central (PMC) – “Therapeutic effects of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis L.) and its active constituents on nervous system disorders” – Discusses the potential neuropharmacological effects of rosemary extracts and its active constituents on nervous system disorders.