By Matt Gibson
Marjoram is an easy-to-grow, flavorful, and aromatic herb. Finding room for a marjoram plant or two in your kitchen garden comes with a few perks. Not only will it be a welcome addition to your future culinary endeavors, marjoram plants also attract butterflies, and other beneficial insects, is an excellent companion plant, and marjoram plants also have a strong but pleasant aroma which you can enjoy throughout the season.
Hailing from the mediterranean, marjoram is a tender perennial, hardy to USDA zones nine and ten, and is commonly grown as an annual in regions with cooler weather. Growing from eight inches to two feet high in a compact clump of upright stems which are red when young, but turn slightly woody as they mature. From mid to late summer, marjoram forms small, delicate, lavender, white, or pink flower clusters. The plant’s leaves are small, hairy, and sweet-smelling, and are light-green on the top side and greenish-gray on the underside. The scoop-shaped foliage forms along multi-branched stems.
Once established, marjoram plants practically care for themselves. They are drought tolerant, so they will be very forgiving if you forget to water, and since the herb doesn’t need fertilization, watering is really the only care that must be provided. During mild weather, your marjoram plants will thrive in a nice sunny location. Growing your marjoram in containers is smart because it allows you the ability to move your plants around with ease. Marjoram is highly sensitive to cold weather, and should be moved indoors when the weather gets chilly, especially if a frost is on the way.
Marjoram is a common ingredient in many Greek and Italian recipes. The aromatic herb is often found in lamb and pasta dishes, and is often used as a substitute for oregano. When substituting marjoram for oregano, use one-third more marjoram than the recipe calls for oregano. When using oregano to substitute for marjoram, use one-third less oregano than the recipe calls for marjoram.
Marjoram’s healing power can be attributed to its high antioxidant content. The leaves of marjoram can be brewed to make a soothing tea that can be used to fight upset stomach issues. The versatile herb also has anti-microbial properties, and is commonly used to make antimicrobial skin cleansers.
Varieties of Marjoram
Three main varieties of marjoram are commonly cultivated in herb gardens. These three are sweet marjoram (Origanum marjorana), pot marjoram (Origanum onites), which has a more pronounced flavor than sweet marjoram, and wild marjoram (Origanum vulgare), which is commonly called oregano. There are several named varieties of oregano as well, including Italian oregano, and Sicilian oregano. All varieties of marjoram are cultivated for their culinary use, as well as for their enjoyable fragrance.
Growing Conditions for Marjoram
Marjoram will die if it is exposed to cold temperatures or freezes. Because of this, it is commonly grown as an annual in cool weather climates. Though they will tolerate a little bit of shade, marjoram needs a location with full-sunlight exposure and a light, well-draining soil medium. Before planting, till the soil so that it is light, loose and well-draining. Marjoram will tolerate just about any type of soil as long as it is well-draining. Though it will adapt to whatever soil it is put in, marjoram prefers a soil medium with a pH between 6.7 and 7.0.
When growing marjoram in the garden, we suggest starting your plants inside during the last few weeks of winter or the first few weeks of spring to get an early start on the growing season. Marjoram seeds should be buried just beneath the surface of the soil. Transplant your healthiest seedlings into the garden only after the threat of frost has come and gone. Alternatively, marjoram can also be grown in containers indoors, or in a greenhouse. Marjoram grows well indoors where it is protected from cold fronts and freezes and can be treated like a typical houseplant.
How to Plant Marjoram
Get a head start on the season by starting marjoram indoors four weeks before the average last frost date in spring and transplant out after last frost. Marjoram seeds are rather slow to germinate, so to insure the best possible outcome, the ideal temperature for germination is 70 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bring your transplants outdoors on the last day of frost in the spring. You can also get new marjoram plants by root division, which should be performed during the fall, overwintered indoors, and moved outdoors on the last frost day, just like the seedlings. If you don’t get a head start on the season, you can still direct sow your marjoram seeds just under the surface of the soil, no more than one-fourth of an inch deep, also on the last frost date in the spring.
Spread plants out six inches to one foot apart in rows spaced one and a half to two feet apart. Because marjoram’s fragrance attracts butterflies and other beneficial insects, the herb is a great companion plant for a wide variety of species. Marjoram pairs very well in garden beds with all vegetables and herbs, and will do well planted sporadically throughout the garden. Marjoram grows very well when planted next to sage, rosemary, garlic chives, and chamomile and supposedly improves the health, aroma, and flavor of other herbs grown in its vicinity.
Care for Marjoram
There’s not much that goes into caring for marjoram, as it requires very little care or attention. Other than occasionally providing water during dry spells, there’s nothing to do. Marjoram is drought tolerant as well, so even forgetting to water your marjoram every now and then is forgivable.
Marjoram will grow very well even in poor quality soils, so it doesn’t need to be fertilized, and aside from occasional watering, the only care marjoram plants need is a little trimming from time to time. Trimming the leaves back throughout the growing season and cutting the plants to the ground after flowering will keep your marjoram plants focused on creating new growth.
In zones nine and above, marjoram can be grown like a perennial and left in the ground, but in zones eight and below, marjoram plants should be potted up and brought indoors to set up residence on a sunny windowsill during the cold season.
How to Propagate Marjoram
Marjoram can be propagated well from seed and through root division. To propagate marjoram from seed, sow them indoors six weeks prior to the average last frost in your area. Alternatively, marjoram can be directly sown in the garden during the fall, or planted in the winter using a cold frame or a greenhouse.
Marjoram can be propagated quite easily through rootball division from either softwood or semi-hardwood cuttings. Cuttings should be taken in autumn, overwintered in pots indoors, and moved into the garden on the average last frost in your zone.
Garden Pests and Diseases of Marjoram
Marjoram is one of the few lucky plants that suffer from no serious pest or disease issues. Occasionally, you might find aphids or spider mites hanging out on your marjoram plant, but they can be easily deterred with a quick blast of water from the garden hose. Wet or soggy soil conditions with poor drainage can lead to damping off and root rot.
How to Harvest Marjoram
About 60 days after planting, Marjoram leaves are ready for harvesting. Fresh leaves should be trimmed with a garden pruner or a sharp, clean pair of scissors whenever needed after the plants become four to six inches tall. Once the leaves reach full size, cut them back for a cut-and-come-again harvest. The occasional trimmings will reinvigorate the plant and keep it focusing on new growth.
The more your marjoram plants are exposed to heat, the more flavor the leaves will contain. However, heat exposure will eventually lead to flowering. For the best flavor, harvest marjoram leaves before the plant flowers. Remove flower buds when you first notice them forming in order to prolong harvest time.
How to Store Marjoram
Fresh marjoram can be kept in the refrigerator in a plastic bag for around three to four days. Dried marjoram surprisingly retains quite a bit of its aroma and flavor. To preserve your marjoram, dry the leaves by spreading them out on a baking sheet and covering them with a paper towel and then putting it into the fridge to dry.
Marjoram leaves can also be dried out by placing them into an uncovered bowl and stirring them daily. This process can take anywhere from two to seven days. Leaves can also be dried by storing them in a mesh bag placed in a dark, warm, dry location. Once leaves are fully dried, place them in an airtight container.
Marjoram is an excellent herb to plant in random places all around your vegetable and herb garden beds, as it is a great companion plant, benefiting its neighbors in multiple ways. Aside from its usefulness in the kitchen, it’s an easy-to-grow herb that provides a sweet-smelling aroma throughout the growing season, and that aroma, as well as it’s tiny flower clusters, attract beneficial insects like butterflies to your garden.
There are lots of reasons why marjoram deserves a place in your veggie and herb garden. There are no reasons to leave it out of the rotation. Now that you know the ins and outs of how to grow marjoram, it’s time to receive those perks.