By Jennifer Poindexter
Rue is a classic herb with many old-fashioned uses. This herb is bursting with green foliage, vibrant yellow flowers, and a bitter flavor. It was once a popular culinary and medicinal herb. Rue was used to treat common ailments such as headaches, toothaches, and earaches.
However, it was discovered if you use too much of the herb it can be toxic and cause severe stomach pain. It’s also thought to cause miscarriages, so it’s definitely not recommended for pregnant women and should be avoided.
Don’t let these disturbing facts stop you from growing this herb as a non-edible plant though. Rue is a simple plant that can add a great deal of beauty to your yard or garden. Here’s how you can grow rue in your own herb garden:
Growing Conditions for Rue
Rue grows in planting zones four and higher. It prefers full sun but can thrive in partial shade too. Rue isn’t picky when it comes to soil and can grow in clay or sandy locations.
Rue can even grow in rocks making it a great choice for a rock garden. If you have a location where nothing will grow, give rue a try. It may be able to add life where you thought it impossible. The most important aspect to growing rue is to make sure the soil is well draining.
If you don’t have much room for a larger herb garden, rue is still a good choice for you because it can thrive in an indoor or outdoor container garden. When looking for an herb to add beauty to your home, without perfect growing conditions, rue is the forgiving plant you’ve been searching for.
How to Plant Rue
Whether you’re a new or seasoned gardener, rue could be the plant for you. It’s easy to grow and grace-filled when it comes to proper growing conditions.
If you’ve decided to grow rue, you’ll be thrilled to know it’s easy to start from seed. Once rue is planted, you shouldn’t have to worry about raising or transplanting anymore in the foreseeable future because it reseeds easily.
Rue seeds should be started indoors in late winter. Start rue seeds by placing moist quality potting soil inside grow trays. Place two seeds in each section of the tray as an insurance policy when the seeds germinate. This way if one seed doesn’t germinate, you’ll still have at least one plant growing in each section of your grow tray.
Place the seeds in a warm area to encourage germination to take place. You can place the tray under grow lights, on top of your refrigerator, or on a grow mat.
Once the seeds have started, care for them indoors by watering them, ensuring the seedlings get enough sunlight, and hardening them off before they’re moved permanently outdoors. When late spring arrives, the rue seedlings should be big enough to move to their permanent location outside.
Rue is a perennial, so it’s a good idea to plant it where it can thrive and reproduce for years to come. This could be in a perennial garden bed or in an out-of-the-way location that won’t be disturbed when doing yardwork or other gardening projects.
If you don’t enjoy starting seeds indoors, you can always wait until the threat of frost is over. When the coast is clear, direct sow the rue seeds into their proper location. Don’t cover the seeds with soil because they require direct sunlight to germinate when planted outdoors.
Whether starting seeds indoors or direct sowing seeds in their permanent location, rue will be a welcomed addition to most herb gardens.
Caring for Rue
Rue is simple to care for. As mentioned above, it’s a perennial herb. If you live in a planting zone with mild winters, it may stay green year-round.
Even if you live where the winters are harsher, the plant will die off but return as soon as warmer temperatures arrive.
When winter approaches, it’s a good idea to mulch over the rue plants. This serves as an added layer of protection from frost.
Rue doesn’t need to be fertilized, and you shouldn’t have to worry about watering it once the plant is well established. It’s extremely drought resistant and seems to thrive when neglected.
If growing rue in a container, pay attention to its roots. If the plant begins showing signs of being rootbound, it’s important to transplant the herb into a larger pot with more soil before it dies.
Rue may also develop a woody appearance. This is a sign that it’s time for a drastic pruning to encourage new growth.
If you’d like to encourage more flowers, prune rue during the early spring. If the pruning is more about shaping (or getting rid of the woody appearance), you should prune in the fall.
Rue won’t bloom its first year in the ground, but it should begin producing vivid yellow flowers starting with year two. If you plan on using the flowers, it’s a good idea to deadhead them to encourage new growth.
It’s important to state that rue shouldn’t be used as a culinary herb because of its toxicity. However, you can use it as a non-topical insect repellant or (when dried) in a flower bouquet.
Either way, when caring for rue, be sure to cover your hands and arms because the oil produced by the plant can cause severe skin irritation.
Also, if growing rue indoors, take this information into account when considering its placement. You don’t want it sitting anywhere that someone could accidentally rub up against it and have their skin become irritated by it.
Caring for rue isn’t complicated. By performing a few basic tasks and wearing protective gear when caring for the plant, growing rue should be an enjoyable experience.
Garden Pests and Diseases for Rue
Rue has no known garden pests or diseases which seem to impact it. It is actually used as a companion to deter pests from other plants in the garden. Its strong scent deters wildlife, family pets, and even Japanese Beetles. Yet, it’s common to see caterpillars living on rue.
If you see them living on your rue plant, don’t be alarmed and don’t mistake it as an infestation. It could be the beginning of swallowtail butterflies making a home. They frequently live on rue which is great because your herbs should be surrounded by gorgeous butterflies.
The only real threat to rue is too much water. If the plant is placed where the soil becomes soggy its roots may rot. Avoid this by planting rue in well-draining soil. Rue is forgiving until it gets overwatered.
How to Harvest Rue
Though rue is no longer viewed as safe for consumption, there are still a variety of reasons people grow it. For starters, rue is absolutely stunning in a garden. It comes in different varieties which makes it a great fit for virtually any grow space.
Some varieties are short and bushy which are great to line gardens. Other varieties are taller and can grow to three feet in height. This makes it a great choice when you need a plant with lively colors as a backdrop in your grow space.
Rue does a great job deterring pests. For this reason, it can be cut and dried for use in or around your home as a natural pest deterrent.
By drying the rue, it gets rid of the oil many people have poor reactions to. You can hang it around your home, deck, or patio to keep bugs at bay.
Finally, people grow rue for use in floral bouquets. The rue must be dried to safely use it, but it can be a gorgeous addition for flowers used as a centerpiece or as part of a special day.
When harvesting rue, there’s not a fancy technique. If you wish to use the leaves as an insect repellant, snip them from the plant and dry them to use.
If you’d like to use only the flowers or a stem of the whole plant for a bouquet, use scissors to cut the desired portion away from the plant.
Rue is a simple plant to grow and care for. Harvesting it is equally as simple.
Though rue isn’t a common culinary herb, it shouldn’t stop you from growing it. It could be a great addition to your herb garden based on its looks alone.
If you like the idea of growing a classic herb which can help protect the other plants it grows around, add pest protection to your home once dried, and even become part of your flower arrangements then rue is the herb for you.