Oregano is an aromatic herb that is popular for use in Italian, Greek, Spanish, and many other cuisines. It has a distinctive pungent and slightly bitter flavor that enhances many savory dishes. While dried oregano can be purchased at most grocery stores, growing and harvesting fresh oregano provides maximum flavor and quality. With the right harvesting techniques, oregano can be cut back throughout the growing season for continual regrowth.
When to Harvest Oregano
Oregano can be harvested several times in a single growing season. The best time to harvest is just before the plant flowers. This is when the leaves contain the highest concentration of oils and robust oregano flavor. Avoid harvesting too early. Wait until the plant is at least 4-6 inches tall before taking the first cut. After the initial harvest, oregano will continue producing new growth which can be cut every 6-8 weeks. Time the harvests before flower buds appear.
How to Harvest Oregano
Use clean, sharp gardening shears or scissors to harvest oregano. Cut stems approximately one-third down from the top of the plant. Do not simply pluck leaves off the stems as this can damage or kill the plant. Cutting stems stimulates the plant to generate bushier and more prolific growth. Make cuts on a dry day after the morning dew has evaporated to prevent mold or mildew. For maximum airflow and sunlight penetration, trim any overcrowded, woody, or leggy stems. Remove any dead or damaged leaves. After harvesting, oregano leaves can be used fresh or dried for longer term storage.
Where to Cut Oregano Stems
When harvesting oregano, do not cut the stems all the way to the ground level. Leave at least one third of the plant’s height intact after harvesting. Cutting too low can shock or even kill the plant. The lower portions of the stems and leaves closest to the ground tend to be less flavorful. Leaving some height on the stems avoids cutting into the lower section. The ideal harvesting level is around the top two thirds of the stems.
How Much to Harvest
As a general rule, do not harvest more than one third of the plant’s overall growth at one time. Taking too much at once can stress the plant, weaken it, and inhibit regrowth. Start conservatively by cutting just the top few inches from each stem on the initial harvest. This encourages the oregano to grow bushier. Overharvesting can stop the production of fresh leaves for the remainder of the season. Monitor the plant after each harvest and allow adequate time for new leaf growth before the next cutting.
Proper care after harvesting is key to keeping oregano thriving. Water the plant and surrounding soil thoroughly after cutting back. This replaces moisture lost through the cut stems and encourages new growth. Apply a balanced fertilizer or compost/manure tea every 2-3 weeks to provide nutrition. Prune away any dead stems or foliage. Check periodically for pests or diseases and take corrective action if needed. Keep the area weed free to eliminate competition. With attentive care, oregano will flourish and yield multiple harvests in a growing season.
Keeping Oregano Growing Through Winter
In cold winter climates, oregano can be harvested into late fall before the first frost. To keep it growing for the next season, the plant needs protection through winter. Oregano grown in containers can be brought indoors to a sunny window until spring planting time. For in-ground oregano, mulch heavily around the plant by mounding a thick layer of straw, leaves, compost, or other organic material. This insulates the roots and crown through freezing temperatures. Prune oregano back to just above the mulch layer. The mulched plants can resume growth quickly in spring.
Signs Your Oregano Needs Harvesting
Watch for these signs that oregano is ready for harvesting:
- Plants reach 4-6 inches in height
- Lower leaves start falling off
- Stems are woody and leggy at the base
- Flower buds start to form at the tips
- Leaves turn from bright to dull green
- Overcrowding observed between stems
Any of these indicate that it’s time for a harvest to encourage more tender, flavorful growth.
Common Harvesting Mistakes
Avoid these common mistakes when harvesting oregano:
- Harvesting too early when plants are still small
- Cutting stems down to the base of the plant
- Plucking individual leaves instead of cutting stems
- Overharvesting without leaving enough foliage for regrowth
- Not watering after harvesting
- Failing to fertilize and mulch post-harvest
- Letting flowers and seed heads develop
Learning when and how much to cut takes some practice. Start conservatively and leave ample foliage to allow vigorous regrowth.
Storing and Drying Harvested Oregano
After harvesting, oregano can be used immediately or dried for extended storage. To dry, wash oregano stems gently and pat dry with paper towels. Remove leaves from stems by running your fingers down the stem. Spread leaves in a single layer on mesh racks or baking sheets. Dehydrate in an oven on the lowest temperature setting with the door propped open. A food dehydrator can also be used. Drying takes approximately 1-2 hours. When fully dried, oregano leaves will crumble easily between the fingers. Store dried oregano in airtight glass jars or resealable bags in a cool, dark place.
Other Tips for Growing Oregano
Here are some other useful tips to help oregano thrive:
- Plant in well-draining soil in full sun
- Amend soil with compost or manure before planting
- Space plants 12-18 inches apart
- Trim lightly in spring to shape plants
- Water at soil level to avoid mildew on leaves
- Grow new plants from cuttings or division
With its pungent, robust flavor, it’s easy to see why gardeners want to keep oregano growing all season long. Follow these harvesting guidelines for a bountiful oregano crop.
Can you cut back oregano to the ground?
It’s best not to cut oregano completely to the ground level. Leave at least one third of the plant’s height when harvesting. Cutting too low can shock or damage oregano. Always leave some foliage intact so the plant can regenerate through photosynthesis.
Should you cut oregano before or after flowering?
For the strongest flavor and greatest productivity, oregano should be cut before it flowers. Harvest when flower buds are forming but have not yet bloomed. Oregano that is allowed to flower will focus energy on seed production rather than leaf growth.
Can you cut oregano in the fall?
Yes, oregano can be harvested into early fall until the first frost. To overwinter the plant, cut stems back to just above soil level in late fall. Mulch heavily around the plant for insulation through winter. Resume harvesting in spring after new growth emerges.
Does oregano grow back after cutting?
Yes, oregano will regrow after cutting if the plant is harvested properly. Be sure to leave at least one third of the plant’s height intact, do not overharvest, and provide good care such as watering and fertilizing after cutting. This will enable vigorous regrowth.
When should you stop harvesting oregano?
Stop harvesting oregano once it starts flowering, which signals the end of the active growing season. Allow the plant to flower and go to seed before winter dormancy. Harvest only in spring and early fall when the plant is actively growing. Overwinter the plant under heavy mulch until spring.