Learn how to grow fennel, a wonderful herb where both the bulbs and the flower buds are useful. It’s a popular plant that is has medicinal properties that has been used since ancient times.
Fennel is easy to grow and makes a great addition to teas, sweet treats, and even helping to increase lactation in nursing mothers.
Fennel is a useful herb that is easy to grow with a few tricks for making them easier to care for. The seeds have an anise-like flavor and are a great addition to summer salads or for making a tea. Fennel bulbs can be thinly sliced for salads.
Fennel has a long and interesting history. It was used in the middle ages to keep away evil spirits. It’s also been used for a variety of medicinal purposes. This medicinal herb has been used to help with heartburn, colic, bronchitis, and bedwetting, along with many other ailments.
Fennel’s feathery foliage is an attractive addition to any herb or vegetable garden.
Types of Fennel
Fennel has two types.
One is called herb fennel, sweet fennel, or common fennel and has a lot of foliage. It is mainly used for it’s seeds.
The other type is called bulb fennel or Florence fennel and is mainly used for it’s bulb.
How to Grow Fennel From Seed
Fennel is best grown from seed as it does not transplant well.
You can direct sow seeds in the ground in early spring after the danger of frost has passed. Soil temperatures should be between 50-70°F
If you decide to start seedlings indoors, you can start about 4 weeks before the last frost date but you do not want to start too early as you do not want your fennel to be too mature before attempting to transplant.
If you plant fennel indoors, make sure to start more fennel seedlings than you need due to the risk of shock when transplanting. If you start with seedlings indoors make sure to harden them off before transplanting the young plants to give them the best chance possible.
Sow seeds 6 to 12 inches apart to ensure that your plants have enough space to grow. Fennel seeds germinate rather quickly and will begin to sprout in about 8 to 12 days.
If you want to grow fennel for fall harvest, you can sow fennel seeds in middle to late summer.
How to Grow Fennel in Pots
Fennel is easy to grow in pots. In the summer you can place your fennel outside and bring it inside over the winter. Using an LED grow light you can provide your fennel with enough light over the winter to prevent it from growing leggy
Fennel needs well draining soil so be sure your pot has drainage holes at the bottom. Mixing plenty of organic matter such as old wood chips or peat moss into your potting mix can help improve drainage for your fennel.
Fennel seeds need moist soil so using a watering source like a watering globe can help keep your fennel plant from drying out even if you tend to forget about your plants.
Fennel should be planted in full sun. It needs a sunny location and will thrive anywhere you can provide it with at least 6 hours of direct light. It can handle the rough afternoon sun provided it is well watered. Too much shade can lead to a leggy plant that is less likely to survive.
Fennel loves well-draining, fertile soil.
For the best results, you should plant your fennel in rich soil that has had plenty of compost and organic matter, such as old wood chip mulch added in to help add both nutrition and improve drainage.
Fennel should be kept in moist soil. Water whenever the top inch of the soil has begun to dry out or at least one to two times per week.
Fennel grown in warmer climates will act as a perennial while it must be planted as an annual in colder gardening zones where the winter will kill off unprotected bulbs.
Fennel is a heavy feeder that will thrive with a fresh addition of compost every couple months over the growing season. For the best results your fennel should be kept in acidic soil to help with absorbing nutrition. Adding used coffee grounds to your compost mixture to help fertilize your fennel plants thrive.
Frequent harvesting of fennel leaves can encourage your fennel plant to continue to produce. Like many herbs, pinching off what you can use for cooking fresh in your kitchen will encourage a more bushier growth pattern.
Never harvest more than 1/3 of the plant to avoid over harvesting and damaging your plants.
When harvesting fennel always use clean gardening shears to prevent the spread of bacteria that can harm your plants
To harvest fennel seed allow the flowers to die off and dry on the stalks before cutting them off. Place the dried flowers in a paper bag to allow them to dry out a bit more. Then shake the bag to help release the seeds in the secure bag where you can pour them into a dish.
For varieties of fennel that grow a bulb avoid harvesting until the base of the plant has begun to swell and creates a bulb that peeks out over the surface of the soil. The fennel bulb should be about the size of a tennis ball. The bulbs of these varieties are edible after about 80 days from germination making them a great addition to your garden for the use of nearly the entire plant.
At the end of the season you can opt to harvest the entire plant and preserve what you can use over the winter. At this time you can pull up the base of the plant to take indoors if you live in a cooler climate and would like to plant your fennel as a perennial.
Tips for Growing Fennel
If you wish to prevent your fennel from going to seed you can pinch off blooms as they appear. The flower heads of fennel are great for attracting beneficial insects, bees and butterflies and can be deadheaded to help encourage more blooms.
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