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Garden Article Feb. 22, 2020

Growing fresh herbs in the garden has several benefits such as being able to have them at your disposable when needed, to experience the best flavor possible, to dry them so you will have them to use throughout the winter until next growing season and to share them with friends. Oregano is a very popular and flavorful herb but if you are growing the wrong variety it may have no or little flavor.  So you want to be sure that you select the right variety.  The variety you don’t want to get is Origanum vulgaris it has no flavor, is invasive, has a pink flower (the flavorful variety has a white flower) and may be referred to as wild marjoram.  The Flavorful oregano is a sub species and its botanical name is Origanum vulgaris hirtum also known as Greek Oregano. The best way to tell is by taste. Greek Oregano is said to numb the tip of the tongue when sampled fresh.

Greek Oregano has the most intense flavor but there are some other good varieties to try and grow such as Oregano Zaatar and Pizza Night.

Oregano Zaatar is flavorful oregano producing quite a zing. Its uniqueness is that its great flavor blends hints of oregano, thyme and marjoram. Zaatar is grown as an annual in our area.  It may seed itself or else you could harvest the flowers and save the seeds for planting next season.

Oregano ‘Pizza Night’ is a trademark variety of Pleasant View Gardens. This hot, spicy aromatic and flavorful variety make this classic pizza herb terrific oregano for cooking.  It is sure to add zest to whichever dish you choose to add it to.  It definitely will complement all tomato salads and dishes. Another plus is that it is hardy to our zone so it should return next season.

Oregano has two growth phases. The first occurs in the spring when the plant breaks winter dormancy.  It will produce shoots for a month or so and by mid-summer or earlier it will start to flower.  By trimming often will delay flowering and encourage fresh growth and a more compact plant. When a plant is flowering, it is not making new leaves and the shoots can become slimmer and less flavorful.  Oregano can be sheared to within two inches of the ground when harvesting or being maintained in the garden. Tis can be done two to three times a growing season. Around the middle of summer it begins its second phase of growth. This is a lateral growth that allows the plant to increase in diameter and it will continue to grow upward as well. It is important at this time of year there are no weeds present and that the ground around the plant is nice and loose and has some organic fertilizer worked into the area so that the new shoots can easily root and flourish.

To prepare oregano for harvesting for winter use cut the plant back to about three inches above the ground four to six weeks before the first frost.   Allow the plant to regrow and then, before frost, cut long stems (6 to 8 inches), tie in small groups, and hang out of sunlight in a warm room. Check often and, when crispy dry, store whole stems in glass jars in a dark frost free area. It is best to leave the leaves on the stems this will preserve more flavor than stripping the leaves and grinding them into a powder.

Garden Tip: Herbs are easy to grow and many of them are perennial.  Consider designating an area of you garden for the growing of both annual and perennial herbs.  Fresh herbs are oh so good and many are easy to preserve for later use.  Dried herbs also make great gifts.

Dave Vargo is the owner of Arnold Feed & Garden Ctr (724-335-1821) and Kiski Plaza Garden Ctr. (724-845-8201) Visit their web site at www.kiskigardencenter.com Email questions to dvargokiski@comcast.net all products mentioned in this article are available at either garden center