Herbs have been heralded since ancient times for their culinary, medical and aromatherapy aspects. Simon & Garfunkel immortalized parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme with the release of their album of the same name in 1966. Some herbs, such as rosemary, are more popular than others and are staples in the home garden.
Rosemary, unlike milder herbs, withstands longer cooking times and is especially suited for use with roasted meats, chicken and in hearty stews, as well as a beautiful compliment to sautéed mushrooms and beans.
Herbalists use rosemary in aromatherapy treatment to quiet anxiety and medicinally to soothe indigestion, relieve the pain of sprains and even to clear up dandruff. Gardeners love rosemary because it is easy to grow and is very low maintenance. A Mediterranean herb, it evolved on steep, rocky hillsides where water was only available for short periods before running off down the hill.
After established, rosemary does not require much watering, usually able to survive solely on the rain Mother Nature provides. It also requires very little pruning, if any.
Overwatering is the most common reason that rosemary does not survive. There is an expression used by almost every master gardener I have met about the water needs of certain plants, and it holds especially true in this case: “Rosemary does not like wet feet.” It will develop root rot in soggy soil, leading to brown needles as the root system shrinks.
Rosemary should be planted in well-drained soil. Keep the soil uniformly moist, allowing it to dry out between watering. Mulch your plants to keep roots moist in summer and insulated in winter, but be careful to keep mulch away from the crown of the plant, meaning the trunk, leaves and branches. When growing rosemary in containers, water deeply allowing the top 2 inches of soil to become dry before watering again.
Pruning, generally speaking, is not necessary. However, there are instances when you may want or have the need to do so. With rosemary, pruning proves to be a sensory pleasure, because the slightest touch sends out wafts of their unique aroma. You can prune any time during the spring or summer and up until four to six weeks before the first frost.
Pruning in winter can cause the shrub to focus on growing new tender growth rather than hardening off, protecting the foliage it already has. If rosemary does not harden off, it will be susceptible to winter damage that could kill it. Always start with clean, sharp shears. Blunt or dirty shears can result in a ragged cut, leaving your plant vulnerable to bacteria or pests.
Next, determine why you are pruning. If you are pruning to shape your plant, only prune one-third of any branch. Likewise, if you are pruning to reduce the size, cut your overall plant by one-third, waiting two to three months before pruning again.
If you are looking to make your rosemary fuller, remove 1–2 inches from the branch's end, which will force the branch to split, creating a bushier plant.
Whatever pruning you give your rosemary, don’t allow those branches and cuttings to end up in the compost bin. The leaves can be dried, smaller branches can be used as skewers, and larger ones can add a romantic aroma to any campfire.
Needless to say, those fragrant needles bring a fresh-from-the-garden flavor to many recipes. The following is one of my favorites. Until next week, happy gardening.
• 2 teaspoons rapid-rising dry yeast
• 1 cup warm water
• 2 tablespoons sugar
• 3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 tablespoon kosher salt
• 1/4 cup olive oil
• Cornmeal for dusting
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 red onion, diced
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 6 sun-dried tomatoes, diced
• 10 pitted Kalamata olives, quartered
• 1/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
• 1 tablespoon coarse salt
• Freshly ground black pepper
• 2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, chopped small
In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, proof the yeast by combining it with the warm water and sugar. Stir gently and let stand until foam appears, about 3 minutes.
Turn mixer on low, and slowly add the flour to the bowl. Dissolve salt in 2 tablespoons warm water, and add to the mixture. Pour in 1/4 cup olive oil.
When the dough starts to come together, increase the speed to medium. Stop the machine periodically to scrape the dough off the hook. Mix until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes, adding flour as necessary.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface, and fold over itself a few times. Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled bowl; turn to coat the entire ball with oil, so it doesn’t form a skin. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.
Coat a sheet pan with a little olive oil and corn meal. Once the dough is doubled and domed, turn it out onto the counter. Roll and stretch the dough into an oblong shape, about a 1/2-inch thick. Lay the flattened dough on the pan, and re-cover with the plastic wrap. Let rest for 15 minutes.
In the meantime, coat a small sauté pan with olive oil, add the onion and cook over low heat for 15 minutes until the onions caramelize. Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
Uncover the dough and dimple with your fingertips. Brush the surface with more olive oil and then evenly scatter the caramelized onions, garlic, olives, tomatoes, cheese, salt and pepper over the dough. Bake on the bottom rack for 15 to 20 minutes.
— Irland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be reached at email@example.com. Visit https://mg.aces.edu/limestone for more information on the Limestone County Master Gardeners.