Marjoram is the soft-spoken cousin of oregano.
Marjoram is a tender perennial herb that can do well on a window sill, in a tower or other container, or tucked away in a quiet corner of the garden. These plants also make nice rock garden additions and they look (and smell) lovely next to walkways and in parterres. The Greeks and Romans used marjoram as a symbol of happiness, and it certainly puts a smile on my face whenever it turns up in my foodscape.
Uses for marjoram
Marjoram leaves have been a culinary herb for a very long time. It is slightly more mild and piney than its boisterous cousin, oregano. Marjoram is used to make herbes de Provence and za’atar. Marjoram also attracts many beneficial insects, including butterflies and bees, with its tiny white, pink, and lavender flowers.
An herb by any other name
Marjoram (Origanum majorana) has been around long enough to have several names to differentiate it from oregano (Origanum vulgare), including sweet marjoram and knotted marjoram. Oregano is also known as wild marjoram. Other varieties of marjoram include:
Marjoram is best started in pots. Seeds should be covered only lightly with soil. Keep the soil moist until seeds germinate, being careful not to wash them into a corner of the pot with miniature floods of water. Marjoram prefers full sunlight and loose soil. Plants should be hardened off before installing outside, and spaced 18 inches apart. Marjoram and oregano are both members of the mint family. As such, they tend to spread underground using rhizomes. This makes them a good ground cover plant, as well. Marjoram has semi-woody stems that lend themselves nicely to cascading out of hanging pots, or as a low shrub. While technically an evergreen, cold temperatures will cause them to lose their leaves and frost will kill the above-ground portion. One way to protect your plants and keep the garden attractive in winter is to cut the plants back to ground level and cover with a winter blanket of mulch. Come spring, those delicious new leaves will come right back for another year. Luckily for those of us in the Bay Area, marjoram prefers alkaline soil, which we have in abundance. Marjoram never needs fertilizer when grown in the ground, and it rarely needs watering once established.
Marjoram pests and diseases
I have found whiteflies and spider mites to be the biggest problems for marjoram. Those tiny sap suckers leave behind speckled, bleached out leaves that don’t look at all appetizing. You can fight back with a spray bottle filled with soapy water or diluted horticultural oil. (Dormant oil is too heavy.) Aphids, cutworms, mealybugs, and thrips may also try feasting on your marjoram plants, but a forceful spray of water can every morning can usually displace most of these pests. Though rarely affected, fungal diseases such as dodder, damping off, downy mildews, powdery mildew, rust, and botrytis blight (grey mold), can occur on marjoram.
How to harvest marjoram
Just as your marjoram plants begin to flower, snip off the upper portions and hang them in a shady spot to dry. Garages work well. Guest room closets work even better. I like to believe that the gentle aroma helps guests enjoy a restful sleep. That might just be me.
Try adding marjoram to your garden or landscape today for many years of fragrant, delicious beauty.
You can grow a surprising amount of food in your own yard. Ask me how!
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