What’s Wrong with My Herbs: How to Grow Rosemary

Respond to rosemary woes with ease. Our expert advises two readers with fading rosemary plants.

| August/September 2012

  • Rosemary can be a tricky plant to grow, especially as the weather changes for the winter.
  • Water your rosemary when the leaves wilt slightly.

Q. I have a potted rosemary plant in my house, and ever since I brought it in for the winter (I live in Wisconsin) it has been turning brown and seems to be dying. I’ve been watering it once a week. Am I overwatering it? I try to keep it in the sun when it shines in the kitchen window. Does it need more sun? Please help.

A. Your rosemary’s symptoms indicate that death is near. Growing rosemary indoors is difficult because dry heat and other indoor conditions are contrary to the needs of this plant. Rosemary’s natural home is the sunny Mediterranean region where the climate is cool and wet during the winter. The best way to keep your plant alive in Wisconsin during the winter is to leave it outside, in partial shade, when the temperature is above freezing.

When wintering rosemary during extended freezing spells, add a grow light to the indoor home of your plant to give it the light it needs. Water it only when the top stem tips droop slightly—then shower the leaves and drench the root ball until it is saturated. This method of watering will wash the house dust off of the leaves, give it the humidity it craves and dampen all of the peat moss around the root system. Only water when the plant shows you it is in need. A light misting between watering days will help the problem of lack of humidity.

Tip: Arid indoor winter air is not pleasing to a rosemary plant. Their native Mediterranean environment is cool and wet during the winter.

Q. I think my rosemary bonsai tree is dying. The tips of the needles were turning black and brown and then falling off, so I thought I was overwatering it. I let it be for a day, and the next morning all the branches except one are dead-looking brown and black, turning gray. We cut off some branches and it appears to be alive at the main stem. Would you advise cutting it down to the trunk?

A. This rosemary is not likely to live. Cutting back to the trunk will not achieve any benefit. I would advise discarding the suffering plant. Keep the pot and the big rocks and start over with a young rosemary and raise it yourself.

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