How to Plant and Grow Marjoram in Your Herb Garden

Origanum majorana

If oregano is the star of the kitchen show, marjoram is the smart-but-quiet sidekick waiting off in the wings.

A close up vertical picture of marjorum, Origanum majorana, growing in the herb garden. To the center and bottom of the frame is green and white text.

Often confused with its more popular cousin, marjoram is a stand out in its own right. With a sweet, woodsy flavor, marjoram reminds me of a mild, sweet sage with a camphor aftertaste.

Sure, you can exchange the two herbs readily in recipes if you’re running low on one because they have a similar flavor profile.

But marjoram deserves its own spot in your herb garden for when you need something a little more elegant and less abrasive.

Like oregano, marjoram is ideal if you have a sunny, dry spot in the garden where water-loving plants fail to thrive.

Plus, the pretty purple or pink blossoms will attract honeybees, bumblebees, and butterflies, which benefits your whole garden.

Ready to add this versatile herb to your yard? Here’s what we’ll cover in this article:

What Is Marjoram?

Marjoram, Origanum majorana, looks a lot like oregano, O. vulgare, and that’s not a surprise given that they’re close relatives. Both are species of the Origanum genus.

Just to confuse matters, oregano is sometimes referred to as “wild marjoram,” and a third species, Cretan oregano, O. onites, is often called “pot marjoram.”

A close up of a delicate pink flower of Origanum majorana growing in the garden on a soft focus background.

O. majorana has small, oval leaves, with a gray-green color, and they are covered in soft hairs. In the spring, if allowed to bloom, it has pink or purple blossoms.

Flavor-wise, marjoram is woodier and more floral than oregano, with a slight note of pine. Oregano is stronger and spicier.

Marjoram tends to grow a bit less aggressively than oregano, and it can’t handle cold weather as well as oregano can.

Marjoram is a perennial in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 and 10, but you can grow it as an annual in cooler areas.

Plants reach about 24 inches tall and 18 inches wide, but left unchecked, it sends out rhizomes and reseeds readily, which means it can gradually take over an entire corner of your garden if you let it.

Sometimes called sweet or knotted marjoram, this member of the mint family is often included in the classic French blend of herbes de Provence.

Cultivation and History

Marjoram is a historied herb that is native to the Mediterranean, southwest Asia, and northern Africa. It has become naturalized in southern Europe.

Prized by ancient Greeks and Romans, ancient Egyptians also revered this herb, and used it in their embalming process.

A vertical close up of the delicate green leaves of Origanum majorana growing in the garden, on a soft focus background.

In 1557, the famous English poet Thomas Tusser described marjoram as one of the 21 essential herbs for strewing in his instructional work Five Hundred Points of Good Husbandrie.

For those not in the know, herb strewing was the practice of scattering aromatic plants around the homes of royalty in the United Kingdom to cover up unpleasant odors.

Anatomist Charles Estienne recommended growing marjoram in home gardens in his book L’agriculture et Maison Rustique, one of the first published works on agriculture, printed in 1564.

Dutch settlers brought marjoram to New York’s Hudson Valley, but it didn’t become widely known in the US until the mid-1900s.

It has been used as a folk remedy around the Western world to treat indigestion, headaches, rheumatism, and toothaches.

Recent studies have shown that O. majorana essential oils contain antioxidants, and may have antifungal, antibacterial, and anti-inflammatory properties.

Propagation

Marjoram is one of those plants that seems to put all of its efforts into successful reproduction. It seeds easily, lends itself to division, reproduces via cuttings without fuss, and can even be layered.

A close up vertical picture of marjoram growing in a small wicker basket, set on a wooden surface with a wooden wall in soft focus in the background.

Regardless of how you decide to propagate plants, prepare the soil in advance by testing it to determine whether or not it needs fertilizer or adjustments. Marjoram wants fertile soil with good drainage.

It’s generally a good idea to work in some well-rotted compost to loosen the soil and add beneficial nutrients before planting.

By Seed

Left to its own devices, marjoram will self-seed readily. That should tell you how simple it is to start plants from seed yourself.

A close up of a seed packet with Origanum majorana spilling out onto a white surface.

Start seeds indoors eight weeks before the last frost, or outdoors after all danger of frost has passed.

Sprinkle seeds onto a seed-starting mixture indoors in seed flats or in a container at least six inches wide and deep, and cover gently with 1/4 inch of soil.

Water using a spray bottle. Keep the soil moist but not wet.

You should see seedlings emerge in about a week. Once plants are two inches tall, if grown outdoors, thin them to six inches apart.

You can transplant seeds started indoors after plants have been growing for about 6 to 8 weeks. But first, you need to harden them off.

To do this, set the pots outside in a sheltered location for an hour or two, gradually increasing the length of time over the course of a week.

Outdoors, start seeds when the daytime air temperature is around 60-80°F. Sprinkle seeds on prepared ground and cover with 1/4 inch of soil. Keep moist.

By Division

Marjoram should be divided in the spring while the weather is cool.

Dig a hole one foot wider than the plant in all directions and one foot deep, and use a shovel to lift the root ball out of the soil. Use clippers or a garden knife to cut the plant in half, roots and all.

Put half of the plant back in the ground and fill around it with soil.

Transplant the other half of the plant to a prepared spot in the garden or a container. Give it a good drink of water to help settle the soil.

Via Cuttings

Cuttings are best taken in the late spring or early summer. Find a healthy branch that hasn’t flowered and cut a six-inch piece.

Cut the base at an angle to maximize the surface area of the cut, and ensure that it slides into the planting medium easily.

Remove any leaves from the bottom third of the cutting. This helps to prevent rot and encourages roots to emerge.

Dip the cutting in powdered rooting hormone and poke a hole into moist seed starting mix with your finger or a pencil.

Insert the cutting and gently pack the dirt into the hole and around the base. Place the pot in a shady spot out of direct sunlight.

Keep the potting medium moist but not wet. In two weeks, your cutting should have roots.

Give the cutting a gentle tug. If you feel resistance, it has taken root and you can treat it like any other transplant at this point, planting it out into the garden or in a container.

By Layering

To propagate by layering, find a branch at the base of the plant and lay it flat against the ground, keeping the end that is still attached to the parent plant intact.

Bury the branch in the soil about 1/2 inch deep and use a stone to keep it in place.

After a few weeks, the branch will develop a root system and you can clip it away from the parent plant before digging it out.

Marjoram has shallow roots, so it’s best to dig wide rather than deep while pulling your new plant out of the ground. You’ll want to give it six inches in all directions and dig down about four inches.

Now you can plant your new marjoram in prepared soil.

How to Grow

For best results, marjoram needs fertile, loamy soil. This herb prefers a neutral pH around 7.0, but it can handle a wide range, from 4.9 to 8.7.

A close up of Origanum majorana growing in the garden, with water droplets covering the leaves.

Marjoram doesn’t need a lot of water. The soil should be well-draining and allowed to dry out about an inch down between watering. Wet feet are marjoram’s biggest enemy.

Though it can handle drought conditions, for the best flavor, make sure your plant is watered regularly.

These plants have shallow roots, so they dry out quickly. This isn’t a problem most of the time, but when the weather gets really hot, you’ll need to keep an eye on your plants.

A bit of organic mulch like leaves and straw can help to retain moisture in the soil.

Marjoram also needs a full sun location, but will tolerate partial shade in particularly hot climates.

A close up of a bee landing on a Origanum majorana flower, pictured on a soft focus background.

Cut the stems back after flowering in early summer, to stimulate new growth.

If you want to leave blossoms on the plant to encourage pollinators or to allow the plant to self-seed, trim it back in the fall instead to maintain its shape.

Prune in spring to remove weak or dead growth and to keep the plant’s size in check. It can get scraggly after several years if you don’t prune regularly.

Growing Tips

  • Grow in full sun
  • Allow the top inch of soil to dry out between watering
  • Trim back in spring or fall

Where to Buy

Most marjoram is sold under the name “marjoram” or “sweet marjoram.” It is sometimes possible to find a variety with variegated leaves.

The classic O. majorana variety is usually available at your local nursery or garden center, or you can buy online.

A close up of Origanum majorana growing in the garden.

Sweet Marjoram

You can find seeds or a set of 3 plants available from Burpee.

Italian

O. x majorana, sold as Italian oregano, is a hybrid cross between O. vulgare and O. majorana that features bright green leaves.

A close up of Italian oregano leaves, a hybrid between O. vulgare and O. majorana, with tomatoes in soft focus in the background.

O. x majorana

You can find seeds in a variety of packet sizes available at Eden Brothers.

Managing Pests and Disease

Compared to some types of plants, marjoram doesn’t face a ton of problems with diseases and pests. That doesn’t mean it’s entirely problem-free, however.

Pests

Pests, rather than diseases, are going to be your biggest challenge when growing this herb.

Aphids

The peach aphid (Myzus persicae) is a common pest that loves to attack marjoram. It’s a tiny, green, tear-drop shaped insect that sucks the sap out of plants, leaving behind a sticky substance called honeydew in its wake.

A few aphids aren’t cause for concern, but a lot of them can stunt growth when they work together, and they may cause yellowing or necrotic spots to develop on plants.

Controlling them is generally as easy as blasting the plant with water from the hose to knock them free. Do this every day for a week to be sure you’ve controlled the population.

If things get bad, you can use canola oil as a pesticide because it smothers the little pests. Spray plants so that they’re saturated, applying the oil to the foliage once a week for three weeks.

Learn more about how to manage aphids in your garden.

Cutworms

Cutworms (Agrotis spp.) chew through the base of plants, killing them. They’re usually active at night, which makes them hard to spot – until you come outside and find your marjoram plant lying on the ground.

It’s important to keep the ground around your plants clear to avoid giving the worms a place to hide.

A layer of diatomaceous earth scattered around plants will help keep cutworms away. You can also make cardboard collars to deny cutworms access to your plants.

Get a toilet paper tube and cut it in half. Place one around the base of each marjoram seedling, sinking an inch of the tube into the soil.

Spider Mites

Spider mites attack a variety of plants in the garden. The two-spotted spider mite (Tetranychus urticae) in particular is the one you’ll most commonly see snacking on your marjoram plants.

You’ll usually see the fine webbing on your plants before you notice the tiny arachnids.

If an infestation is bad, you’ll see yellowing leaves that may drop off the plant.

The first line of attack is to spray plants with a strong blast of water to knock them away. This is sometimes enough to keep the populations small enough that plants don’t suffer.

You should also encourage lacewings and ladybugs to visit your garden, or you can purchase and introduce predatory mites, available from Arbico Organics.

While you can use insecticides to control them, keep in mind that you run the risk of killing off the beneficial insects that are helping keep your garden in good shape.

Thrips

Western flower thrips (Frankliniella occidentalis) are a common pest that can cause an incredible amount of damage. The millimeter-long insects have feathery, clear wings and their color may range from pale yellow to dark brown.

An infestation can cause leaves and flowers to become distorted, sunken, or to appear silvery. The insects suck the fluid out of the plant and can spread disease.

Not only do thrips harm plants and transmit diseases, they can also bite humans, causing skin irritation.

Reflective mulches are a good deterrent, but if you end up with an infestation, insecticides are the only way to get rid of them.

If your plants are struggling but hanging on, it may be best to just let the insects do their thing. If an infestation worsens and your plants are suffering, use a spinosad-based insecticide.

Remember, you’ll likely kill off beneficial insects in the process, but sometimes it’s the only option.

Disease

While I’m busy battling diseases on my other plants, my marjoram is generally off in the corner, happily growing away, disease free. Every once in a while, however, you may need to tackle a fungal issue.

Mint Rust

Mint rust, as the name implies, looks like rusty orange blisters on the undersides of the leaves of marjoram plants. The top of the leaf might have light yellow spots.

Eventually, leaves may drop and the plant’s growth can become stunted, or it may even die.

This disease is caused by the fungus Puccinia menthae. This fungus thrives where plants are crowded or have poor air circulation.

That’s why pruning to control the size of the herb is important. You don’t want things growing too close together, and allowing for a buildup of humidity.

You should also water at the base of plants in the morning, so they have time to dry out over the course of the day.

While marjoram plants don’t necessarily need mulch, if you struggle with rust in your garden, put wood mulch around plants to prevent water from splashing on them.

Keep any wild mint plants well away from your garden, because they can carry and spread the disease.

If all that fails, you can trim the plant back to the ground in the fall and apply a fungicide to the stems and the ground surrounding the plant.

Look for one that contains Azoxystrobin, and apply it according to the manufacturer’s directions.

Harvesting

If you are primarily interested in the leaves, don’t let your plants bloom. Prune the blossoms as they begin to form.

A close up of freshly harvested marjoram, set on a wooden surface, with string and a pair of scissors in the background.

Otherwise, snip the branches and flowers as you need them, using a pair of scissors or clippers.

If you want a large harvest, you can cut the plant back close to the ground in the early summer for a second harvest by fall.

Preserving

Just like its buddy oregano, marjoram is superb dried. Its delicate flavor becomes more concentrated when the leaves are dried.

A close up of a small metal spoon with dried marjoram spilling out on to a dark wooden surface.

You can hang small bunches of the branches tied together, or lay sprigs on a cookie sheet in an area with good air circulation. Turn the sprigs occasionally to make sure they dry evenly.

You can also dry sprigs or individual leaves in a dehydrator, or an oven on its lowest setting, until crispy and dry.

You can also freeze marjoram by washing the separated leaves and putting them in a resealable bag. Press the air out and put it in the freezer.

Fresh marjoram can be stored in the refrigerator wrapped in plastic for four days.

A close up of a small jar filled with herb infused oil, with various fresh herbs on the gray surface, pictured on a gray soft focus background.
Photo by Meghan Yager.

You can also make a herbed oil, ideal to use in salad dressings, or for drizzling on pizza or pasta. You’ll find all the instructions on our sister site, Foodal.

Recipes and Cooking Ideas

Marjoram is a classic seasoning for meats like pork, duck, goose, and chicken. It’s also tasty in tomato dishes. Because it has a subtle flavor, it lends itself to seasoning delicately flavored veggies like zucchini.

A close up of freshly harvested Origanum majorana set on a slate surface on a wooden table, fading to soft focus in the background.

The fresh leaves are also delicious tossed into a salad. I think the whole leaves take a traditional Caesar salad to the next level.

You can also chop fresh leaves into equal parts cream cheese and sour cream to make a light dip for veggies.

If you’re cooking with marjoram, add it towards the end or toss it in just before serving so you don’t lose that subtle flavor.

Quick Reference Growing Guide

Give Sophisticated Marjoram a Grow

Marjoram often takes a back seat in the garden to the more popular oregano.

But with its subtle, sweet flavor, the ease of growing it, and its ability to draw pollinators, there’s no reason not to give it a spot in your herb garden.

A close up of Origanum majorana growing in the garden, with light red stems contrasting with the deep green leaves, pictured on a soft focus background.

Be sure to come back and tell us how you plan to use up your bounty of homegrown marjoram, in the comments below!

Then, check out these guides to learn more about growing herbs in your garden:

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