Fennel is a fragrant Mediterranean herb that belongs to the same family as dill, parsley, and carrots. It is commonly used in Italian cuisine, but it can also be found in Indian and Middle Eastern dishes.
The delicious yellow flowers, seeds, feathery leaves, pollen, roots, and stems have long been prized for their anise-like fragrance and flavor. They are useful in cooking, magical potions, and traditional medicine.
The common fennel is in the Foeniculum genus and it is the only member of that genus.
Within it, there are many subspecies and varieties such as the Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum) and the garden fennel (Foeniculum vulgare ssp. Vulgare).
F. Vulgare is a prolific self-sower. So much so that the common variety has naturalized to the point of being invasive throughout California and the West.
The common type is the easiest to grow, but it is also the most invasive. Even though it’s easy to grow, you should still remove its flower heads to prevent the spread of seed.
Florence fennel is harvested before the flowers develop, which helps prevent it from seeding itself.
In the following article, I will demonstrate how to sow and grow common fennel and Florence fennel in your garden.
When adding fennel to your herb garden, remember to consult with your local agricultural extension service first. They can help you identify the right plant for your specific climate and soil condition.
Fennel may not be suitable for those who suffer from pollen allergies. A survey conducted by the Mayo Clinic suggests that if you are allergic to birch pollen and mugwort pollen, you may be allergic to fennel as well.
Not only is the herb unsafe for any peaches you may know who have allergies, but it can also be dangerous to you.
The skin irritation may be caused by contact with this plant.
Cultivation and History
F. vulgare is a plant with an upright, branching growth, finely feathered green leaves, and yellow blossoms in flattened “umbels,” which are similar to those of other members of the Apiaceae family.
There are two subspecies of F. Vulgare:
- F. Vulgare ssp. Capillaceum
- F. Vulgare ssp. Piperitum
Some of the most common edible wild plants are those that grow in neglected gardens, on roadsides, and along the seashore.
The first type of hibiscus has small leaves and very bitter fruit (seeds), while the second has longer leaves and a somewhat less bitter flavor.
When you’re a wine aficionado, it’s good to know the difference between the varietals. Within the subspecies of Capillaceum are three varieties:
- F. Vulgare var. vulgare
- F. Vulgare var. dulce
- F. Vulgare var. azoricum
Fennel is a wild plant that has been used in cooking for a long time. It comes in many varieties. Some have green leaves, while others have bronze-colored leaves.
The harder-to-find bronze-leafed variety is more suited to garden cultivation than the more aggressive wild ancestors.
The dulce type has a sweeter, more fragrant seed. When you grind it up, you can make a fragrant essential oil that is the best part of the plant.
And finally, there’s F. Vulgare var. azoricum, aka Florence fennel, grown for its crisp, celery-like bulbs bursting with an anise-like flavor.
I grew up calling this vegetable by its Italian name. You might know it as fennel or finocchio.
F. vulgare varieties are cool-weather crops that are best planted in either early spring or late summer to fall. They take 60 to 90 days to mature.
The common type of tansy is a self-sowing biennial or short-lived perennial. Sometimes it can be successfully cultivated in Zones 4 and 10.
This plant usually grows to three to five feet tall, but can grow as tall as six feet. It is quite similar to wild varieties.
The best time of year to plant flowers in mid to late summer.
The Florence (bulb) variety is a biennial or short-lived perennial that grows well as an annual in Zones 5 to 9.
If you’re looking for something small, this is it.
If you harvest the bulbs early, at about four inches across, they usually don’t flower. If you harvest them late, or if you don’t harvest them at all, flowers may bloom in late summer, or self-sowing may occur.
Fennel is a magical plant with culinary, medicinal, and other uses. It can be found across Europe, China, India, and Egypt. People have used it for thousands of years.
Aromatic plants were eventually discovered to be edible too. They eventually found a place in the kitchen, where cooks used them to make food taste better.
Ancient healers believed fennel could cure a number of ailments. They used it to treat inflammation, gastrointestinal issues, and respiratory problems.
Superstitious people believed that the herb was an effective way to protect against evil spirits.
If you’re looking to grow your own F. Vulgare varieties, the best way to do so is from seed. It is much less expensive and almost as effective.
But If it is possible to start with a root cutting or division of the crown. It is so challenging to do this because quite shortens the time in the planting process.
However, these plants have long, fragile taproots and do not survive well outside their natural habitat. So, while you may be able to take a cutting or make a division, it may not transplant successfully.
Fennel is sometimes called the seed apple because it’s actually a single seed attached to a fruit.
Fennel seeds can be harvested after the flowers fade, or purchased from a high-quality purveyor.
How to Grow
If you want to plant fennel in the spring, it is best to start sowing seeds indoors four to six weeks before the last frost for your region.
Remember, this is a cold-weather plant. If it is too hot or dry, it may not be good for this fennel plant in the future.
Also, because of the temperamental taproot, it’s wise to use biodegradable seed starter cells and transplant them in their entirety to the garden after the danger of frost has passed.
If you want to plant in the fall, you can do so in late summer or early fall after the worst of the summer heat.
Fennel may be a problem for other plants. It is commonly believed that the fennel and other members of the Apiaceae family do not get along well together. Do not plant them in close proximity to each other to avoid cross-pollination and adverse flavor effects.
The best place to grow basil is in a sunny location. The soil should be rich, well-draining, and loose loamy. The ideal pH range is between 4.8 and 8.2, according to the Herb Society of America.
If you don’t know the composition of your soil, test it through your local agricultural extension service. You can amend it using compost or other rich organic matter, sand for better drainage, and lime to sweeten overly acidic soil.
Work the soil until it’s crumbly, to a depth of about 12 inches. Add amendments as needed.
Plant seeds about a quarter-inch deep in the soil and cover them up with dirt.
When growing seedlings, it is important to keep them spaced apart. Allow at least 12 – 18 inches between rows of seedlings, and about six inches between each individual plant.
Keep soil moisture stable during the germination and seedling phases.
But keep in mind, too wet soil is also not good for fennel, this will have an impact on seedlings that are susceptible to deadly fungal conditions that cause them to fall and die.
When the growing seedlings have two sets of true leaves, you can thin them out by spacing the plants to 12 to 18 inches apart.
Transfer the seeds to the garden when the fennel is judged to be able to enter the garden area. But you have to keep an eye on its growth and don’t get attacked by plant pests such as caterpillars or grasshoppers.
Don’t forget to water the fennel plant regularly but don’t overdo it and pay attention to the weather when doing regular watering to prevent rot.
Continue treatment with fertilizer if it is felt that the nutrient content in the soil is insufficient for fennel plants.
Then you just need to do routine maintenance until harvest time arrives.