Growing fennel is a great way to spice up many of your dishes. Not only does it have an inviting aroma but its earthy flavor will contribute to the taste of your favorite recipes. Cooks love to chop it into a summer salad or roast it with rosemary when the weather turns chilly.
Fennel's versatility is unmatched: It's used as a vegetable, kitchen herb, and medicinal herb. It's high in vitamin C and has been used as a remedy for digestive issues for centuries. It even looks good in the garden with its green fronds that are attractive enough to be included in bouquets. And its flowers attract pollinators.
This host of benefits should provide plenty of incentive for you to grow fennel. Here's how to do it:
1. Choose your variety
Florence fennel is grown mostly for its bulbous stem, although many people eat its stalk, which is similar to celery. Herb fennel has delicate leaves that are used as a herb. It also has seeds that taste like licorice and are used for seasoning.
2. Plant the seeds directly into the garden
Plant the seeds around the time of the last spring frost. Loosen the soil and add compost. Fennel grows best in fertile, well-drained soil. Plant the seeds about ten inches apart, and cover them with a 1/4" layer of soil. Space your rows three feet apart. Plant more seeds than you'll need, and thin out the seedlings later.
3. Water them often
Fennel grows best in full sun, so you need to water it regularly to keep the soil moist. That's why it's important to have soil that drains well since fennel can suffer from root rot if it doesn't.
4. Cover the bulb
After the bulb starts to form at the base of the stem, mound up the surrounding soil to cover it. This will shade it from direct sun and prevent it from turning green. This process, known as "blanching," keeps the bulb white and retains the bulb's sweet taste.
5. Mulch your plants once they are established
If you hoe around fennel, you must be careful not to disturb the roots or the plant could bolt. As soon as the plants are established, it's a good idea to add mulch around them. Not only does this help retain moisture, but it keeps the weeds at bay.
6. Harvest the leaves, bulbs, and seeds
Once your fennel plant is well established, you can start harvesting the leaves. Harvest your Florence fennel bulbs as soon as they reach the size of a small tennis ball, which is usually in late summer or early fall. And you can harvest the seeds as soon as they are ripe and the plant's flowers have turned brown.