How big should I let rosemary get?

leira(6 MA)January 2, 2011

Hi folks,

I have a "problem" that I've never had before. I have a rosemary plant that I've successfully over-Wintered for two years, and as we begin on the journey of its third Winter in the kitchen, I realize that it's become quite large.

This rosemary lives in a terra cotta pot. It spends its Winters (as brief a time as possible, usually mid-December to mid-March) on the kitchen counter, and in the Summers I sink the pot into the ground in the herb bed. I have been re-potting into a larger pot in the Spring.

At any rate, this lovely plant is now quite large and living in a 12" pot. When I pulled it up from the garden, a reasonably sized root was coming out of the drainage hole (but not as big as the one from the 8" pot last year). This makes me think that it would still be happy to to into a bigger pot in the Spring and just keep going (I really hoped that I'd get 2 years out of this pot!). Looking at the plant and the pot, my gut says the plant could probably be half again as big and still be reasonably happy in this pot, escaping roots notwithstanding.

Nevertheless, I'm starting to wonder whether I should call it quits on the annual pot upgrades, so that I'll still be able to lift it in future years. Until the last couple of years, I had never successfully over-Wintered a rosemary, so I can't claim to have considered how to handle this situation.

So tell me, wise gardeners in northern big do you allow your over-Wintering rosemary to get? How big of a pot do you keep it in? What kind of pruning do you do, for branches or roots? What does long-term rosemary over-Wintering look like? Etc., etc.

This is additionally complicated for me on an emotional level, because this year I acquired an Arp rosemary that I've planted in the garden, which should be Winter-hardy in my zone. If this succeeds, I do have wonder how much energy I'll be willing to devote to hauling pots in and out every year.

Thanks, all!

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CA Kate

I would suggest rooting one of the trailers in a seperate pot to start a new "inside" plant. Then plant the older one outdoors in the ground in a more protected location.

Rosemary wants to be a big plant, but by both root- and top-pruning you might be able to keep this one smaller.... sort of like bonsai.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 12:21AM
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leira(6 MA)

Westelle, regular rosemary will NOT survive a Winter outdoors in my zone, probably not even in a protected location (which is moot anyway, since my yard offers either "protected" or "sunny" but not both).

There's nothing I'd like more than to just leave it in the ground, but that's not an option where I live. This is why I acquired an "Arp" rosemary, in the hopes that it would survive the Winter here. I'll know in the Spring whether this was successful.

So...given that this particular rosemary plant must come indoors for the Winter months, and therefore it must remain in a pot, I'd like advice about about managing this long-term.

I have made new plants by layering in the past, and I also have a small plant that I'm over-Wintering this year as well. I would prefer not to give up on the large plant, however.

    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 8:24AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

I could not get "arp" for overwinter for me. Some gardeners in my area can do it but I've failed 3 times (my limit). Sometimes it's all about the microclimates you have. Obviously I don't have the right ones. If your "arp" doesn't make it, don't despair. Try another location and see if that works better.

As far as your indoor giant, perhaps you can take a page from the bonsai or topiary books. Manage its size and shape. It is a woody plant and so you should be able to use some bonsai techniques to keep your plant a manageable size for indoors. Obviously you don't want a 6" tall plant but the overall bonsai ideas of how to prune, shape, and keep to a certain size would be applicable.


    Bookmark   January 3, 2011 at 9:36AM
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CA Kate

leira: I guess you might want to learn to do Bonsai. The basic technique will keep your rosemary in bounds.

    Bookmark   January 5, 2011 at 6:21PM
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lindalou(z5 NY)

what is an "Arp" rosemary? ;)

    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 11:00AM
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fatamorgana2121(Zone 5/6)

A particular variety of rosemary that is the most cold-hardy one commercially available.


    Bookmark   February 25, 2011 at 2:38PM
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I would try to get Arp and give it a try. I never had luck with rosemary in the house. I started planting Arp and other unnamed varieties in the ground, and they went through the winter fine--even after this last horrible winter with sustained cold and deep snows. And after a winter where the deer ate everything green, they don't touch the aromatic rosemary.--I'll be planting hedges of it in the Spring! Good luck.

    Bookmark   March 5, 2011 at 10:51PM
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I didn't worry about bonsai techniques, I just kept trimming it and using it to keep it small and fairly open in the middle. For me they have maxed out at about 2 ft.

    Bookmark   March 10, 2011 at 11:55PM
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