Growing Fennel

Nov 27th, 2016 | By | Category: gardening tips, Grow Something, show tips, winter
Stack of fennel bulbs by summer tomato

Photo of stacked fennel buls by Summer Tomato

Longtime organic gardener, Renee Studebaker, is in love with fennel, and her affection for the plant has made her a bit of an expert in growing it in the Central Texas area.

Fennel is a gorgeous Mediterranean perennial herb that does well in winter and early spring gardens in moderate climates. It attracts beneficial insects and butterflies to the garden.

The fennel bulb is used like a vegetable and adds nuanced flavoring to all kinds of foods such as roasted fowl, vegetables, and soups.

Nevertheless, Renee says it can be a challenge to grow in warmer climates. It needs about 70 days to produce a good size bulb and it grows best in cool (50s and 60s) weather. Once the bulb has started growing, a few days of temperatures in the high 70s can cause it to bolt, or start producing seed instead of bulbs and stems, so good timing is the key.

After a few years of experimenting with different approaches to growing fennel, here is what Renee Studebaker decided works (at least some of the time):

  • If planting from seed, sow the seeds in late fall. Be sure to keep them moist until they germinate and watch that soil doesn’t dry out completely during hot spells. Regular moisture and lots of compost is vital to good bulb production from fall-planted fennel seeds.
  • Fennel transplants set out in late October have a good chance of producing decent bulbs. Well established fennel plants can withstand freezing temperatures, usually down to the 20s.  During hard freezes, some of mature fennel plants may sustain damage to their outer bulb layers. Carefully peeled away the dead layers, and trim the damaged fronds, and changes are good they will start growing and look good again.
  • Renee said she has also set out seeds in December and January during mild winters. But one hard freeze will kill baby seedlings, so be ready with row cover or other warming devices if you decide to try this.
  • When your fennel plants flower and start producing seed in warm weather, some of those seeds may plant themselves for your next winter garden, so keep an eye out for volunteers seedlings in the fall.
  • Sometimes well established fennel plants will act like the perennials they are. After your plants have flowered and gone to seed in summer, try this: Cut the worn out stems to a couple of inches above the ground, water enough through the hot months to keep plants alive, and then come fall, look for new baby plants to shoot up from the base. When the shoots appear, side dress the plant with compost and/or organic fertilizer, mulch, and water once or twice a week, or enough so that soil maintains some moisture.

And finally, fennel is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies, so don’t kill the larvae you’re sure to find chowing down on the leafy fronds. The leaves will grow back.

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  1. My fennel grew over 5ft tall this year. I grew it for seed this year and it came through beautifully! Maybe next year I’ll treat myself to a bulb or two…