Rosemary plant care indoors

Caring for your indoor rosemary plant


Rosemary is a popular aromatic herb that symbolizes remembrance, friendship and loyalty. Often sold during the holiday season in a decorated topiary form, the value of rosemary goes beyond its ornamental use. Since the Roman era, both fresh and dried rosemary has been used for cosmetics, medicinal and culinary purposes. Rosemary oil has both antiseptic and astringent properties and is also used in making scented soaps and lotions. Fresh rosemary leaves add flavor to your food, and its unique pine scent brings holiday spirit to your home.

Rosemary is not hardy to Wisconsin and is generally grown as a potted plant (a clay pot works best for rosemary) during the growing season. It requires a well-drained, moist soil media like potting mix with some additional perlite for better drainage. In summer, select a sunny spot and bury the potted plant in the ground to its rim level. Water the plant as needed to keep the soil moist and use water soluble fertilizer once in three weeks. By mid to late fall (before first frost), dig the potted plant out and move it indoors for overwintering.

However, maintaining a rosemary plant indoors can be little tricky, as the warm and dry air inside our winter home can wither its leaves and desiccate the twigs. Rosemary needs cool and moist conditions during the wintertime. Plus, it needs a good amount of sunlight or supplemental artificial light that doesn’t emit heat. And, the plant can get iffy if it is over- or underwatered.

If you happen to receive a rosemary plant as a gift during the holiday season, remove the foil wrap around the container to prevent water logging and set the container in a drip tray. Station the plant near a cool, bright spot where the temperature doesn’t exceed 65° F. A south/west facing window may work, but be sure your heat register or radiator is not close to the plant. Once a week, rotate the plant so it can get an equal share of sunlight on all its sides. Alternatively, you can also station the plant inside the garage as long as the temperature doesn’t drop below freezing and allows decent amount of sunlight.

Heated homes in winter can dry out the soil moisture quickly. So check the soil moisture of the container once or twice a week by sticking your finger to an inch deep. Water the plant thoroughly if the soil seems to be dry. Once a week, mist the plant using a spray bottle or use a humidifier to boost humidity inside the house. Don’t fertilize your rosemary during the winter season. In spring, after the threat of frost, move the potted plant outside and repot it with some fresh media.

Vijai Pandian is the horticultural agent/educator for the Brown County University of Wisconsin-Extension.

How To Grow Rosemary Indoors

Growing rosemary indoors is sometimes a tricky thing to do. Many good gardeners have tried, and despite their best efforts, end up with a dry, brown, dead rosemary plant. If you know the secrets to proper care of rosemary plants growing inside, you can keep your rosemary plants growing happily indoors all winter long.

Tips for Growing Rosemary Indoors

Most often, there are four things on the list of what kills rosemary plants indoors. These are:

  • lack of sunlight
  • poor watering practices
  • powdery mildew
  • pests

If you can avoid these issues, your rosemary plant will live happily inside. Let’s look at how to avoid each.

Lack of Sunlight
Most people aren’t aware that the lack of sunshine is the most common reason for a rosemary plant growing indoors to die. Often, rosemary plants are brought indoors without any acclimation. They go from six to eight hours of strong, direct light to four to six hours of weak or indirect light. The rosemary plant is unable to produce enough energy to stay alive on this amount of weak light and simply dies.

The first step to preventing rosemary light starvation is to put your rosemary on a sunlight diet before you bring it indoors. Several weeks before you plan on bringing the rosemary inside, move the plant to gradually shadier areas of your yard. This will force the rosemary plant to grow leaves that are more efficient at turning light into energy, which will help it cope with weaker indoor light when it moves inside.

Once your rosemary moves indoors, make sure that you place it in the brightest window in your house, which is normally a south facing window. If your rosemary plant is not getting at least six to eight hours of light a day, place a lamp with a fluorescent light bulb as close as possible to the plant to supplement the sunlight.

Poor Watering Practices
The second most common reason for an indoor rosemary dying is watering practices. Often, indoor rosemary plants are watered too little or too much. Make sure that the drainage on the container with the rosemary is excellent. Only water the soil when the top of the soil is dry to the touch. But, that being said, never let the soil dry out completely.

In the winter, rosemary plants grow much more slowly and need much less water than they do in the summer. Watering too often will cause root rot, which will kill the plant. On the other side, if the soil of the rosemary plant is allowed to dry out completely, the roots will die back and the plant will not have enough roots to support itself.

Powdery Mildew
Indoors or outdoors, rosemary plants are very susceptible to powdery mildew. Most homes don’t have the same air circulation as the outside world does, which makes this an even worse problem for the plant inside.

The best way to drive away powdery mildew on rosemary plants is to increase the air circulation around it. Letting a fan blow on it for a few hours a day or taking it out of more high humidity rooms like the bathroom or kitchen, will help improve the air circulation.

You can also treat the plant with a fungicide to help keep away the powdery mildew.

To be honest, while pests may get the blame for killing a rosemary plant, most pests will only infest a plant that is already weakened. Unfortunately, most rosemary growing indoors, despite all best efforts, are growing in a somewhat weakened state. The stricter you are with yourself about making sure that your rosemary plant is watered properly and gets enough light, the less likely pests will bother the plant.

But, if your rosemary is infected with pests, use a houseplant pesticide to remove them. Since rosemary is an herb and it is mainly grown to be eaten, look for organic pesticides. One that is growing in popularity is neem oil, as it is very effective against pests but is completely harmless to humans and pets.

Watters Weekly Garden Classes

March 26 – Advanced Container Designs $35

Lisa Lain, Watters owner, has been creating container designs for decades. This 3 step program puts the floral style back into your garden. The class is free to onlookers, but the first 12 students to sign up create their own design with her professional guidance, and take it home same day. Come ready to get your hands dirty and your containers beautified. Bring your own pot, on staff professionals are available to help design and build pretty container gardens all day.

April Classes

April 2 – Drip Irrigation Design and Installation

Newest technologies in irrigation introduced. April is time to turn that irrigation back on. Learn the benefits of drip irrigation, the best emitters and parts, how to set a system up or add a plant to it. With the right system you can save water and have healthier plants all at the same time. We will also go over how to properly set up and run an irrigation clock. We stuff Watters irrigation bins full making ready for this class. Come early and bring a lawn chair; over 100 students attended this class last time it was offered.

April 9 – Grape, Brambles & Blueberries to the Kitchen

Students learn the best grapes, berries and all things vegetable along with plant foods to an ever increasing harvest. Dozens and dozens of fruiting varieties will be on hand and all the professionals to help you increase the eats from these edible plants.

April 16 – Fragrant Mountain Roses

Beautiful roses are admired, but these roses will tickle the nose. Not only will you know which roses are most fragrant, but you’ll have all the insider tips the brings your rose to life with these season long bloomers. Oh, we’ll have a HUGE selection of fragrant roses on hand that day as well . . . imagine that.

April 23- Grow Your Own Groceries From Tomatoes 2 Fruits

This fun filled class has everything edible for the garden this spring. Nothingn is genetically modified here at Watters, but we will cover the best heirloom varieties to local favorites. The ideal soil preperation, best foods and care are all covered in this fast paced class. It’s that start of planting season, and this class starts the season off smarter and wiser to local ways in the garden. The nursery is loaded with 100’s of non-GMO vegetable starts and organic herbs this weekend. We’re ready to plant.

April 30 – Going Native and Low, Low maintenance

This class coincides with our annual native plant sale along with a host of other Low, LOW, LOW water use plants that once established require little to no water and even less care. No other nursery has so many native and low care plants in the region with the horticulturalist to help you plant it right.

Garden Classes are on hiatus for the month of May

Rosemary is a natural for hot sunny gardens. Originating in the hills surrounding the Mediterranean, there are varieties that are equally at home in our mountain gardens. If you have struggled with a not-so-green thumb, a type of this fragrant evergreen that blooms most of the year should be on your list. Heck, I’m a gardener and I love to plant this easy to grow herb, especially since javalina, rabbits, and deer never bother with it. There are many kitchen recipes calling for fresh herbs, and this is one flavor that most people enjoy.

Starting a Rosemary Plant

A nice landscape-sized rosemary plant can take years to fill out if started from seed. The seeds can be difficult to germinate and often don’t grow true to their parent, so propagation usually is from cuttings. It can be started in a glass of water, but it will be difficult to transplant into soil with only water roots. If you want to start this herb from a cutting, it’s fairly easy to do. Here are the best steps to start your own rosemary plant:

  1. Snip three 2-inch long cuttings from the soft, new growth of an established plant. Remember, plants from these cuttings will look just like their mother, so choose cuttings from a beautiful plant.

  2. Remove the leaves from the bottom inch of each cutting and dip it into Bonides Rooting Powder, available here at Watters.

  3. Carefully place the dipped ends into a container of dampened Seedling Potting Soil.

  4. Stick 3 cuttings into each pot to ensure against cutting failures.

  5. Place the container in a warm spot with indirect sunlight.

  6. Mist the cuttings daily and make sure the soil does not dry out completely.

In 2 weeks, test for root growth by very gently tugging on the cuttings. Once your cuttings have rooted pull out the weakest cuttings leaving the strongest one to root. As the cutting begins to grow, pinch off the tip to encourage it to develop side branches.

While starting a plant from a cutting can be a rewarding project, be advised:

You will make things far easier on yourself if you start with a healthy, fully-grown plant from Watters!

Growing Rosemary in the Landscape

The three fundamentals for successfully growing rosemary are: Sun, Good Drainage, and Good Air Circulation. These requirements are easy to find in our mountain gardens.

Prepare the soil by digging a hole that is 3 times wider than the plant’s roots and the same depth. Screen rocks, old roots, and debris from the soil and amend with Watters Premium Mulch. Compact this blended landscape soil around your new plant and water well. A new landscape planting will need twice a week watering for it’sfirst year of life.

Rosemary is not a heavy feeder, but fertilizing in spring with Watters All Purpose Plant Food 7-4-4 will get it off to a good start. Reapply this same food in the fall to encourage blooms well into the winter growing season.

Bringing Rosemary Indoors

It can be a little trickier to keep rosemary happy inside. Your rosemary plant requires 6 hours of full sun, so artificial lights may be necessary. Heat is not as crucial as sunlight. Since rosemary likes it on the dry side, glazed clay and terra cotta pots are especially good choices for this plant.

Problems of Rosemary Plants

The biggest problem with growing rosemary indoors is its tendency for powdery mildew. Powdery mildew is a white, powdery fungus that can develop if the surrounding air is humid and there is not enough air movement.

Keep the humidity low by allowing the soil to dry somewhat between waterings, keeping the plant in sunlight, and, if necessary, running a fan for a few hours a day to create a breeze.

Also be on the lookout for aphids and spider mites. These pests seem to like spending their winters on houseplants! Catching them before a total infestation of the plant will make them easier to control. Spray up to the day of harvest with organic Watters Home Harvest with neem oil to wipe out these pests.

Maintaining a Potted Rosemary

As with most potted plants, the soil in your rosemary pot will degenerate through watering and root growth. Replace it at least once a year. Spring is a good time to repot your rosemary, but it should be fine no matter what time of year you do it.

When the rosemary plant puts out considerable growth or looks like it just can’t get enough water, it has outgrown its pot and needs to be transplanted into a larger one. If you want to maintain the size of your rosemary plant, root prune by slicing off a couple of inches of the roots from the bottom and sides of the root ball and replanting it in the same pot. Be sure to trim off some of the top of the plant; this will ease the workload of the roots and the stress placed upon the trimmed plant. Then allow your repotted plant some time to regroup. It should reward you with many more seasons of cooking herbs and flowers.

Using Rosemary

Rosemary is a triple threat herb. It’s pretty, fragrant, and delicious. Both the leaves and the flowers are edible. Simply snip off pieces of the parts of the plant as you need them.

For more details, visit us here at Watters Garden Center, your local organic herb source.

Rosemary Care Indoors

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Rosemary topiaries shaped like a Christmas tree are great gifts to give and receive. If you are the lucky recipient, you should know a few things about how to care for rosemary indoors.

First of all, rosemary is tricky to grow inside. A rosemary topiary has been grown under controlled conditions in a greenhouse for months and won’t be thrilled to be away from those conditions. Remove the foil wrapper or anything else that may be holding in moisture and make sure the pot has at least one hole for drainage-more is better. To reduce the effects of climate shock, it will need full sun. Rotate the pot weekly so that all sides of the plant get sunlight. Rosemary is native to Mediterranean climates so it prefers a hot and sunny location with its roots kept on the dry side but the air around it humid.

Place the pot on a shallow pebble-filled container or tray. Add water so that it does not cover the pebbles. You want the rosemary plant to have increased humidity but not soggy soil and roots.

Water when the soil dries out a bit but not to the point where the plant is wilting. No fancy tools needed…just stick your finger about an inch down into the soil. If it feels soggy, wait a couple more days.

Water the plant by placing the pot in a larger container and then add water to the larger container. Let the plant absorb water for about an hour. Remove the rosemary pot and let it drain before returning it to sit on the pebbles. Overwatering will cause root rot.

Prune out dead or browning stems as soon as you can, especially toward the inside of the plant. Trim new growth to keep the shape of the topiary, if desired.

You may notice a white coating on the leaves, a sign of powdery mildew fungus. Powdery mildew is common on rosemary grown indoors and when growth is crowded. Powdery mildew usually disappears when plants are moved outside. It is really not necessary to treat.

If you notice white dots on the leaves and webbing on the plant, you probably have spider mites. Dense foliage and poor air circulation contribute to this problem.

If the container is small enough, you could put the entire plant in the bathtub and give it a shower. This should reduce the population and it can be repeated as needed. This could also be done outside on a warm winter day.

When warm weather arrives, you can plant your rosemary outside. Mediterranean herbs like rosemary, thyme, oregano, marjoram and lavender should be planted in a sunny location, in very well-drained soil, and protected from dessicating winter winds. If this is not possible, you should protect it with a wrap of burlap or floating row cover. Consider planting rosemary in a raised bed if your soil is heavy and wet. Do not add organic matter to the soil and don’t fertilize. Rosemary performs best in poor soil. Remove the plant from the pot and break up the root ball with a sharp knife before planting. Cut away dead and circling roots. New roots will grow where the old roots were cut.

How to Grow Rosemary Indoors for Cold-Weather Flavor

Rosemary’s aromatic flavor has been cherished by cooks and gardeners for centuries. The Mediterranean herb adds delicious fragrant taste to whole chickens, roasted potatoes, grilled steaks, steamed vegetables and so much more. Growing rosemary indoors in winter lets you enjoy this popular herb, when everything else in your garden looks dead or dormant.

Snowbound rosemary photo via KennethMoyle /Flickr Creative Commons

How to grow rosemary indoors

Growing it

When temperatures drop into the 30s outdoors, it’s time to bring your rosemary indoors. First, the bad news: Rosemary can be a little tricky to grow indoors. But growing rosemary indoors in winter is certainly possible with the right gardening conditions. For best results, give these plants plenty of sunlight. This sun-loving herb likes a window with southern exposure, and at least 4 hours of direct sunlight. If you don’t have a south, west or southwest facing window, you may need to provide supplemental light. Rotate your plant weekly so the rosemary gets sunlight on all sides.

Herb garden via Sweetbeetandgreenbean /Flickr Creative Commons

Overwatering rosemary is a great way to kill this plant. Water this drought-tolerant plant when the first inch of soil is dry. Make sure your container has excellent drainage too; this helps prevent root rot. Prune rosemary stems to maintain the plant’s shape, and enjoy the leaves in your meals. Any dead or brown branches should be pruned away as soon as possible.

Propagate it

It’s not easy to grow rosemary from seed, but you can also find small transplants at nurseries. Rosemary is easy to propagate, and plants are often started from cuttings.

  • Clip a couple inches of new growth off an established rosemary plant.
  • Carefully snip away the bottom leaves, and dip the bottom stem into a hormone rooting powder.
  • Plant the cuttings in small containers with peat moss and perlite.
  • Lightly mist the cuttings, and the plants will start rooting.


Powdery mildew is a white coating on the leaves, which sometimes appears on rosemary plants grown indoors. Some experts recommend you run a small fan near the plant for a couple hours a day to increase the air circulation in the room. And be sure to keep rosemary plants away from heater drafts.

Spider mites can cause white dots and webbing on rosemary plants. Give your rosemary periodic showers to help control the pests.

Rosemary photo via jamailac /Flickr Creative Commons

Serving tips

Rosemary features prominently in Italian cuisine , Spanish cuisine and French cuisine . And there are so many wonderful ways to use this fragrant herb in the kitchen and add a flavor burst to your meals.

  • Throw a few sprigs into a soup or stew, and simply remove the herb before you eat.
  • Use rosemary sprigs as skewers for veggies on a grill.
  • Infuse a bottle of olive oil with a couple rosemary sprigs.
  • Or, swirl rosemary leaves into butter, and serve with everything from fresh-baked dinner rolls to corn-on-the-cob.

From flavored butters to rosemary-infused honeys, there are lots of fun ways to preserve rosemary for cold-weather meals.

Rosemary, garlic and thyme photo via Chiot’s Run /Flickr Creative Commons

Rosemary mixes well with garlic, thyme and sage. The herb also blends beautifully with lemons.

  • Make your next pitcher of lemonade with a sprig of rosemary.
  • Or, mix chopped rosemary leaves, lemon juice, garlic and olive oil for a dipping sauce for vegetables.
  • When cooking chicken , rub the bird with rosemary leaves and roast with lemons. Mixed with a little salt and pepper, this basic chicken recipe is a classic for spring meals. The same kind of flavoring also works well with roasted lamb.
  • Rosemary is pungent enough to stand up to a hardy grilled steak. Try marinating the meat with rosemary and red wine first.
  • Don’t forget roasted peppers, potatoes, onions and other vegetables. Brushed with olive oil and crushed rosemary leaves before cooking, these vegetables are elevated to an entirely different level.

Enjoy all these culinary delights year-round by growing rosemary indoors in winter winter. You’ll be so glad you did!
You might also enjoy our post on how to grow thyme indoors .
Bluprint Guilt Free Binge Watching

URBANA, Ill. – Herbs are popular in many gardens, but it can be expensive to buy and transplant mature plants. That’s why University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator Nancy Kreith recommends starting herbs from seed indoors as spring approaches. March is a good time to begin.

Thyme, rosemary, basil, sage, chives, and tarragon are good candidates for starting indoors. Many of these plants have very fine seeds and require a long germination period. If started early in March, they can be ready to transplant into the garden in mid to late May, depending on the region. Refer to Illinois State Water Survey for average frost free dates in your region at:

To start herb seeds indoors, use a peat-based soil-less seed-starting mix in a 3- to 4-inch-deep container or seed-starting flat with drainage holes. Pre-moisten the mix with water until it feels like a wrung-out sponge. Fill labeled containers with the moist mix, leaving about one-quarter inch of space at the top.

“Labeling containers with the herb name and planting date will avoid confusion when it comes time to plant outside,” Kreith says.

Plant at least five seeds (or a pinch) of one herb variety per container or cell and lightly cover with moist mix.

“As a general rule of thumb, plant seed just two times its thickness under the soil,” Kreith notes. “As plants become overgrown, seedlings can be thinned to one plant per pot.”

After planting the seeds, keep them moist during the germination period.

“One technique is to cover the flat or container with a clear plastic bag,” Kreith says. “The plastic helps hold in heat and aids in providing consistent moisture. However, be sure to monitor the growing media for mold growth. If you see mold, poke holes in the bag or remove it completely to improve air circulation.”

Plastic should be removed once the seeds germinate, usually in 10 to 14 days. A heat mat, available at many gardening stores, will speed the germination rate if placed under the container.

The sown containers or flats need approximately six hours of sunlight per day. A window with either western or southern exposure will work well initially, but over time, the herb seedlings will require more direct and intense lighting. Using supplemental grow lights or florescent lighting has been proven to work better than natural sunlight.

“If using fluorescent lights, keep them on for a minimum of 10 hours per day and place them as close to the seedlings as possible,” Kreith says. “Adjust the height as seedlings grow taller.”

Seeds and seedlings should be monitored on a daily basis as the transplants mature; look for insects, rot, and extremely dry soil. The seeds and seedlings should only need a light sprinkle of water about twice per week, depending on the temperature of the home. Allow the planting media to dry out a little before watering again. Overwatering can lead to diseases such as damping-off, a common soilborne fungal disease that ultimately kills young seedlings. Constant moisture can also attract fruit flies.

As seedlings mature, some maintenance will be needed. If seedlings grow too large for their original containers, they can be transplanted into larger ones. If they become leggy, they may not be getting enough light.

“Be sure fluorescent lights are placed close enough to the plants, no more than four inches away,” Kreith says. “You can also increase the amount of time lights are on, up to 16 hours per day.”

Once seedlings reach six to eight weeks old, pinch off the top leaves to encourage lateral spread and a bushier appearance. After 10 weeks, most herb seedlings should be ready to transplant outdoors.

“Help the tender plants ‘harden off,’ or become acclimated to their new climate, by placing them outdoors on mild sunny days and bring them back indoors at night for one to two weeks,” Kreith recommends. “Once plants are hardened off, they can be transplanted safely into the garden for beautification, culinary, and therapeutic purposes.”

Some seeds can be sown directly in the ground around the time that transplants are ready to be planted outdoors. Herbs that do well by direct sowing include cilantro, arugula, and basil. In early spring, direct-seeding cilantro and arugula, both cool-weather herbs, provide a bountiful leafy harvest from mid-spring to mid-summer. Warm season herbs like basil can also be directly sown after the danger of frost has passed.

For the best flavor, harvest herbs just before they flower. Details about specific herbs, their growing requirements, and harvesting and storing methods can be found at

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