Fennel is a useful herb. Long ago, it was used by ancient Chinese and Egyptian as medicine. Meanwhile, in Europe, it was used to repel evil spirits during the middle Ages. These days, this herb is used for flavoring meals, especially fish and eggs. Fennel is also used for relieving stomach problem. Therefore, growing fennel in your garden will give you some advantages.
Fennel Plant Description
There are two types of fennel that are widely known. One of them is Foeniculum vulgare or fennel herb which is grown for its seeds. This plant comes from Mediterranean area. In its origin, it grows as a perennial herb plant. But, in other parts of Europe and North America, fennel usually grows as an annual plant.
Fennel plant has tall hollow stems that can reach to 2 m tall. In each of them, there is green feathery foliage. Meanwhile, the small flowers bloom on wide umbels. This plant will start flowering in 80 to 115 days. Once the yellow flower turns to brown, you can harvest the fennel seeds. However, certain fennel plants may not produce flowers until the second year.
Fennel seed has strong aroma and taste. Its aroma and taste is almost similar to anise. The color of fennel seed is varied from greenish to yellowish brown. This seed is actually the fruit of the fennel plant. Meanwhile, the true seed can be found inside the pericarp.
The other type of fennel is Florence fennel or Foeniculum vulgare azoricum. This plant is grown mainly for its bulb or feathery foliage. Florence fennel is not as tall as the Foeniculum vulgare. Its height is about 60 cm tall. This plant has a big bulb and looks like a celery.
Fennel bulbs can be harvested when the plant is 14 weeks old. The taste and aroma of this bulb are not as strong as those of the seed but. Florence fennel bulb is usually cooked as sautéed fennel, roasted fennel, braised fennel, or salad.
Fennel’s Growing Condition
Growing fennel in your garden is not difficult. This herb plant is pretty easy to maintain. However, you must keep several things in mind before planting this plant. These are what you need to consider when growing this herb.
1. Sun exposure
A fennel plant requires full sun to grow maximally. Therefore, you need to make sure that your fennel plant get plenty of sun during its growing season. However, it is important to remember that too much sun exposure is not good for this plant. As a result, if you live in an area with very hot summers, you need to plant this herb in a semi shaded area.
2. Soil temperature
When you are growing fennel, you need to take the soil temperature as consideration. The temperature needed for the seeds to germinate is between 15oC and 21oC. Meanwhile, the plant grows well in temperature of 21oC to 24oC.
A fennel plant can withstand mild winter. Therefore, you can grow them as a perennial or biennial if you live in USDA hardiness zone 6 to 10. But if you live in zone 5 and under, you will only be able to plant this herb as an annual plant.
3. Soil condition
Fennel needs fertile soil to grow well. Moreover, it is recommended to do a soil test before you start growing fennel. If the soil acidity ranges from 6.5 to 8.0, then you can grow this herb right away. But, for Florence fennel, the recommended soil pH level is between 5.5 and 6.8.
Another thing you must keep in mind is the soil drainage. Fennel loves moisture. However, it cannot tolerate being soaked in soggy soil for a long time. Therefore, you need to make sure that you plant it in well-drained soil.
4. Time of planting
If you live in a warmer area, you can plant this herb in early spring. However, if you grow fennel for its bulb or foliage, it is best to grow it in late summer. In addition, if you live in northern hemisphere, you are also recommended to plant it at that time.
Growing Fennel from Seed
There are several types of fennel propagation methods that you can perform. One of them is growing fennel from seed. To grow this seed, you can follow these steps below.
1. Prepare the planting site
The first step of growing fennel is preparing the planting site. Most experts recommend you to sow fennel seeds directly to the ground. Doing it will help you to avoid transplanting failure. Therefore, it is important for you to choose and prepare the planting site beforehand.
As it is stated before, fennel needs 6 hours of sun, well-drained soil, and slightly acidic fertile soil. In consequence, you have to ensure that the planting site meet these requirement. Therefore, you need to amend the soil with compost. In addition, you also need to create a raised bed to make sure that the soil has good drainage.
2. Sow the seed
Once you prepare the soil, you can start to sow the seeds. In order to improve your chance of success, you must plant them at the right time. You also need to soak the fennel seed for one to two days before sowing them.
After that, you can sow the seeds on the planting site that you have prepared. When you are doing it, you need to make sure that the seeds are covered by the soil but not too deep. Moreover, you must keep the soil moist.
This seeds usually will germinate in 8 to 12 days in the dark. Moreover, Spacing is important in planting fennel because they can grow tall. Sowing the seeds in close proximity is okay. But, once the seedlings are about 10 cm tall, you need to thin them so that they are about 45 cm apart.
Growing fennel is pretty easy. You don’t need to fertilize fennel plants during their growing season. Moreover, you must not over watering these plants because doing it will cause root rot. Therefore, it is better for you to water the fennel plants deeply and periodically.
Fennel herb is quite strong so that insects and diseases rarely affect this plant. However, it is prone to root rot. In addition, snail and slugs may eat fennel leaves and damage this plant. Therefore, you must check the plant regularly so that you can remove any slugs and snails.
Fennel seeds can be harvested when the flowers are drying. It is usually in between summer and early fall. After the harvest, you need to dry the seeds properly. Well dried seeds can last longer than those which are not. Once the seeds are dry, you can store them in a cool and dry place.
Growing Fennel Bulb
Fennel bulb or Florence fennel is best planted in midsummer if you live in northern region. But, if you live in USDA zone that is similar to Mediterranean zone, you can plant it in the spring. The process of growing fennel bulb is not that different from planting fennel herb.
1. Planting site preparation
In preparing the site for fennel bulb, you need to make sure that the plants get enough sun and grow in soil that meets their requirement to grow. This step is not different from preparing the site for fennel herb.
2. Sowing the seeds
The next step in growing fennel bulb is sowing the seeds. Direct sowing is best for fennel bulb seeds. However, if you want to start early, you can sow the seeds indoor at about 6 week before the danger of last spring frost has gone.
When you sow the seeds indoor, you had better use peat pots so that the root will not be negatively affected by the transplanting process. In addition, you need to put the pots under a grow light. Before you transplant the seedlings, you must harden them first. Therefore, they can adapt themselves to the outdoor condition easily.
3. Nurturing the plants
Nurturing Florence fennel plant is not difficult. This plant actually can stand dry soil in between watering. However, it is not recommended to let the soil dry, especially for a prolonged period. A dry condition can cause the plant to flower early. Therefore, you will not be able to harvest the bulb.
For best result, you need to deep watering the plant regularly. In addition, you must add a layer of mulch around the plant. The mulch will keep the soil moist all the time. As a result, you don’t need to worry if you forget to water the fennel plant.
If you are growing fennel for its foliage and bulb, you don’t need to wait for the plant to flowers to harvest them. Fennel foliage can be harvested right after the plant has established itself. However, you need to harvest the foliage only in small amount at first. Meanwhile, the bulb can be harvested when it looks swollen or about the size of a tennis ball.
Growing Fennel in Containers
Aside from growing fennel in the garden, you can also grow them in containers. This planting method will give you some advantages. One of them is that you can protect your fennel plants from the danger of extreme temperature. When the temperature is very hot, you can move the containers in a semi shaded area. And in winter, you can move them in a warmer area.
However, growing fennel in containers must be done properly in order to have a successful harvest.
1. The best fennel type to be grown in containers
Due to different plant characteristics among the two types of fennel plant, not all of them can be grown in containers. For this kind of planting method, you had better choose the fennel bulb. Its smaller size allows the plant to grow well in pots.
2. Choose the right pots
Growing fennel in containers is almost similar to growing this plant directly to the grown. However, you need to make sure that you grow it in the right pot. Fennel has a taproot that can reach to 30 cm long. In consequence, it requires deep containers, about 30 to 35 cm deep, to grow.
Once you get the right size of containers, you can start the process of growing fennel. Fill the pots with potting mix and compost. After that, moist the soil and sow the seeds. You can sow three to four seeds in one pot. Later on, you can thin them so that you have a strong fennel plant per pot.
3. Nurturing the potted plants
A potted fennel requires more maintenance. You will need to side-dress the fennel plant with compost during the growing season. It must be done twice in order to ensure that the potting mix has enough nutrients for the fennel to grow.
The soil in the container usually dries faster than the soil in the garden. Therefore, you need to water the plants more often. In addition, to maintain moisture, you can mulch the soil. When you are adding the layer of mulch, be sure that you left the soil near the plants free from mulch.
Tips on Growing Fennel
If you never grow fennel before, you don’t need to be afraid of failing. These tips on growing fennel will increase your chance of success.
1. Avoid bolting
Your Florence fennel will likely to flower early or bolt when the temperature changes drastically. To avoid it, you need to prune the fennel leaves periodically, especially on its growing tips. In addition, you must not let the soil dry. That’s why you must mulch the soil.
When the bulb of Florence fennel starts to get bigger, you must perform the blanching process. It is covering the base of the stem with soil. This small hill will prevent the bulb from getting green. In addition, it will make the fennel bulb tastes sweeter.
3. Bad companion plant for fennel plants
People believe that fennel will cross pollinate with dill. As a result the fennel seeds will have milder taste and aroma. To avoid it, you must not plant your fennel herb near the dill.
4. Choose the best varieties
To increase your chance of success in growing fennel, you must choose the best varieties of fennel herb and Florence fennel. The recommended varieties of fennel herb are Foeniculum vulgare dulce and foeniculum vulgare rubrum. Both of them produce high quality fennel seeds.
Meanwhile, one of the recommended varieties of Florence fennel is Solaris that is resistant to bolting. Zera fino is also resistant to bolting. It can be harvested in 80 days and has an extra-large bulb. Orion is another recommended variety. It produce crisp and large bulb and can be harvested in 80 days.
Growing fennel can be very rewarding. You will be able to enjoy a nice harvest of fennel bulb and seeds without spending too much time and energy. For better harvesting experience, you had better perform successive planting. Therefore, you can harvest the fennel bulb periodically. Meanwhile, for fennel herb, it is recommended for you to have three or four plants in your garden.