Grow Rosemary in the Tropics: Here’s how

Grow Rosemary in potIf I were to rank herbs in terms of my difficulty in growing them,  I would say rosemary is at the top  of my list.  This herb originated in the mediterranean region where there are usually mild winters  and hot summers. In other words, the herb thrives best in very dry conditions. Here in the tropical Philippines, where the climate can be humid (yet extremely hot) during summer months, while very wet during the rainy season,  I found it a challenge at the start to grow rosemary successfully in the Philippines.

I bought my first seedlings from a garden shop more than a year ago, and out of the 4 seedlings,  only one plant  survived as of today.  This is not a reason for me to be discouraged, as I still consider rosemary a must-have in my organic food garden.

Watch out for the heavy rains

Rosemary is one of those herbs that do not enjoy  being soaked. Too much water causes the roots to rot, and with not enough healthy roots to support it,  the plant will eventually wither and die.

Unfortunately,  in the Philippines, rainy seasons can mean really heavy downpours for several days.   It’s a good thing that the herb grows well in containers, so they can easily be moved indoors once the rainy season sets in.  When moving them indoors, choose a spot by the window where the plants can get some amount of sunlight.  As soon as the sunny weather returns, move the pots outside where they could receive at least 6 hours of  sunlight.

Alternatively, wrap the pot with a plastic bag (or garbage bag) as shown in the photo. This serves like a “raincoat”, in case of sudden rains and you don’t have time to move the pot indoors. Make sure the “raincoat” is open at the bottom to allow air and water to flow through. When the rainy season is over,  you may unwrap the pot.

Watering tips

Watering the rosemary is quite tricky.    To know if watering is already needed, feel the soil up to about an inch deep.  If it feels dry, then the plant needs water; otherwise, wait another day. This means that watering can be done once or twice a week only. However, do not wait for the soil to dry out  as lack of water may also kill the rosemary.  Watering should be done in the morning, making sure that the soil doesn’t get too soaked or soggy.

The rosemary can not withstand the full strength of our tropical sun.  So place the container in an area with dappled shade or a partially shady part of the garden where it will still receive around 4 – 5  hours of morning sun.

Propagating Rosemary

rosemary cuttingThis herb rarely produces seeds, so the best way to propagate rosemary is through cuttings.  Cut a few stems (4 – 5 inches long) and remove the lower leaves. Choose the soft portion of the stem and not the woody part.

Soak the cuttings in about an inch of water and change the water every 3 days. In less than 2 weeks, the new roots will start to appear. Wait another 2 weeks or until the stems have fully rooted before transplanting the cuttings into a well-draining pot. Water the plant once and then thereafter only when the soil feels dry.

The rosemary plant grows slowly at the start.  Wait until the newly – rooted cuttings develop new stems or branches before transplanting them permanently into a bigger pot.  When transplanting, be careful that the roots are not disturbed too much.

Container gardening

Choose a medium sized container (or bigger), with at least 6 -8 inches in diameter and depth. The bigger the container, the taller it grows.  In other countries, a mature plant can reach more than 3 feet.    Here in the Philippines, I have seen these plants grow up to about 1- 2  feet in height when grown in containers.

Make sure to punch enough holes at the bottom of the pot to allow excess water to drain properly, and  use a well-draining potting soil.  Ordinary garden soil has a tendency to harden  or compress,  which could prevent proper drainage of water.

Add compost material to the soil sparingly  every 3 months.  Rosemary is a hardy plant and it can survive even with minimal nutrients in the soil.  They are rarely prone to pests but regular spraying of organic pesticide solutions can help minimize pest infestation.

While rosemary is my favorite culinary herb,  I would not suggest it for starters in gardening.  It takes a little patience to successfully grow this herb in the tropics.   With some practice however,  growing rosemary can definitely be a rewarding experience.

rosemary herbed chicken
I just love the smell and taste of roasted chicken  spiced with fresh rosemary.

Read more about how to start an herb garden.

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About Glo de Castro

The author is a lawyer and an executive in a leading real estate company in the Philippines. Urban gardening is one of her hobbies and passion. She created this website because she loves to write about her gardening experiences and share them with fellow gardeners. She also conducts seminars about urban gardening occasionally.

4 thoughts on “Grow Rosemary in the Tropics: Here’s how

  1. My rosemary plant started to die once we got home due to a bumpy ride. I tried to revive it by giving it sunlight the next day but unfortunately it rained hard and the stems were starting to soften and fall off. The main trunk is now wooden like (previously green and healthy), and all stems are wilted. Does it still have a fighting chance to grow again if I just leave it in the shed (new stems, “leaves”)? or is it time to start with a new one?

  2. Thank you for your comments. I’m glad you find my blogs useful. Yes, I noticed that rosemary plants do not want to get their roots soaked, and light watering is enough. I am now trying this new technique of wrapping the pot in a plastic bag, something like a rain coat. After I used this technique, my plant seems to thrive better, with new growths at the tip. I will try rooting the cuttings in water, as I have not had great success so far in propagating rosemary. Happy gardening!

  3. I have already “killed” several rosemary plants but this does not discourage me. In fact, tomorrow early morning I am again, for the nth time, buying a couple of rosemaries from a nearby nursery. Yes you are right, it is the water in all its forms that makes rosemary cringe and die. I love rosemary in all meat and fish dishes and even just to smell their scent everytime I get close them. It reminds me of the old days when we were living in Italy. Anyway, happy to learn that I am not alone in this quest. Thank you.

  4. Hi glo! So happy I found your site. I am an urban gardener for about 4 years now and it has been such a journey. Rosemary was one of my first herbs. I love everything about it and have found my experience with it to be easy quite frankly. We have the one that’s upright, grows a hard woody “main trunk”, and can be shaped into a lovely topiary. I understand there are several types of rosemary. We bought the herb in Subic and it is still around, with several other plants having grown well from its cuttings. You’re right, they are pretty hardy, they stay up in my roof deck where they have toughened up at this point. And I rately fertilize them. I notice that my rosemary like “mindful” but light waterings, basically I just watch if they look a bit dry (those needles in the leaves get skinnier and dry), and I water just enough. I know the plant is ok water wise when the needles are plumper and green. Really hot summers call for more frequent waterings, and they stay happier when kept away from the harsh sun from noon-2pm in my experience. Also, and I hope this helps, I have had great success rooting the cuttings in water. Sometimes, the tiny roots show up in as little as a week. Thanks for your blog and cheers!

Thank you. Your comments are valuable to me to help me improve my blog posts. Cheers.