How to grow fennel like a pro at home

How to grow fennel like a pro at home

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I love being The Hungry Gardener and growing my own produce. Fennel is my favourite veggie by far. Everything tastes better with fennel.

It reminds me of cosy winter nights sitting around Nonna’s table eating the homemade pork sausages she had laced with it.

Native to the Mediterranean, it is one of the oldest cultivated plants and the Romans believed it aided weight loss. Fennel is a fragrant perennial that can grow to a height of 1.5m.

Like other members of the carrot family, it has beautiful dark green leaves and umbel flowers that produce seeds you can harvest in late summer or autumn. The seeds of wild fennel are often used as a spice, and Florence fennel is grown for its bulb-like stem.

Here’s my go-to guide to growing fennel at home…

Propagation

Fennel loves full sun and well-draining soil, though it will tolerate poor soil. It propagates well from seed. Soak the seeds in water for a couple of days prior to planting to help speed up the germination process. It takes about three months for fennel to mature. It can be planted in either late summer or early spring. If you are growing fennel for seeds, the plant will bloom in the second year because it is a perennial. The plant can be cut back after flowering to encourage new, bushy growth.

Watering

Water once or twice weekly as needed. Keep the soil moist but never soggy – let the soil nearly dry out before giving the fennel a good, long soak.

Feeding

Apply an organic fertiliser if needed to enrich the soil. However, there’s no need to plant fennel in rich, well-fertilised soil, as overfeeding the plant will cause it to lose most of its aromatic oils and flavour.

Pruning

Fennel benefits from a severe prune – cut back foliage and deadhead to encourage bushier growth.

Pollination

Don’t plant fennel near dill. Cross-pollination between the two results in strangely flavoured seeds for both plants. Fennel is great for attracting beneficial insects to the garden.

Harvesting & storage

Fennel bulbs grow at the base of the plants, just above the soil’s surface. For a better flavour and to keep the bulbs white, blanch them. Harvest the bulbs when they’re no larger than a tennis ball, cutting them off at the soil line.

If you’re growing fennel for seed, the flowers will grow and mature late in the plant’s second summer or autumn. Watch the seeds closely to ensure they’re turning brown but haven’t started popping off the umbel (flower cluster).

To harvest, wrap a paper bag or muslin cloth around the umbel before cutting the stalk to catch any loose seeds. Hang the stalks to dry, and once they’ve dried, shake the stalks to release the remaining seeds. Be absolutely sure that the seeds are completely dry before storing in an airtight container.

If you want to harvest fennel for both its seeds and bulbs you’ll need to have multiple plants, as the bulbs need to be harvested before the plants go to seed. You can harvest fennel leaves throughout the growing season.

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