How to Grow Fennel Like an Expert

Updated on July 16, 2020
Jana Louise Smit profile image

Jana likes to grow stuff, exercise, snack, and explore creative projects as a means to relax and grow.


Who Wants to Learn How to Grow Fennel?

Two kinds of people love to grow their own fennel. In the one corner, you’ll find the remedy-seekers who trust this herb to cure or bring relief to their ailments. The second group is, of course, the cooks who love to harvest their fresh herbs and veggies straight from the garden.

While fennel is widely used, the plant is not safe for individuals with certain medical conditions. For this reason, please read the precautions that are listed at the end of this article.

What is Fennel Used For?

Fennel is used as a herb and a remedy. But let’s have a peek first at what this feathery plant can achieve in the kitchen. Indeed, fennel is famous for its flavour - one that cannot decide whether it’s liquorice or aniseed. The plant’s fronds and seeds are added to meals to infuse the flavour into meat and fish dishes, as well as vegetable stews.

As a remedy, fennel is mainly used for stomach ailments. Mind you, this is not a modern trend. For thousands of years, humans have nibbled on fennel leaves to soothe their digestive problems.

There Are Two Kinds of Fennel

The herb, which is called leaf or sweet fennel, is grown for its leaves and seeds. Both parts add the same sought-after zing to dishes. The second type is called Florence fennel. This variety has the odd honour of being both a vegetable and a herb. The leaves are used for herbal purposes while the swollen stem is considered a vegetable. True story.

Both sweet and Florence fennel are grown with the same techniques.

Can I Grow Fennel From Cuttings?

Yes, you can grow fennel from cuttings although the correct term would be their “fronds.” However, propagating fennel in this way can be a serious waste of time since the success rate is extremely low. Other techniques, like growing fennel from seeds or bulbs, are far more successful. Due to this, the article will only cover the propagation of fennel’s seeds and bulbs.

How to Grow Fennel From Seeds

To grow fennel seeds successfully, it’s best to wait until spring. You can sow them directly outdoors or in pots. The latter offers a higher survival rate, so we’ll cover that one. But if you want to try the outdoors, simply cast a few seeds into the bedding where you’d like them to grow and water every now and again. But if you’d rather grow fennel seeds in pots, then the following steps will help you to achieve that.

  1. Gather seed trays and good seed compost.

  2. Fill each compartment almost to the top but not too full.

  3. Sprinkle a few seeds on the soil.

  4. Lightly cover the seeds with soil.

  5. Repeat the steps until all your compartments are full.

  6. Mist the tray lightly to moisten the seeds.

  7. Place the tray in a warm, sunny area.

  8. Mist the tray whenever you notice that the soil is dry.

  9. The seedlings should appear in a few weeks.

  10. When they are roughly 7cm (about 3 inches) tall, you can place them in their own pots.

  11. The ones that you want to plant out in the garden must be hardened off. Just place them outside for an hour or two every day.

Fennel bulbs.
Fennel bulbs. | Source

How to Grow Fennel Bulbs

Growing your tasty friend from a bulb is the simper technique. You can even use grocery-bought fennel for this! Just use the leaves for your cooking but leave the bulb intact. In case you’re new to fennel, the bulb is easy to spot as it’s swollen white base

  1. Select a shallow dish or jar.

  2. Place the base face-down in the vessel.

  3. Add enough water to submerge half of the bulb.

  4. Place the bowl in a sunny area.

  5. Change the water every few days.

  6. You can expect to see new shoots in a matter of days!

  7. After some time, new roots will grow.

  8. You can keep the fennel in the water and harvest periodically.

  9. You can also transplant the rooted bulb to a pot.

How to Take Care of Your Fennel Plant

Potted and garden fennel enjoy the same major needs. Both love the sun and soil that is nutritious, moist, and well-drained. To keep sand bot wet and well-drained can be tricky. Experienced gardeners keep well-draining soil moist by mixing the earth with plenty of organic matter. But let’s look at the finer nuances in caring for the two types of fennel.

How do You Care for Herb Fennel?

  • Herb fennel will flourish in partial shade or full sun.

  • It needs fertile soil.

  • Water regularly during summer.

  • You can feed it with an organic fertilizer each spring.

  • Remove the flower heads to stimulate the growth of more leaves.

  • You can also grow the heads to get a crop of flavourful seeds.

  • Prune the plant when it temporarily dies each winter.

How do You Care for Florence Fennel?

  • Florence fennel needs full sun.

  • It also requires fertile soil.

  • Water regularly during hot weather.

  • Feed with a high potash food every two weeks in summer.

  • Feeding Florence fennel is important, otherwise, growth might slow down and then the plant will produce seeds too early.

  • Keep the soil around the stem free of weeds.

  • Pack some soil around the growing bulbs to keep them white and sweet.


Managing Fennel-Loving Pests

Fennel is robust when it comes to repelling bugs. Infestations are rare and when you do notice unwelcome visitors, they’ll most likely be aphids or whiteflies. Organic insecticidal soap is enough to deal with them. You can even remove them with a wet cotton bud if their numbers are few.

Precautions When Using Fennel

Regrettably, fennel is not the completely safe herb toted in some articles. While it’s probably fine in small doses taken over short periods of time, there are definitely concerns linked to fennel. This includes the use of the leaves, bulbs, seeds, or fennel products like creams containing the herb and fennel essential oil. Please stay safe and avoid fennel if the following applies to you.

  • Epilepsy.

  • If you’re prone to allergic skin reactions.

  • If you have skin that’s sensitive to sunlight.

  • A sensitive digestive system.

  • Pregnancy.

  • Breastfeeding.

  • If you’re allergic to carrots, celery, or mugwort.

  • Bleeding and bruising disorders.

  • Hormone-sensitive conditions.

  • Estrogen-sensitive cancers.

  • If you’re using contraceptives.

  • If you’re taking antibiotics.

A Quick Summary

Fennel has one of the most distinctive flavours in the world. The perennial herb’s seeds, fronds, and bulbs add an aniseed-liquorice flair to cooked meals. The plant is easy to grow if you propagate the seeds or bulbs. Once grown, they aren’t prone to pests and both herb and Florence are simple to care for. While the herb remains widely used, moderation is key when it comes to using fennel safely and individuals with certain health concerns must best avoid it.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2020 Jana Louise Smit


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    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 

      3 weeks ago from British Columbia, Canada

      I love fennel. Thank you for sharing the information about the herb and for sharing the precautions, Jana.

    • Jana Louise Smit profile imageAUTHOR

      Jana Louise Smit 

      3 weeks ago from South Africa

      Hi Lorna. I have medical issues that can place me in danger if triggered by certain herbs. Due to a lack of precautions cited with herb articles, I found this out the hard way. I'm very passionate about herbs but also to share information that won't harm anyone who decides to try a plant based on my work. I do hope you have better luck growing fennel this time! :)

    • Lorna Lamon profile image

      Lorna Lamon 

      3 weeks ago

      I really enjoy the distinctive flavour of fennel which I have tried to grow without success. Having read your article I will try again. Thank you for sharing and in particular listing the precautions. Another enjoyable and interesting read Jana.


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