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How to Grow Fennel Like an Expert

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

Do you want to learn to grow fennel?

Do you want to learn to grow fennel?

Growing Fennel: Who Wants to Learn?

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.

What is Fennel Used For?

Fennel is used as an herb and a remedy. But let’s have a peek first at what this feathery plant can achieve in the kitchen. Fennel is famous for its flavour which contains notes of liquorice and aniseed. The plant’s fronds and seeds are used to add flavour to 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

  • Sweet or "leaf" fennel is the one we just mentioned. Its leaves and seeds add the sought-after zing to meals.
  • The second type is called Florence fennel. This guy 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 can be cultivated 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.” Keep in mind that 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

Spring is the best time to grow fennel seeds. They can be sown directly outdoors or in pots. Since pots offer a higher survival rate, we will have a closer look at how to grow seeds in containers.

But if you want to try the outdoors, simply cast a few seeds onto the area where you would like to grow them and sprinkle water every now and again. But if you’d rather grow fennel seeds in pots, then the following steps should help you to achieve your goal.

  1. Gather seed trays, fennel seeds, and good seed compost.
  2. Fill a compartment with compost. The compost should almost reach the top.
  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 7 cm (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.

How to Grow Fennel Bulbs

A simpler technique is to grow your tasty friend from a bulb. You can even use a shop-bought fennel plant for this! Just use the leaves for your cooking but keep the bulb intact. In case you’re new to fennel, the bulb is easy to spot as the plant'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 and stronger 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 enjoys the same needs. Both love the sun and flourish when the soil is nutritious, moist, and well-drained. To keep sand both wet and well-drained can be tricky. But experienced gardeners manage to keep well-draining soil moist by mixing the earth with plenty of organic matter. Next up, we will look at the finer nuances of 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 the 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 the 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.
A close-up of a fennel plant.

A close-up of a fennel plant.

Managing Fennel-Loving Pests

Fennel is robust when it comes to repelling bugs so infestations are rare. When you do notice unwelcome visitors, they will most likely be aphids or whiteflies. Organic insecticidal soap is enough to deal with them. If their numbers are few, you can even remove them with a wet cotton bud.

Precautions When Using Fennel

Some articles tote fennel as a completely safe herb or make no mention of side effects at all. Unfortunately, fennel has a dark side. When used in moderation over a short period of time, most people will never have a bad experience. However, there are concerns linked to the use of the herb's fresh leaves, bulbs, seeds and health and beauty products that contain fennel essential oil.

Please stay safe and avoid fennel if the following applies to you.

  • Epilepsy.
  • You are prone to allergic skin reactions.
  • 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.

Now You Know Some Fennel Facts

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 by propagating the seeds and bulbs. Sweet and Florence fennel are simple to care for and both varieties are pest-resistant. While the herb remains widely used, moderation is key to using fennel safely and individuals with 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


Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on July 16, 2020:

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

Jana Louise Smit (author) from South Africa on July 16, 2020:

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 on July 16, 2020:

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.