Is Rosemary A Perennial Or Annual?

Written by Becky Mathews
Published: August 31, 2022
Image Credit iStock.com/Artfully79
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Rosemary is an ornamental and culinary herb that’s native to the Mediterranean but has grown across the world for centuries. Historically, it was used for medicine too! Rosemary flowers are pollinator magnets, and the foliage is evergreen, but is rosemary a perennial or an annual?

Let’s find out more about the bee-friendly, delicious, and attractive rosemary!

Is Rosemary An Annual Or A Perennial?

Rosemary is a perennial in warm conditions, but it dislikes wet roots.

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Rosemary is a perennial. It’s an evergreen herb that grows and flowers during the warm months and then lies dormant in the cold months. It has a woody stem, soft evergreen 1.5-inch long ‘needle-like’ foliage, and small scented flowers. The most obvious indicator of a rosemary shrub is its unmistakable scent.

In very cold climates, gardeners can grow rosemary as an annual or bring it indoors. However, it is a hardy plant that can withstand frost and occasional snow. It dislikes constant wet conditions, but in most well-drained gardens, rosemary is perennial.

What’s The Difference Between Annual And Perennial?

The difference between perennials and annuals is simple! Annuals complete their lifecycle in one year. They germinate, grow leaves and flowers, set seeds, and die within 12 months.

Perennials live longer. They usually put on growth in the warm months and go dormant in the cold months. Perennials can be evergreen or deciduous – which means they lose all their foliage and sometimes their stems and branches too. Either way, they can live for decades.

Do Biennials Grow Every Two Years?

As well as annuals and perennials, there are biennial plants. These plants complete their growing cycle across two years. A good example is sweet William. Biennials germinate and grow their first few leaves in the first year. They rest for winter, then grow more foliage, flower, set seeds, and die in the second year.

All About Rosemary

Rosemary is an evergreen perennial shrub.

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Rosemary (Salvia rosarinus) is an evergreen perennial shrub. It was re-classified in 2017 (it used to be called Rosmarinus officinalis). Lots of people still call it Rosmarinus officinalis, though, so it’s become an official synonym.

The name rosemary is Latin, and it means ‘dew of the sea.’ It’s a member of the Lamiaceae sage family in the Salvi genus. There are hundreds of different species in the Salvi family and many more botanist-bred rosemary cultivars.

Rosemary can be upright or prostrate. Upright rosemary can reach heights of nearly 6 and a half feet tall over ten years! It flowers in spring and summer, and its blooms are either white, blue, purple, or pink, depending on the cultivar. All colors are very attractive to pollinators. Bees love rosemary flowers. In its native habitat of the Mediterranean or temperate climates, rosemary can flower all year round.

Throughout history, herbs like rosemary have been used as medicines. Our ancestors were right to use it because rosemary is a potent antiseptic and antimicrobial. The ancient Egyptians used it for embalming from 5000 years BC, and the ancient Greeks used it in their medicines. Rosemary arrived in China in 220 AD, according to scholars, and eventually in England.

Written records don’t mention rosemary in England until the 8th century, but it’s likely the Romans brought it when they invaded in the 1st century AD. Rosemary was taken to the Americas when European settlers arrived in the 17th century. It is the herb of remembrance and has a long history alongside humans!

Is Rosemary Easy To Grow?

Rosemary is native to the Mediterranean, but it grows across the world in well-drained soil.

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Rosemary is very easy to grow and tolerant of a wide range of conditions, which is probably why it’s spread across the globe. Because it’s a Mediterranean plant, rosemary doesn’t like too much water. If you tend to forget about your plants, this drought-tolerant herb will cope just fine!

It’s ornamental with dark green leaves and pretty flowers, but also useful in the kitchen. Rosemary is deliciously roasted with meat or veggies, and because rosemary is a perennial, not an annual, it can be picked in the winter months when roast dinners and stews are on the menu! It’s very popularly steeped in olive oil and brewed to make tea that aids digestion.

Does Rosemary Grow Back Each Year?

Yes, rosemary grows back each year. It’s a perennial herb that increases in size each season.

Can Rosemary Survive Winter?

In most dry conditions, rosemary can survive a cold winter. There are cultivars bred to cope with minus temperatures, but they all dislike wet, soggy roots.

In cold gardens, protect rosemary plants by covering their roots with thick organic mulches in winter. Drape horticultural fleece across the foliage if snow and frost are forecast.

Will Rosemary Grow In A Pot?

Rosemary grows very well in a pot. Its drought-tolerant nature makes it suitable for container growing, but it needs water and fertilizer in the growing seasons. All container-grown rosemary needs drainage, so prop the pot up on bricks to let the water run off.

Do You Cut Back Rosemary Plants?

Yes, cut back stems after the blooms have faded; otherwise, it gets leggy. Never cut into the old wood because this doesn’t regenerate. New soft growth has the best flavor, so it’s a good idea to harvest rosemary when you prune. If there’s excess, spread it across a sheet of kitchen paper to dry out. Dry rosemary can be used in cooking all year round.

In wildlife gardens, rosemary can be left to grow as it pleases! Pollinators love their flowers.

Is Rosemary Poisonous To Pets?

According to the ASPCA, rosemary is not toxic to dogs or cats. It may even have health benefits. Historically, rosemary was used as a flea and lice repellent!

What Is The Lifespan Of A Rosemary Plant?

Rosemary can live for up to 30 years, but it will lose flavor and get woody. It’s best replaced every 5 years.

Rosemary Is Perennial, Not Annual!

Rosemary will grow from a cut stem if it’s placed in damp gritty compost and kept warm.

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So, we’ve answered the question of if rosemary is a perennial or an annual and found out much more about this historical plant. Because rosemary is a perennial, it means we can take advantage of its attributes all year round!

But don’t despair if you live in a very cold area. Rosemary will grow on a windowsill or each year as an annual. Take cuttings of new growth to keep annual costs down. Rosemary will grow from a cut stem if it’s placed in damp gritty compost and kept warm.

What’s not to love about rosemary? Get planting!

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About the Author

I’ve been a professional writer since 2014 with special interests in the environment, particularly endangered animal and plant species. I graduated from the University of Reading, UK with an MA in history and hold University of Oxford qualifications in archaeology. Outside of work, I rehabilitate wildlife, work in my allotment garden, and play the piano badly.

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Sources
  1. RHS, Available here: https://www.rhs.org.uk/herbs/rosemary/grow-your-own
  2. ASPCA, Available here: https://www.aspca.org/pet-care/animal-poison-control/toxic-and-non-toxic-plants/rosemary
  3. Herb Society, Available here: https://www.herbsociety.org/file_download/inline/824d2982-0b7c-40d9-b3d9-9e5d823d295c#:~:text=History%20and%20Origin,the%20early%20Greeks%20and%20Romans.
  4. National Library of Medicine, Available here: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6165352/
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