Also known as finocchio, this anise-flavored favorite sports green, feathery foliage, grows to 1–4 feet tall, and is often used as a garnish or herb. Seeds can be used as a spice, made into tea, or used to freshen breath. Bulbs can be used raw in salads or cooked in soups, pasta, or stir fries. Plants that mature in cooler fall temperatures will develop a larger bulb. A word of caution if deciding to grow fennel in your garden. This plant should not be grown near other garden plants since it emits a chemical that can inhibit their growth. Now, that’s not very nice! But after tasting the sweet crunch of a fresh bulb, we’re sure you’ll find a way to forgive.
Florence Perfection is a perennial plant most often grown as an annual in colder climates and harvested for its crisp, white, bulbous stem base. The Florence variety tends to be smaller than other varieties of fennel and will usually only grow between 1–2′ in height. This variety will also reach maturity and produce flowers a bit earlier than most other types of fennel.
Seed Depth: 1/8–1/4″
Space Between Plants: 6–12″
Space Between Rows: 10″
Germination Soil Temperature: 45–90°F, while 70°F is ideal.
Days for Germination: 10–14
Sow Indoors: Only needed for spring planting bulbous base production in hot summer climates. Sow inside 4–6 weeks before average last frost.
Sow Outdoors: 1–2 weeks after average last frost, or midsummer for fall harvest (which produces the largest bulbs). For foliage only: every 3 weeks after average last frost until midsummer.
Vegetative: Will grow well from seed but can also be propagated using root cuttings or crown division.
Prefers cooler growing temperatures and should be grown as an annual in colder climates. Although it favors the cold, bulbs will only survive outdoors in the winter in Zones 6–10.
Natural: Full sun. Partial shade during hotter spells.
Artificial: Will grow well indoors under T5 fluorescent lamps or HIDs. Keep T5s a foot above plants and HIDs 2–4 feet above plants to avoid burning.
Soil: Prefers loamy, well-drained soil. A pH of between 5.5–7.5 will keep plants healthy and nourished.
Soilless: Germinate seeds in a soilless mix such as perlite, vermiculite, or coco coir.
Hydroponics: Will thrive in a hydroponic media bed system.
Aeroponics: Will thrive in an aeroponic system.
Water: Requires moderate to high levels of water. Plants should be watered regularly enough to keep soil moist, but make sure that soil is well-drained to avoid root rot.
Nutrients: Is a light feeder and does not require very rich soil. If soil is highly acidic, add limestone to neutralize.
Pruning: When plants first begin to flower, remove flower stalks to keep the bulbs growing longer.
Other: Mounding soil around the base of the plant will help keep down weeds and send nutrients to the bulb.
DEFICIENCY(S):This plant tends to be susceptible to tip burn, which is often caused by a calcium deficiency or lack of water. To remedy this problem, amend soil with limestone, eggshells, or gypsum and increase watering if natural precipitation is sparse.
Companions: Fennel’s strong scent and flavor make it a poor companion plant for any other plant species. Dill, as the exception to this rule, could be planted with fennel, but unwanted cross pollination might take place between the two. Keep fennel in its own space, downwind from other plants, or in its own container.
Harvest: Bulbs, leaves, and stems may be harvested as soon as they begin to mature (bulbs will be the size of a tennis ball) by cutting just below the soil surface and clipping leaves close to the stem. Seeds may be harvested once they turn grey/green. They may be harvested up until they turn dark brown but will likely fall to the ground before you are able to collect them.
Storage: Best when used fresh. Bulbs can be kept refrigerated in a plastic bag for up to 10 days or blanched and frozen for up to a year. Leaves and seeds may be dried and stored in glass jars.
Tips: Fennel is best grown in successions instead of in full rows, as it will quickly bolt and become bitter. Although a terrible companion plant for most other plants, it will attract birds, bees, and butterflies to your garden. We recommend saving a garden spot away from the crowds to keep this little bully from harming the others.
Preserve: Seeds and leaves may be dried by keeping in a dry, dark place. Bulbs and stalks may be blanched and frozen or pickled for a tasty snack!
Prepare: Frequently eaten raw in the US, many Mediterranean recipes also add fennel to coals when grilling meats or fish to add a distinctive licorice-type flavor. Fennel can also be roasted, steamed, sautéed, added to stir fries, or used to infuse broths. In Spain, the seeds and leaves are also commonly used in teas.
Nutritional: High in dietary fiber, vitamin C and potassium. The seeds in particular are high in manganese, iron, calcium, and magnesium.
Medicinal: Traditional medicine has used fennel for various ailments, but fennel is most commonly cited as being used in ancient cultures for improving eye sight.
Warnings: Evidence for the benefits of using fennel vary greatly, particularly for pregnant women. While some sources cite fennel as being effective at treating colic and improving breast-milk production, other sources simultaneously note that it may be toxic to very young children. Consult your physician prior to consuming fennel or feeding fennel to children.
For a twist on traditional Thanksgiving cranberry recipes try this fennel, walnut and cranberry sauce.