Also known as finocchio, this anise-flavored favorite sports green, feathery foliage, grows to 2–4 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.
The Orion fennel plant is one of the more popular varietals among gardeners as it was bred to produce larger, juicier bulbs than heirloom or open-pollinated types. The fronds of this plant grow about 2–5′ in height and are less dense than other fennels, meaning they’re less likely to over-shade your other plants. This varietal is considered to be relatively easy to grow due to its resistance to tip burn, which often affects fennel. We think Orion fennel is a great option for beginner gardeners or those who are new to growing this plant.
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: Fennel will grow well from seed but can also be propagated using root cuttings or crown division.
This plant prefers cooler growing temperatures and should be grown as an annual in climates below USDA Zone 6. In warmer regions, this plant can be grown year round as a perennial. As this plant hails form the Mediterranean regions, it will do best in climates that mimic this area. Good air circulation in addition to mild/slightly cool temperatures will maximize your crops productivity.
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 chemical outputs 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.
Fun Fact: Did you know fennel is one of three ingredients used to make the hallucinogenic drink, absinthe? While the trippy quality of this adult beverage comes from wormwood, fennel adds a bit of color, flavor, and aroma. Also, as some of the components of fennel aren’t water soluble and water is commonly added to absinthe before consumption, it ends up altering the chemistry of the spirit, turning it a milky white.
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.
This plant’s unique flavor profile makes it a great ingredient for those ready to get wild with their culinary creations. Try, for example, this Fennel with Mint Vinaigrette recipe which is guaranteed to really awaken the palate and enliven the senses.