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 Zefa Fino is a lovely, smaller type of fennel that maintains a more tender texture and sweeter flavor than other varieties. Developed in Switzerland, this variety has spread in popularity over the years and can be found in gardens all over the world. Like other types of fennel, the Zefa Fino prefers cooler climates, but compared to other varietals, it’s less likely to bolt if exposed to heat. This makes Zefa Fino a great option for those who live in warmer climate zones.
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: We happen to think the Zefa Fino is absolutely the ‘bees knees,’ but don’t just take our word for it! The Royal Horticulture Society of the UK was so impressed with this varietal they decided to give it the Award of Garden Merit, which is only given to plants that are readily available, reasonably pest resistant, and highly reliable in terms of productivity. If that doesn’t qualify this plant as a real winner, we don’t know what would!
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 Cous Cous with Fennel, Chickpeas and Chard recipe hails from the region of Tunisia where fennel has been grown for hundreds of years and is still plentiful today.