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How to Grow Fennel

Growing fennel is a wonderful way to add spice to recipes using home grown ingredients. The pungent aroma is considered inviting, while the rich, earthy flavor is known to significantly contribute to the taste of many dishes. Fennel is high in vitamin C and has been used as an herbal remedy for digestive issues for many thousands of years. In addition, its delicate, green fronds are aesthetically pleasing, making fennel an excellent addition to any garden. Start with Step 1 below to learn how to grow fennel.

Part One of Two:
Planting Fennel
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  1. 1
    Choose a fennel variety. The type of fennel you choose to grow will depend on what part of the fennel plant you wish to use -- the bulb, the fronds or the seeds.
    • Florence Fennel is grown for its bulbous stem, which can be eaten raw, grilled or baked. It is also possible to eat the thicker stalks which sprout from the bulb, as they are similar to celery.
    • Herb fennel does not produce the same bulbous stem. It is grown for its delicate leaves, which are used as a herb. Herb fennel also produces seeds which have a licorice-like flavor (as does the rest of the plant) and are used for seasoning.
  2. 2
    Plant the fennel outdoors. The process for planting both varieties of fennel is the same. The seeds should be planted directly into the garden, around the time of the last spring frost.
    • Plant the fennel seeds in fertile, well drained soil. If necessary, loosen the soil a little before planting and add in some compost and a little soil for drainage.
    • Plant the seeds approximately ten inches apart and cover them with a light layer of soil, about 18 inch (0.3 cm) deep. It's probably a good idea to plant a few more seeds than you need, then thin them out later.
    • Plant the fennel far away from any dill or coriander -- these plants tend to cross-pollinate, which reduces seed production and affects the taste.[1]
    • You can use an almanac to determine when the last frost typically occurs in your area.[2]
  3. 3
    Plant the fennel indoors. If you prefer, you can plant the fennel seeds in containers approximately 4 weeks before the last spring frost.
    • Once the seedlings have grown to height of 3 or 4 inches (7.6 or 10.2 cm), you can harden them off in a cool greenhouse or cold frame before transplanting them to the garden.
    • Alternatively, you can keep the fennel in a container. As fennel is a deep-rooted plant, it will require a container at last 12 inches (30.5 cm) deep, filled with light soil with some added gravel for drainage.
    • If you plant more than one fennel plant in a container of this size, it will be too crowded to produce a large bulb, but you will still be able to enjoy the leaves and seeds.
  4. 4
    Care for the fennel. Fennel grows best in full-sun. At first, you should water it regularly to keep the soil moist. Once it has established itself, you may only need to water it if there is a drought. Be careful not to overwater, as this may cause the roots to rot. There is no need to fertilize the soil during growing season.
    • Once the bulb begins to form at the base of the stem, hill up the surrounding soil to cover it. This shades it from the sun and prevents it from turning green. This is known as "blanching", as it keeps the bulb white and sweet (which is only necessary if you intend to eat the bulb).[3]
    • Fennel is not usually affected by pests or disease, but occasionally you will spot aphids or whiteflies on the leaves. If so, you can use a pyrethrin-based insecticidal soap to get rid of them.
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Part Two of Two:
Harvesting Fennel
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  1. 1
    Harvest the fennel leaves. You can start harvesting the fennel leaves once the plant becomes well-established.
    • Don't take too many leaves at once though, or you might harm the plant.
    • The fennel leaves can be used to add an aromatic, anise or licorice flavor to soups, salads and other Mediterranean-style diets.
    • If you use fennel regularly, try planting multiple plants. Harvest one plant a week, but remember to keep watering and fertilizing the plant after harvest.
  2. 2
    Harvest the bulb. Florence fennel bulbs can be harvested once they reach the size of a small tennis ball, usually in late summer/early autumn.
    • To harvest, cut the fennel below the bulb at the soil line. Use immediately, or store in the refrigerator for several days.
    • Fennel bulbs will survive a frost or two, so there is no rush to harvest them as soon as the weather turns cold. However, you shouldn't allow the fennel bulb to grow too large, or it will turn bitter.
  3. 3
    Harvest the fennel seeds. Fennel seeds can be harvested as soon as they're ripe and the plant's flowers have turned brown.
    • The seeds are very loose, so the best way to collect them is to place a large bowl or sheet underneath the plant and shake the seed head. Alternatively, you can wrap the seed heads with cheesecloth while you're cutting the stalks and remove the seeds later.
    • Allow the seeds to dry completely, then store them in a cool, dark place in an airtight container. They will keep for up to six months.
  4. 4
    Leave the fennel to grow as a perennial. Fennel grows as a hardy perennial between USDA hardiness zones 5 and 10. It self-sows very easily, so if it has bloomed once, the seeds will have likely fallen to the ground, allowing it to re-emerge the following spring.
    • Every spring, you should fertilize your fennel patch with a standard fertilizer, or nourish the soil with some fresh (preferably homemade) compost.
    • However, in northern zones (or areas where winter temperatures regularly drop below 15 degrees F/ -10 degrees C) fennel should be treated as an annual and will need to be replanted each spring.
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Community Q&A

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  • I split one fennel plant into several. Will they produce?
    Answered by Andrew Carberry
    • Yes, you can divide fennel, and as long as you include a sturdy root with each new plant they will do fine.
    Thanks! 8 2
  • How do I stop fennel from 'bolting'/going to seed before I get to harvest the bulb?
    Answered by Andrew Carberry
    • I recommend starting your fennel indoors to get a head start on the summer heat.
    Thanks! 6 2
  • I have a fennel bulb that started to grow roots. How can I save it and grow a plant from it?
    Answered by Sander1
    • If it is springtime, you can plant the fennel in your garden. Make sure to give it enough water and a sunny spot. If successful, the plant will start to flower (as fennel does in its second year) and give seeds. However, you cannot eat the fennel afterwards.
    Thanks! 21 5
  • Who invented fennel?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • The word "fennel" developed from the Middle English fenel or fenyl. This came from the Old English fenol or finol, which in turn came from the Latin feniculum or foeniculum, the diminutive of fenum or faenum, meaning "hay". The Latin word for the plant was ferula, which is now used as the genus name of a related plant.
    Thanks! 8 1
  • Does fennel grow flowers?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Yes. Its flowers are yellow in color and edible.
    Thanks! 15 4
  • Why does my fennel bulb look weird?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • It's organic matter. Sometimes living things look unique.
    Thanks! 7 1
  • My fennel plant is rotting at the base. Why?
    Answered by Sander1
    • Your soil might be too wet. Do you grow fennel on clay? Or has it rained a lot recently?
    Thanks! 11 3
  • Can I grow fennel in a pot?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • You can keep the fennel in a container. As fennel is a deep-rooted plant, it will require a container at last 12 inches (30.5 cm) deep, filled with light soil with some added gravel for drainage. If you plant more than one fennel plant in a container of this size, it will be too crowded to produce a large bulb, but you will still be able to enjoy the leaves and seeds.
    Thanks! 8 2
  • I usually boil the leaves and stem of the fennel plant. Is it good? Can a person with diabetes use fennel?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • Yes, boiling is fine and it is okay for diabetics to eat. In fact, fennel is good for diabetics.
    Thanks! 1 0
  • How and in what ways can I use fennel seeds?
    Answered by wikiHow Contributor
    • I use fennel seeds in most everything. I add it to soups and stews, it is even good in baked items like muffins, scones, etc. I make a tortilla soup that's great with fennel seeds. They're good for your digestive system.
    Thanks! 1 0
Show more answers
  • My fennel leaves are growing sideways not upwards is it normal and what type do I have
  • Is there any useful reason for keeping old large fennel bulbs that have already bolted? If so, please let me know how to handle them.
  • Why is my fennel not filling out to a large bulb?
  • My fennel plant has brow fuzzy shoots. What causes those?
  • How do I tell what type of fennel I have?
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TipsEdit

  • Consider an exclusive patch for your fennel as it is known to impede the growth of other plants.
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  • Fennel plants can be started from cuttings. Once a plant matures, the roots can be snipped and replanted.
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  • Be sure not to start your plants where any coriander, caraway or wormwood is growing as these will impede the fennel's growth.
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  • Fennel can be an integral part of an expectant or nursing mother's diet, as nutrients that are exclusive to this plant aid in milk production.
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  • Plant your fennel during the fall in warm climates, and during the spring in cooler places.
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  • Verify that your soil's pH level is between 6.0 and 7.0 as fennel grows best in less acidic soil.
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  • To thresh the seeds, slap the stalk against a hard surface.
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  • Creating your own compost will maintain the organic integrity of your plants, and is a wonderful way to benefit the environment.
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  • Fennel can grow up to five feet tall, which leaves the thin stems susceptible to breakage. Stake your fennel to support it against the wind.
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  • Mix any additives into the soil in advance, making certain that it has time to neutralize before planting season.
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Expert Review By:

AC
Professional Gardener

This version of How to Grow Fennel was reviewed by Andrew Carberry on June 30, 2017.

257 votes - 94%
Co-authors: 6
Updated:
Views: 117,664

Reader Success Stories

  • LS

    Linda L. Snyder

    May 27, 2016

    "I have always had bronze fennel (herb) and love eating the fronds and seeds. I wanted to have some bulb fennel as I love to roast it or have it in salad. This was a very good article which spelled out in detail how to grow the bulb fennel and I'm glad I read it before I planted, because I was going to plant it next to my coriander. Now, I have to make some changes and I think plant it next to my rhubarb!"..." more
  • BS

    Branka Svilokos

    Apr 26, 2016

    "Helped me learn how to plant and harvest fennel. Plan to plant fennel in the Fruska Gora mountain near my town. Our town's people have had allergy attacks from ambrosia, so I'm helping my family and friends to survive it with these plants. Best regards."..." more
  • BB

    Barbara Butcher

    May 5, 2016

    "I've never grown fennel before. Found the pictures, information, and tips very helpful. With the unusually cold weather here in Norfolk UK, I'll have to keep the plants indoors till the frost has gone."..." more
  • MN

    Mary Nutt

    Jun 19, 2016

    "Just growning fennel for the first time and hope to get health benefits as I am now older and need help with digestion. Very interesting article."..." more
  • RK

    Rev. Allyson Krist

    May 18, 2016

    "From start to harvest, this article gave all the needed information. It's easily understood and descriptive, too!"
  • LM

    L. Mills

    Jun 26, 2016

    "I now know a lot more about fennel, its uses, and now I'm going to check out some recipes. "
  • BB

    Barbara Butcher

    Jul 9, 2016

    "As I have never grown fennel before, it was good to see the pictures of the plant."
  • LB

    Leon Byford

    Apr 11, 2016

    "Very informative. Gave me lots of relevant information."
  • GH

    Geoff Hill

    Oct 7, 2017

    "It told me how to grow fennel successfully. "
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