Fennel (Foeniculum vulgare)
About this Herb
Fennel is similar in looks to dill. Both herbs have feathery foliage, and they grow umbels of yellow flowers in summer. Fennel could be called a triple-duty plant because the fresh fronds, dried seeds and even the bulbs can all be used in cooking. To use the bulbs, be sure to plant bulbing varieties such as ‘Florence’, ‘Zefa Fino’ , ‘Perfection’ or ‘Trieste’.
How to Grow Fennel
In our region, fennel is grown as an annual, but is an herbaceous perennial plant in warmer zones. These herbs grow 3 or more feet tall in well-drained fertile soil.
Locate a sunny spot and get started as soon as soil can be worked in spring. Fennel grown for bulbs needs a long season to grow and form. Amend the soil so it’s fertile and well-drained.
Wait for the danger of a hard frost to pass before planting fennel from seeds or transplants.
Sow seeds about ½ inch deep and about 4 inches apart. For large bulbs, thin plants so they have room to grow, about 10-12 inches apart. Rows should also be about 1 foot apart. Keep seeds moist because they take between 2-3 weeks to germinate.
Fennel transplants will help get a head start on growing. Be sure to plant in amended soil and keep moist.
Once plants start to grow, a layer of mulch will help keep soil cool and moist – the best conditions for growing the bulbs.
For good-quality bulbs, fertilize plants every 2-3 weeks using an all-purpose fertilizer or liquid fish emulsion solution.
Keep track of the number of days (90 or more) until bulbs are mature and harvest when they’re fully formed. Trim the fronds to the base and carefully lift bulbs from the ground.
Save the fronds to use in cooking, too
How to use Fennel in the Kitchen
Fennel leaves have an fresh anise flavor that’s used in French cooking to flavor soups and sauces used in fish dishes. The seeds are popular for eating on their own, flavoring breads, pastries, candies, meats and Italian foods, too. Fennel bulbs can be quartered and braised as a side dish or diced and used in fresh salads or combined with sliced chicken for sandwiches.
Companion Plants for Fennel
It’s best to plant fennel in its own garden spot. Avoid planting fennel close to dill because of cross pollination. Fennel also inhibits the growth of:
- Bush beans
Materials for Fennel Success
- Soaker hose or other watering method
- High-quality compost or potting soil
- Bulbing varieties of fennel, either seeds or transplants
- Organic mulch, like straw
- General purpose fertilizer or liquid fish emulsion