Fennel is of Mediterranean origins but grows well in central Texas. Being the least demanding plant, new gardeners should give it a try. It is almost a “Plant & Forget it” kind of plant.
Different parts of the world use it differently. South Asians grow fennel for the seeds, which they use as a snack or a spice. North Africans enjoy fennel bulbs in salads and tajines. They also use the leaves and the seeds to flavor their teas and bread.
When to grow fennel?
Fennel is a cool-season crop in central Texas. Being a tender perennial, it withstands cold temperatures but nothing below freezing.
Planting time for the fennel can be in the fall or early spring.
Growing fennel from seed or transplant?
Fennel is easy to grow from seed and transplant. Choosing the seed route gives the chance to try different varieties. Transplants are usually limited and are not readily available.Yet, growing from transplant eliminate thinning in the future.
How to start fennel seeds indoors?
Start the first round of seeds indoors in late August or early September. Plant them out in October or November, or when temperatures are in the 70sF( 21C) or cooler.
The second round of seed starting should be around the end of December and early January. This time of the year, direct sowing is more efficient.
- Use seed starting cells, peat pods, or any other container with drainage holes.
- Fill the containers with premoistened seed starting mix.
- Sprinkle a few seeds on the top of the soil.
- Cover lightly with soil without compacting it.
- Keep the soil moist at all times.
- The seeds will need some time dark time to germinate.
- It will take around seven to fourteen days to germinate.
- Once the seedlings emerge, provide light.
Hardening off the seedlings
Hardening off is the process of acclimating indoor seedlings to natural elements. This takes about seven days from start to finish.
- On the first day, place the seedlings in a shaded to a partly-shaded area for two hours, then bring them in.
- The following days, increase the amount by an hour.
- On the sixth day, leave them overnight.
- Now, the young plants are ready for their final destination.
Direct sowing seeds
If sowing fennel seeds straight into the ground, scatter them in, then gently cover them with soil. Scattering the seeds reduces future thinning as they will space themselves naturally.
Spacing fennel plants?
Spacing fennel plants depends on the variety. The fennel grown for leaves and seeds needs to be four inches apart, while the one grown for the bulb needs six to 12 inches.
For those who are growing in rows, they should leave at least two feet between them for better mobility.
According to the square foot garden spacing chart, one square foot can fit two plants.
Recommended fennel varieties
Protect the seeds
Birds and rodents are notorious diggers. If they do not eat the seeds, they disturb them, reducing the germination rate. And this is applicable for directly sown seeds. The best way to protect them is by using a lightweight cover or netting.
What kind of soil fennel needs to grow?
How much sun does fennel require to grow?
Fennel grown for foliage can tolerate some shade. The one gown for bulbs needs at least six hours of direct sunlight to grow properly.
Fennel does not seem to need an awful lot of attention or extra feeding. Provide a well-draining soil rich in organic matter, and you will be all set.
How much water does the fennel need?
Rainfall is usually enough to provide the fennel with the needed water. But, dry spells are common in central Texas, so keeping a watering schedule is advised.
Aphids are the main pest that attacks fennel plants. Fortunately, this happens in the spring when the bulb is ready for harvest.
Another pest that might attack the fennel is the swallowtail butterfly caterpillar. Along with dill, fennel is a favorite host plant, making it a great choice for a pollinator garden.
The established fennel plant is cold-hardy and does not need protection. But, in the case of a prolonged freeze, use a row cover. The most damage that could occur is a bronzing of the needle-looking leaves. But they do recover quickly.
How to harvest the fennel bulb?
Bulb fennel needs from three to four months to reach maturity. Harvest the bulb when it starts to fatten, and the leaves whenever you need them. Use a sharp knife to cut the bulb at the base.
If you keep fennel roots intact in the ground after harvest, it may send new growth the following year. However, the bulb will not be as big as the first one.
How to harvest fennel seeds?
To harvest fennel seeds, allow the plant to reach the flowering stage. The bulb layers will stretch thin, and a cluster of tiny yellow flowers will appear.
Allow the flower to mature and form seeds, then dry on the stem. Then it and place it in a paper bag. Shake it to release the seeds.
You may clean the seeds using the winnowing method.
- Place a small number of seeds in a wide shallow plate.
- Gently blow over them. The light debris will fly away, leaving the heavy seeds in the tray.
- Store collected seeds in a glass jar or a paper seed packet.
- Do not forget to label the packet with the name and the year harvested.
- They should keep for three to four years.
In the kitchen
Fennel has a licorice taste, and some people enjoy it raw as a snack or in a salad. If cooked, the fennel develops a slightly sweeter flavor. The green tops are also useful as a replacement for dill.
Seeds also are used in different ways. South Asian communities cover them with a sugary coating and have them as a treat. In North Africa, they are added to bread dough as a flavor enhancer. And you can also steep them in hot water to make a soothing tea for bloating.
Some of our favorite dishes that include fennel are:
Have you ever tried to grow fennel? have you ever ate it? please, share your experience, in the comments below.