Growing Rosemary in the Drought Tolerant Garden

Rosemary isn't just for cooking - it's also a great ornamental plant that does well in the landscape, including drought tolerant gardens.

Bright Blue Rosemary Shrub

When people look for an attractive, evergreen shrub – rosemary is not what probably comes to mind right away.  But when you think about it, why not use rosemary as an ornamental shrub in the garden?  Rosemary has a lot of the things people look for when selecting a plant for their garden – evergreen foliage, an attractive growth habit and of course, flowers!

Rosemary Flowers

Maybe it’s time to take a second look at rosemary (besides it herbal qualities) and what it brings to the garden.

The scientific name of rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis), is Latin for “dew of the sea” and was said to adorn the goddess, Aphrodite, when she emerged from the sea.  This aromatic shrub is native to the Mediterranean region and does especially well in drought tolerant gardens.  The foliage consists of dark green, needle-like aromatic foliage which is evergreen.  In spring and fall, small blue flowers form, transforming these evergreen shrubs into something beautiful.

Rosemary can grow from 1 – 6 ft. tall and spread out to 4 – 6 ft. depending on the variety, which makes it a versatile plant in the landscape.  If you are looking for a plant for an informal hedge or if you want an attractive groundcover that spills over a wall or planter – rosemary is a great choice.  It can also be planted in groups of 3 – 5 in an informal arrangement, spaced at least 6 ft. apart.

Rosemary grouping

If your garden is located in zones 8 and above, you are fortunate that you can grow rosemary outside all year.  However, if you live in a colder region, don’t despair – you can grow rosemary too!  Simply plant it in a pot and bring it inside when temperatures dip into the 20’s.

Like most herbs, rosemary isn’t a fussy plant and does best when left alone.  What they do need is an area with well-drained soil and a sunny exposure (while they can be grown in light shade, the foliage will be sparse and it may not flower).  Water deeply and allow to the soil to dry out before watering again – rosemary doesn’t like ‘wet feet’, which makes them a great choice for the drought tolerant garden.  They do equally well in slightly acidic or slightly alkaline soils.  Rosemary don’t need regular pruning, although they can be lightly sheared for a more formal appearance.

Rosemary Flowers

They are propagated by cuttings and are generally found in two growing forms – as a shrub or a groundcover.  There are several varieties available that offer variations in growth habit, foliage and flower color.  Low-growing varieties include ‘Irene’ or ‘Prostratus’.  If you like multi-colored foliage, you may want to try ‘Aureus’ with its speckled foliage or ‘Golden Rain’ which has streaks of yellow.  While the predominant flower color is blue for most varieties of rosemary, there are white ‘Albus’ and pink ‘Roseus’ flowered varieties available.

As you can see, rosemary has much more to offer than simply the flavor its leaves add to our favorite foods.  Why not utilize it to its fullest extent as both an herb and a ornamental plant!

Noelle Johnson
Noelle Johnson is a horticulturist and certified arborist who lives and gardens in the desert Southwest. When she is not writing or helping other people with their gardens, you can find her growing fruits and vegetables, and planting flowering shrubs and maybe a cactus or two.