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Fennel

by Stephanie Suesan Smith on May 18, 2011

Fennel

Fennel is one of the less known herbs that people grow.  It has to be separated from dill because they are related and will cross pollinate, resulting in an inedible (nasty tasting) mutt of a plant.  Fennel grows well in containers and can be kept away from dill and other plants by growing it in a pot some distance from the garden.

Both the stalk and seeds of fennel are used.  The stalk is eaten like celery and the seeds are used to flavor foods.  While fennel has a flavor similar to licorice, it is really related to the caraway family. Fennel makes a good nursery plant for some caterpillars.

Fennel is grown from seed.  Sow in full sun after all chance of frost is past.  Seeds should be placed in a shallow trough 12 inches apart.  Cover with 1/4 inch of soil.  Space rows three feet apart.

Fennel can grow up to 3-4 feet tall and may need staking to keep it upright.  Seeds are ready 100 days after planting.  Be sure to harvest them before the seed pods start opening, as the seed is shot some distance when that happens.  Wrapping the seed pods in cheese cloth before harvesting helps keep the seeds from disappearing.

The stalk is eaten like celery and is stored in the refrigerator in a similar fashion.  The seeds are air dried for a few days, then stored in an airtight container like any herb.  It is necessary to thrash the seed pods to get the seeds out if you have harvested them before the pods hurl the seeds across your garden.  Just slap the ends of the fennel against a counter or other hard surface a couple of times to open the seed pods.  Be prepared for the seeds to come out forcefully — keep that cheesecloth wrapped around them or you will have seeds every where.

Fennel is one of the lesser known herbs and the licorice flavor isn’t for every one.  It is a pretty plant, however, and caterpillars like it.  That might be reason enough to find room for it in your garden.

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{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

Melissa May 18, 2011 at 8:48 am

I love growing fennel. A butterfly gardening friend passed a few onto me and I have it my landscaping. Its so true about the seeds. Tiny fennel plants pop up pretty far away from my original plantings. Even though we don’t eat fennel here, its great for attracting Swallowtails in North Texas. Its also a good plant to pass along to friends who are interested in starting to attract butterflies. I didn’t know about the cross-pollination with dill, but it does make sense. I do eat dill and I want it to stay dill.

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Stephanie Suesan Smith May 18, 2011 at 10:18 am

Apparently it makes a rather nasty weed when fennel and dill cross pollinate, so you will have to separate them quite a bit.

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Ernest May 18, 2011 at 10:38 pm

My mum has fennel in her garden. I actually don’t know the name of the herbal plant until I checked on useful herbal plants. Thanks for the info about kennel. I don’t know how the dill look like but I will check on it.

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Stephanie Suesan Smith May 19, 2011 at 5:55 am

The dill and fennel look very similar, but fennel has a bulb and dill does not.

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Wayne July 16, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Not all fennel grows a bulb. I grew the variety that does not, however, one can use the leaves in cooking, as well as the seed.
and the type I grow will grow a huge tap root that can winter over, and regrow.
I had let it grow 2 seasons, then dug out the tap root which was similar to a giant parsnip or carrot root, though not really edible as it was very woody.
I grew it for the seeds, as well as to attract good bugs to help pollinate other stuff
I only grew dill once, don’t recall that it got very big. The fennel I grew in NY was up to 8 feet tall.

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Helen Tarlow May 21, 2011 at 2:45 am

A friend gave some seeds of Fennel as a gift and suggested to have them in our garden. Now I know some of its benefits I will surely plant them in my garden soon.

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Stephanie Suesan Smith May 21, 2011 at 5:18 am

It is always fun to try growing new plants. Good luck with your seeds.

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thePatientPotter June 5, 2011 at 1:37 pm

Wow Stephanie. I am impressed with your site and am so glad you blog about gardening; one of my favorite subjects. I recently became aware of fennel in the garden and was thinking of adding it next year to my ever-growing herb garden. Thanks for the info.
Julie
http://www.thepatientpotter.blogspot.com

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Stephanie Suesan Smith June 5, 2011 at 3:06 pm

Herbs can be fun to experiment with. Glad you liked the site.

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Rosemary July 9, 2011 at 11:27 am

I’ll pick a few sprigs of fennel from time to time and just chew on them and then swallow, I heard they were supposed to be good for you. Is that right?

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Stephanie Suesan Smith July 10, 2011 at 6:48 am

I know fennel is edible and is said to aid digestion, but do not know if that is true. As with any herb, it is important to be careful not to eat too much or to mix them with the wrong medicines.

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Patricia July 28, 2011 at 2:33 pm

How do i know when my fennel is ready to be takin out of the garden.

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Stephanie Suesan Smith July 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm

The bulb at the bottom will be about the size of an onion bulb.

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