Savory is an under-the-radar herb that many people have never even heard of. In spite of this, it’s an excellent choice for an herb garden or companion planting because of its low maintenance growth habit and great flavor.
There are two main types of savory that can be grown as either annual or perennial herbs. They each have similar growing requirements and would make a good addition to any garden.
If you’re interested in this “forgotten” herb, here’s what you need to know about how to plant and grow savory from seed to harvest.
Summer and Winter Savory: What’s the Difference?
The two main varieties of savory are summer savory (Satureja hortensis) and winter savory (S. montana). Both belong to the mint family and come from the Mediterranean region. They have similar growing requirements to other Mediterranean herbs like oregano, rosemary, and thyme.
The biggest difference between summer and winter savory is that summer savory is a half-hardy annual that usually lasts for one growing season, while winter savory is a perennial in USDA zones 5 and up.
Summer savory grows as a bushy, shrub-like herb that gets about 12-18” tall and wide. Winter savory is a short, spreading perennial that usually tops out at 12”. Both are low maintenance and grow well in poor soil— as long as they have good drainage.
When the leaves are harvested, savory has a peppery flavor that’s reminiscent of herbs like thyme or sage. Both varieties taste similar, but winter savory has the stronger flavor of the two.
If allowed to bloom, savory will put out lots of tiny white, lilac, or pink flowers that attract bees and other small pollinators. The herb also helps to repel cabbage moths and is said to make onions and beans taste better when planted nearby.
How to Start Savory from Seed
It can be hard to find savory plants at your local garden center because it isn’t a very popular herb in the United States at this time. Because of this, most gardeners learn how to plant and grow savory from seed.
You can easily buy the seeds from an online nursery, and they aren’t difficult to germinate, so the process is very straightforward!
Starting Seeds Indoors
Start savory (either type) 4-6 weeks before your last average spring frost date. Use seed-starting trays filled with a dampened soilless mix and sow the tiny seeds on top of the soil, pressing them in gently.
Water your seeded trays carefully and place them where they will get light from a window or grow lights. (The seeds need light to germinate, so don’t put them in a dark room.)
Germination should occur in 10-15 days, although winter savory can be a bit slow and spotty to germinate. Once your seedlings are up, provide them with plenty of light and water as often as necessary to keep the soil from drying out.
When your seedlings are big enough to handle, you can transplant them to larger, individual pots. Carefully harden them off for a week or two prior to transplanting them into your garden, but be sure you don’t expose them to freezing temperatures. Discover how to prepare seedings for transplanting in this post.
Starting Seeds Outdoors
You can start savory seeds (either type) directly in your garden after all danger of frost has passed in the spring. Prepare your garden bed ahead of time by getting rid of weeds and debris and raking the surface smooth for the seeds.
Then, sow the tiny seeds on top of the prepared soil in rows or clumps. Press the seeds gently into the soil to prevent them from being blown or washed away, but don’t cover them.
Water and mark the area you seeded and look for germination to occur in 1-3 weeks. (Cooler temperatures will mean slower germination.) When your seedlings are large enough to handle, thin them to a final spacing of 10-18” apart.
How to Plant and Grow Savory
When and Where to Plant Savory
If you started your seeds indoors, your seedlings can be transplanted to the garden after the danger of frost has passed. Be sure to gradually harden them off first because savory can be sensitive to the transplanting process.
Both summer and winter savory need a spot in the garden that gets full sun. Both will also thrive in poor soil conditions, but the soil must be well-drained in order for them to be happy. Drainage is particularly important for winter savory so that it doesn’t get waterlogged over the winter.
You can also grow savory in containers if you are short on garden space. It will grow happily in pots, window boxes, and other planters as long as they are at least 6” wide and deep.
Be sure your containers have holes in the bottom for drainage and fill them with a good quality potting soil. Place them somewhere sunny and (ideally) near your kitchen for easy access.
Savory Planting Tips
Space either type of savory 10-18” apart in your garden. You can plant in rows for easy harvesting or in clumps for a more natural appearance. Handle the roots gently to avoid transplant shock, and water your seedlings well after planting them.
If you like to practice companion planting, savory grows well with other Mediterranean herbs like marjoram, thyme, oregano, sage, and rosemary. Discover more about growing herbs together in this post.
Summer savory can be interplanted with tomatoes, beans, and onions, while winter savory is a nice complement to perennials like lavender or hyssop.
Savory Plant Care
The next step of how to plant and grow savory is taking care of your herbs, which is fortunately very easy.
While your seedlings are getting established, water them regularly to keep them healthy. Once they are fully grown, you’ll only need to water them during long dry spells because savory is fairly drought tolerant.
However, if you’re growing savory in containers, you will need to provide supplemental water throughout the growing season because your plants can’t get any from the ground. This could mean watering once or several times a week, depending on how hot and dry it is.
Savory does not need any fertilizer, but you should keep your plants “pruned” by harvesting from them frequently.
Winter savory is hardy to about 10°F and will benefit from a thick mulch of leaves or straw during extremely cold winters. It should also be dug up and divided every 4-5 years to keep it vigorous.
Common Pests and Problems
Savory does not commonly suffer from any pest or disease problems, which is great news!
The biggest problem you are likely to run into is root rot, which can affect your plants if the soil becomes soggy. As a Mediterranean herb, savory needs good drainage to thrive, so be sure to amend your soil as needed or plant in raised beds to avoid any problems with poor drainage.
How to Harvest Savory
You can start harvesting from your plants when they get about 6” tall. As a general rule, never harvest more than ⅓-½ of an herb plant at any one time to ensure that it will have enough energy to regrow and keep supplying you with leaves.
While you can pick individual leaves from savory, a better approach is to snip off whole or partial stems with a clean pair of clippers or scissors. This encourages your plants to bush out and helps to keep them healthy.
For summer savory, simply select healthy-looking stems and snip them off at the base or 4-6” down the stem. For winter savory, it’s better to cut off the tips of stems that are green and avoid cutting into the woody part of the plant.
Harvest often and evenly from your plants to help keep them from flowering, which impacts the flavor of the leaves. (The flowers are beneficial for pollinators, though!)
Storing and Enjoying Savory
Now that you know the full process of how to plant and grow savory, you have the option to store some of your harvest over the winter by drying the leaves.
You can harvest savory any time for drying, but the leaves are most flavorful right before the plants flower. Making a large harvest at this time of the season will give you plenty of savory to dry.
The easiest way to dry savory is to take 4-8” stems and hang them up in bunches or lay them flat on a mesh screen in a well-ventilated, shady area.
A few weeks is all it should take for the leaves to become dry and crumbly. They can then be stripped from the stems and stored in airtight containers away from heat and light.
If your area tends to get a lot of humidity, you may find it easier to dry the leaves in a food dehydrator on a low setting.
Both fresh and dried savory will add tons of flavor to soups, stews, casseroles, etc. It works well with a variety of meats and vegetables, including beef, pork, poultry, sausage, fish, cabbage, beans, potatoes, and other root vegetables.
Once you start using it, you’ll be glad you grew this under-the-radar herb!
Natasha Garcia-Lopez is an avoid home-gardener and proud owner of 88 acres of land in rural West Virginia. She was a member of the Association for Living History Farms and Agricultural Museums for many years and is currently enrolled in the Oregon State University Master Gardner Short Course program so she can better assist you with your gardening questions.She holds a certificate in natural skincare from the School of Natural Skincare.