All About Growing Fennel

Fennel is both a vegetable and an herb, depending on which variety you grow. Growing crunchy bulb fennel (also called finocchio) is easy in spring and fall, or you can keep a feathery mound of perennial fennel as a steady source of fennel fronds. This guide includes descriptions of the types of fennel as well as tips for growing fennel in your garden.

| December 20, 2013

  • Versatile fennel can make a soothing tea, an interesting licorice-flavored herb, or a crunchy, celery-like addition to main dishes.
    Illustration by Keith Ward

(For details on growing many other vegetables and fruits, visit our Crop at a Glance collection page.)

Fennel leads a triple-life as a vegetable, kitchen herb and medicinal herb. Varieties developed to produce crisp bulbs are easy to grow as cool-season vegetables. Young, garden-grown plants also provide tender fennel fronds and celery-like stems to chop into salads, grain dishes or fish dishes.

Fast to flower, all types of fennel produce hard, plump seeds that can be used as a spice, or brewed into a stomach-soothing tea often recommended for colicky babies. In addition, a half teaspoon of crushed fennel seeds included in the cooking water will reduce the gas-provoking compounds in cabbage, broccoli and onions.

Types of Fennel

Annual bulb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare var. azoricum), also called finocchio, is the crisp bulb vegetable with nutty anise flavor, hence the common name of anise fennel. In most climates, bulb fennel or finocchio can be grown twice a year, in spring and fall, on a growing and planting schedule similar to that of broccoli. Bulbs form about 80 days after seedlings are set out in the garden.



Perennial herb fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is hardy to Zone 4, and includes varieties blushed with bronze or purple, often called bronze fennel. Perennial fennel varieties with green foliage, such as ‘Grosfruchtiger,’ are used to produce fennel seeds grown for spice and medicine. A very successful self-seeder, herb fennel will become weedy if plants are allowed to shed seeds in the garden. 

How to Plant Fennel

Start bulb fennel seeds indoors in early spring, about 8 weeks before your last frost, and set them out under cloches when they have one true leaf. When growing fennel, prepare a fertile, well-drained bed in a spot that is convenient to water, because bulb fennel must have moist soil. Mix a standard application of a balanced organic fertilizer into the soil before setting out plants.

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8/6/2018 7:37:15 AM

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8/5/2017 2:34:28 PM

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