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The Reasons Your Oregano Plant is Dying

Potted oregano plant growing in the window

Dying Oregano

Oregano is one of the awesome, essential, resilient, prolific, delicious, fragrant, and irreplaceable herbs that everyone should have either in their garden or dried in their pantry. It is known as being super tough and easy to grow, but sometimes, no matter our greatest efforts, things can go awry.

If you’re a gardener who is noticing that their oregano patch doesn’t seem as happy as it once was, try not to feel bad about yourself. (I can’t even let myself buy cacti or succulents anymore because I’ve caused so many so much harm.) These things happen.

There are some things that happen outside of our control, and luckily many other things that happen inside of our control! This article is going to go through some reasons why your oregano plants may be suffering, and all the ways that you can help them out on the other side.

Do you want to know the best time to harvest oregano? Find out here!

Focus image on growing rosettes of oregano leaves

What is an Oregano Plant? Where does it Grow?

The best way to know how to take care of a certain type of herb plant is by knowing as much as you can about it! So we’re just going to take a minute to get you re-acquainted with this wonderful herb.

Oregano (the most common being origanum vulgare) is a perennial herb that is part of the mint family (lamiaceae). This makes it cousins with other wonderful herbs like lemon balm, tarragon, basil, and thyme.

Oregano can grow anywhere from a ground hugging rosette of leaves to a tall and impressive plant that reaches over 4 feet. Oregano leaves are usually small, fuzzy, and ranging from bright green to olive green.

Oregano is a Mediterranean herb, and this is one of the most valuable pieces of information about the plant. The more you understand about the climate and growing conditions of the Mediterranean, the better plant parent you can be.

The first and most important things to know about this type of growing condition is: well draining soil. Well draining soil is going to be the magic ingredient when it comes to a happy oregano plant.

These plants really do not like to be water logged, but they are super duper drought tolerant. They thrive in areas that are super hot and super sunny. Put all of these things together and you pretty much get the desert.

So if you’re growing oregano in your garden, make sure it is in an area that receives direct sunlight for the whole day (6-8 hours minimum) and in soil that has been amended with a bunch of sand to ensure proper drainage.

Dried and crumbling oregano flowers ready for harvest

What are some Symptoms of Dying Oregano?

Dying oregano can be caused by a few reasons, but much of those issues are going to be happening under the soil. This is why catching the issue early on can be tricky! Issues under the soil can causes symptoms like:

  • drying leaves and stems
  • browning and drooping leaves
  • mushy roots
  • spindly growth
  • yellowing leaves

Once you see any one of these symptoms, your oregano plant is not happy. But luckily, there are some things that you can do to mend it if you deal with the situation as early as possible. Different symptoms mean different issues, which we’ll go over in the following section.

Are you thinking about growing oregano indoors? We’ve got all the tips and tricks here!

Potted basil plant next to a watering can

What Causes Oregano Dying?

A dying oregano plant can have a multitude of different reasons behind it. Different symptoms mean different causes, but the vast majority of issues it will face are because the plant is being over watered. Over watering oregano causes so many bad things I don’t even know where to begin!

Folks will often find that their plants start to perish in the late spring as the soil and temperature is starting to warm up. This is a breeding ground for fungal disease. And where does fungal disease like to propagate? In damp soil.

Damp soil is a breeding ground for diseases things like leaf wilt, root rot, and crown rot. Where things get confusing, is once your plant starts to develop root rot or crown rot, the plant starts to look like it’s being under watered, so gardeners will continue to water their plant not knowing that the issue is too much water!

So, according to symptoms, here are some reasons for dying oregano:

Drying Leaves and Stems

If oregano leaves are starting to turn either brown, red, or dried out, this is the first sign that it is being over watered. The plant is in distress, and its first symptoms are showing that the plant is no longer able to photosynthesize properly.

Browning and Drooping Leaves

If the problem is left too long, the leaves will start to turn brown or black and start to droop or completely fall off. At this point, the issue may be too far gone. You’ll notice that the plant starts to smell at this stage due to the roots starting to rot.

This symptom may also be due to a fungal pathogen that has developed in the damp soil. It will attack the roots and crown which prevents the plant from being able to send water or nutrients to its leaves. This is why it will look wilted.

Mushy Roots

If you lift the plant out of the soil or dig away the top later, you will very quickly see that the oregano roots have become brown, mushy, and may even be falling away. This is root rot. Crown rot develops once the rotting travels up the roots and towards the stem of the plant.

Spindly Growth

Not every issue that an oregano plant faces has to do with over watering. There are other important growing requirements that this plant has, and the second most important is sunlight.

If an oregano plant is planted in an area that doesn’t receive sufficient sunlight it may start to develop a tall and scraggly growth habit. This is because plants grow in the direction of the sun, and if they are not getting enough they’ll have to reach beyond what they’re used to.

Yellowing Leaves

Another common issue with oregano plants is being planted in soil that is too rich in nitrogen. Though nitrogen is usually very good for leafy plants, oregano really does not like it. Chances are that you’re using the wrong kind of fertilizer.

It will complain by way of yellowing leaves. This could also be a symptom of the plant being root bound, which it also does not like. This is because not enough air is getting to the roots, which is the reason why it love well draining soil so much.

We’ve got related articles about properly washing oregano, ways to dry oregano, and what to do with flowering oregano. Check ’em out!

Little leaves of a growing oregano plant

How do you Save a Dying Oregano Plant?

Luckily oregano is a super resilient and tough plant. Where other plants may just give up, oregano will more often than not just keep trucking through if it gets a little bit of help. Here are some solutions to save your plant based off of the potential issues:

Over Watered Oregano Solutions

So you’ve over watered your oregano and its leaves have started to wilt or change color. Luckily this is the first stage and it’s not too late to save your plant.

The first step is to desist from watering immediately! Literally don’t water it for a good couple of weeks. Remove it from any outer pot, and maybe even place it in a super well aerated area to help dry out the soil.

The next step is to pick away any of the leaves that have changed to yellow or brown. These leaves will no longer be able to photosynthesize properly but are still taking energy. It’s best to just make way for new, healthy leaves.

Do not try to water the plant again until the soil has dried out completely and then some. Only then will it be safe to provide it with some water. You may even wait to transplant it to a new pot with more drainage holes.

It is also important to remember to water your plant less frequently when it is not in its active growing season. The growing season for oregano will start in the early spring and come to a close after the plant has flowered in the summer.

Oregano plant with budding flowers in the summer time

Root Rot Solutions

If the plant has started to develop root rot, you’ll have to do some digging. Gently pull the root ball out of the pot and shake away the soil clinging to the root ball. See if you can separate the rotting roots from the healthy ones.

Snip away as many of the rotting roots as you can. Make sure to dispose of the rotted roots in a way so that they won’t contaminate any other soil on your property, as the fungal pathogens can easily spread from these clippings.

From here, plant your trimmed oregano plant in some potting mix that is a mixture of soil, compost, and at least 30% sand. Sand is what’s going to guarantee that you don’t have a drainage problem again.

Insufficient Sunlight Solutions

The easiest problem to fix is insufficient sunlight. There is pretty much no bounce back time, as the plant will be so happy that it’ll just start growing happily right away!

Place your oregano plant in an area that receives direct sunlight for the majority of the day – anywhere from 6-8 hours per day will be perfect. A south facing window will work great, too.

If you don’t have access to this kind if sun exposure, you may want to think about purchasing a grow light! Setting a grow light to 10 hours a day will produce the sufficient amount of light to keep your oregano happy.

Excess Nitrogen Solutions

The best way to prevent nitrogen exposure is to simply switch to a fertilizer that doesn’t have nitrogen! But remember, at the end of the day, oregano is used to growing in pretty poor soil and does not require fertilizer at all. So you could save some money there.

Do you want to know how to harvest oregano seeds? Check out these related posts.

Vial of oregano essential oil sitting next to harvested leaves

What are some Ways to Use Healthy Oregano?

Now that your oregano patch is all happy and healthy and back to normal, I’m sure you just have a surplus of leaves that you don’t know what to do with! Here are some suggestion on how to use all those wonderful oregano leaves:

Oregano Essential Oil – oregano oil is an incredible elixir that has been part of folk medicine for many centuries. Folks will create essential oil out of oregano oil mixed with a carrier oil (usually olive oil) so that it can be easily applied.

Oregano essential oil is filled with antioxidants, it’s antimicrobial, antifungal, and it can seriously help with nearly any ailment that you could possibly have.

Fresh Oregano – fresh oregano is something that any serious chef will have ready to go. Using oregano as a fresh herb will bring an amazingly savory, tangy, fresh, and unique taste to warm dishes like soups, stews, pasta dishes, and marinades.

Dried Oregano – dried oregano is an ingredient that you are likely to find in almost any kitchen. Using oregano as a dried herb is wonderful because you can add it early on to hot dishes and it won’t wilt. Though it has less of a punchy flavor than the fresh herb, the dried herb has its own wonderful quality.

Are you curious about growing oregano from seed? Learn all about it here!

Tiny bowl of dried oregano with fresh leaves on a wooden surface


Does oregano get infected with spider mites?

Spider mites are pesky little pests that will commonly effect a certain herb plant in your garden. You can tell because there will be thin little spindly webs on the undersides of the plant leaves. You can control an infestation on an oregano plant by mixing insecticidal soap with water and spraying it all over the leaves.

An alternative to using insecticidal soup is using an all natural soap like Dr. Bronners and spray that and water on the leaves. This is a more eco-friendly solution.

What are some popular types of oregano?

Italian oregano, Cuban oregano, and Greek oregano are the most popular types of oregano. Italian oregano and Greek oregano you are most likely to find on the grocery store shelves or as seedlings growing in the nursery. Cuban oregano is more commonly used to make oregano oil.

Where is the best place to grow oregano in the garden?

The best place to grow oregano outdoors is going to be in an area that receives direct sunlight for the majority of the day and in soil that has been amended with compost and sand. It may also be a good idea to keep it in an area that won’t receive frequent exposure to rain, as this will prevent the plant from being over watered.

What are some good potted herbs to grow alongside oregano?

If you’re curious about starting a herb garden, consider growing oregano alongside potted herbs like tarragon, lemon balm, basil, and marigolds. All of those herbs do a great job attracting pollinators while repelling pests, and marigolds are an extra little boost to prevent pests from coming around.

When does oregano usually flower?

An oregano plant will usually go to flower in the mid to late summer. Once this happens the flavor of the leaves will very quickly start to deteriorate, so try to do all of your harvesting before this happens!

Does oregano get powdery mildew?

Oregano can sometimes develop powdery mildew if the leaves go without being harvested for a while so they aren’t well aerated, and if the leaves are exposed to a lot of rain but don’t get the chance to dry out. Powdery mildew can develop on the leaves in moist and still areas.