By Bonnie L. Grant
Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare) is the bulb type of fennel that is eaten as a vegetable. All parts of the plant are fragrant and can be used in culinary applications. Florence fennel cultivation began with the Greeks and Romans and filtered through the ages to Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Growing Florence fennel in the home garden is an easy way to bring this versatile , strongly perfumed plant into your recipes and home.
Planting Florence Fennel
Fennel will germinate quickly in soils that are well-drained in a sunny location. Soil should have the pH checked before planting Florence fennel. Fennel requires an alkaline soil with a pH of 5.5 to 7.0, so you may have to add lime to raise the pH. Sow the seeds 1/8 to ¼ inch deep. Thin the plants after they have sprouted to a distance of 6 to 12 inches apart. Fennel cultivation after sprouting will depend on whether you are using the plant for bulbs, stems or seed.
Before planting Florence fennel, it is a good idea to find out when the date of the last frost is for your zone. Plant the seed after that date to avoid damaging tender new seedlings. You can also get a fall harvest by planting six to eight weeks before the first frost.
How to Grow Florence Fennel
Fennel is a common ingredient in curries and the seed gives Italian sausage its primary flavor. It has been in cultivation as part of the Mediterranean diet since the 17th century. Florence fennel has numerous medicinal properties and is found in cough drops and digestive aids to name but two. The plant is also attractive and growing Florence fennel among perennials or flowers adds a lovely accent with its delicate foliage.
Florence fennel produces attractive, green feathery foliage that provides ornamental interest in the garden. The foliage releases a scent reminiscent of anise or licorice. The plant is a perennial and has a tendency to spread and can become invasive if you don’t remove the seed head. Florence fennel grows best in cooler climates and temperate regions.
Begin harvesting fennel stalks when they are nearly ready to flower. Cut them off to the ground and use them like celery. Florence fennel will ripen to produce a thick white base called an apple. Heap some earth around the swollen base for ten days and then harvest.
If you are growing Florence fennel for seed, you just need to wait through the summer. The vegetable will produce flowers in umbels which will dry out and hold seed. Cut off the spent flower heads and shake the seed out into a container. Fennel seed provides amazing flavor and aroma to foods.
Varieties of Florence Fennel
There are many cultivars of bulb producing fennel. ‘Trieste’ is ready to use 90 days after planting. Another variety, ‘Zefa Fino’, is perfect for short season climates and can be harvested in just 65 days.
Most varieties of Florence fennel require 100 days to maturity.