(Foeniculum vulgare) Perennial grown as an annual. Florence Fennel bulbs are a gourmet treat with a sweet, mild flavor similar to celery, but with a light anise flavor. Bulbs are delicious grilled, steamed, or served raw. Adds amazing flavor to soups and sautés. Attractive, feathery leaves are an excellent garnish for fish, chicken, and sauces. Seed can also be harvested for a fresh, homegrown spice.
Fennel is also a favorite of the butterfly, especially Black Swallowtail caterpillars.
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Start indoors 4-6 weeks before average last frost and transplant after last frost. Sow outdoors 1-2 weeks after average last frost for fall bulb harvest. For foliage, sow every 3 weeks after last frost until midsummer.
The tall stalk of fennel looks like celery and is often consumed as a vegetable, while the leaves and seeds are used to season foods.
Fennel requires a well-drained soil, but does not need a rich compost.
Don’t overfertilize. When fennel is well-fed, it loses a lot of its aromatic oils.
Harvest bulbs when they reach about 4” in diameter and before the seedstalk forms to ensure a tender bulb. Leaves can be clipped for fresh use anytime after the plant becomes established. Seeds are ready to be harvested when they turn from yellow green to grey green. Once they turn brown, they’ll begin to fall to the ground and self-seed.
Fennel is not a companion for any garden food crop and will actually inhibit growth in bush beans, kohlrabi, tomatoes, and others. However, it does attract beneficial insects like a magnet. Plant it outside of the veggie garden to attract hoverflies, ladybird beetles, parasitic wasps, and tachinid flies.