- Florence fennel, also called bulbing fennel: grown primarily for the bulb-like base of the stalks which is eaten as a vegetable. Leaves and seeds can also be harvested.
- Common and bronze fennel: grown just for the seeds or foliage (they do not form succulent bulbs), but are not recommended in the Bay Area due to concerns regarding invasiveness.
- Although a perennial, most fennel is grown as a cool season annual for harvesting as bulbs.
- Fennel, even bulbing fennel, will self-sow easily and can take over an area if not controlled.
- Fennel attracts many beneficial insects and is a host plant for swallowtail butterflies.
- There are many culinary uses for fennel from around the world; enjoying the bulb as a vegetable, fronds as an herb, and seeds and pollen as spices.
- In grocery stores, fennel is sometimes labeled sweet anise, but anise seeds come from a totally different plant, Pimpinella anisum.
How to grow
- Type: Cool season perennial, but usually grown as an annual
- Light: Full sun
- Soil: Well amended soil, good drainage
- Water: Regular watering, likes moist soil
- Size: Florence varieties typically 12-36" tall; common and bronze can get as tall as 4-5'. Plant Florence varieties 8-12" apart
When and how to plant
- From seed: Sow seeds February-April (maybe May), September-October (maybe August). If growing from seed for transplants, allow 4 weeks to be ready
- Transplants: February-April (maybe May), September-October (maybe August)
- Cuttings: No
- Spacing: 8–12 inches apart
- Harvest the bulb-like base when it is large and plump, 4–6" across, typically 60-90 days after transplanting. Cut just above the soil line.
- Pollen can be collected from flower blooms by shaking flower heads into a plastic bag.
- Pick leaves at any time during the growing season. Do not remove more than 1/3 of the foliage.
- Harvest seeds when flower heads turns brown. Cut the seedheads and place in a paper bag in a cool, ventilated, location. The seeds will fall off when dry and can then be collected.
Common pests & diseases
- Cabbage moth larvae
- Anise swallowtail larvae (pictured): While the butterflies are welcome and damage from the larvae eating the foliage is negligible on mature plants, young seedlings can potentially be overwhelmed. Pick off as needed.
Recommended Varieties for Santa Clara County*
- Di Parma OP: Superior bulbing fennel, large and uniform, with great flavor
* Many other varieties may also do well here in Santa Clara County. This list is based on UC Master Gardener trials, taste tests, and feedback from local growers.