Florence fennel: growing tips and variety guide

Fennel bulbs can be harvested from the size of a hen's egg to the size of a fist or larger.

123RF/Stuff

Fennel bulbs can be harvested from the size of a hen’s egg to the size of a fist or larger.

Bulbous Florence fennel is a versatile plant, and almost every part is edible, from the bases of the swollen leaves to the golden pollen, to the large, aromatic seeds. It is used a lot in Italian cuisine, hence its common name, and most of the best varieties are made from it.

sow and grow

  • When to sow: August to May in hot regions; September to January in cooler regions
  • When to transplant: August to May in warm regions; September to January in cooler regions
  • Position: Full sun
  • Harvest: 12-20 weeks

Begin

Florence fennel likes to stay cool and does best in spring and fall, rather than during the heat of summer.

You can sow the seeds directly or plant seedlings. Treat seedlings with care when transplanting, as Florence fennel does not tolerate root disturbance well and quickly attaches to seeds in response. If it gets carried away, don’t rush to snatch it – the umbelliferous yellow flowers bring a wide array of beneficial insects.

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Fennel flowers attract beneficial insects and the seeds can be used for cooking.

LZFLZF/123RF/Stuff

Fennel flowers attract beneficial insects and the seeds can be used for cooking.

Step by step

  • Sow the seeds 5-7 mm deep. Germination takes 7-14 days.
  • Thin the seedlings about 20-30 cm apart.

Cultivation tips

Give Florence fennel full sun and well-drained, well-tilled soil. This crop prefers alkaline soil, so add lime before planting.

Keep Florence fennel well watered to keep the bulbs sweet and prevent them from developing a woody fibrous core. As the bulbous base begins to swell, tamp the soil around to keep it straight and white.

Fennel bulbs can be harvested from the size of a hen’s egg to the size of a fist or larger. However, the smaller bulbs are usually the sweetest. They will be ready to harvest in about 90 days (don’t wait too long or they will become woody).

Florence fennel.

SALLY TAGG/NZ GARDENER/Stuff

Florence fennel.

Remarkable varieties

Florence fennel (Foeniculum vulgare azoricum) aka finocchio, is a leafy fennel cultivar (Foeniculum vulgare), which grows wild in many parts of New Zealand. ‘Finale’ is a seed-resistant variety that can be sown from early spring until fall. ‘Zefa Fino’ is also slow to bolt and is suitable for cooler climates. ‘Milano’ produces large, very white, spherical bulbs that taste amazing. Or try ‘Romenesco’, a late maturing variety with a delicious flavor, which is available as an organic seed.

Repair

Florence fennel is generally fairly trouble-free although it is attractive to slugs and snails, especially in the seedling stage. Pick up and smash. It can also be infested with aphids under water stress, so don’t let the plants dry out just yet.

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