Florence Fennel

Family: Apiaceae

Countries: Europe, Italy

Florence fennel, (also known by its botanical name of Foeniculum vulgare Azoricum Group) is a rather special vegetable.  Plants produce a swollen, bulb-like swelling, at the base of their stem.  Florence fennel’s bulbs are their main selling point, but the whole of this plant is edible; both the stems and leaves taste delicious.  The swollen bulb-like base can be eaten raw or cooked; it gives a sweet, fragrant aniseed flavour to dishes.  The fronds and ferny leaves have the same sweet aniseed taste.

Florence fennel is easily grown from seed.  In the UK, we can sow Florence fennel seeds from May until the end of July (late spring until mid summer) in most areas.  However, through my Florence Fennel Trials, I’ve found that southern regions of the country have a much longer growing season – in warmer areas of the country, Florence fennel seeds can be sown from April or May until the end of September (early autumn).  Later sowings will generate a harvest of smaller fennel bulbs, but their flavour will be just as good as larger sized specimens.  Take care to select a Florence fennel cultivar that’s suited to your particular sowing month, some cultivars are more suited to earlier sowings, others later (see the links at the bottom of this page for more information and advice on cultivar selection).

I find that Florence fennel thrives in sandy or silty soils.  When growing Florence fennel, choose a sunny site – the sunnier the better.  Plants will also grow in light or partial shade, but far superior vegetables will be produced in sunnier sites.  Florence fennel won’t succeed in the shade.  Sow your seeds directly, where they are to grow; don’t be tempted to start your plants off in seed trays or move your plants – they won’t appreciate your attentions and are likely to bolt or decline.  For the largest bulbs, space your seeds 25cm (10″) apart.  Florence fennel grows best in summers with lots of rain, as it requires lots of moisture to develop its swollen stem, so do remember to water your plants, if the weather is dry.

Florence fennel is very prone to bolting.  Once they start to bolt, Florence fennel bulbs become tough and inedible – they’re a terrible disappointment!  I’ve made it my mission to help gardeners avoid their Florence fennel plants from bolting.  There can be many reasons why the plant has bolted; it might be that the seeds were sown too early, or too late; perhaps a late cultivar was sown instead of an early one, or vice versa?  Maybe the plant didn’t receive enough moisture, or the weather was too hot, or too cold.  Did the plants experience a sudden change in growing conditions?  Could it be that the Florence fennel plants were left in the ground too long?  Had your plants achieved their maximum size for their growing conditions?  My advice is that it’s better to harvest Florence fennel too early than too late.  Young Florence fennel is sweet, succulent and delicious; whereas once these plants have bolted they are only good for the compost heap.

To avoid bolting: choose a Florence fennel cultivar that’s suited to your sowing time.  Sow your seeds in a bright and sunny location and ensure your plants are watered regularly (at least three times a week during dry spells).  Most importantly, harvest your Florence fennel when it’s grown.  Don’t delay in harvesting – your plants will not wait until you’re ready!  If you notice any of your Florence fennel plants’ growth extending upwards they may be bolting, if this is the case, don’t delay in harvesting any other bulbs that have yet to bolt.

If you end up with an abundant harvest or more vegetables than you can eat that week, why not freeze your Florence fennel?  This will allow you to consume this delicacy throughout the year.  Florence fennel also keeps well in the fridge.

For more articles about edible gardening, please click here.

To see my plant pages and view pictures and information to help you grow a wide range of vegetables, please click here.

To see all my plant pages and discover pictures and advice on growing a vast variety of plants – from plants for pollinators, climbing plants, ferns, orchids, houseplants, scented plants, container plants, roses, perennials, trees, shrubs, annuals, vegetables, fruit, and herbs, please click here.

Articles that mention Florence Fennel:

Other articles you might like:

Comments are closed.