You can start French or common sorrel from seed weeks before the last frost date in your area. A perennial plant, sorrel needs little care and attention from you during its life. The main thing you’ll want to do is make sure it gets plenty of sun, that it is planted in well-draining soil and that it gets a consistent amount of moisture, but not too much, during its growing season. You can start harvesting the plant’s leaves when they are just a few inches high and continue harvesting until it produces tall flower stalks.
Choosing a Type of Sorrel
A variety of different types of sorrel are available. Two of the more common varieties are French sorrel (Rumex scutatus) and garden sorrel (Rumex acestosa).
French sorrel has pointy leaves that have a subtle, lemony flavor. The plant is smaller than other sorrel varieties, growing up to about 12 inches tall, according to Harvest to Table. Its leaves are often used raw in salads, but can also be cooked or steeped to make a tea.
Garden sorrel has a similar flavor, but larger leaves than French sorrel. The plant is known for sending up tall flower spikes in the summer, which will easily reseed.
Blood sorrel, also known as bloody dock (Rumex sanguineus) is easy to distinguish from other types to sorrel thanks to its deep red veins and stems. It’s grown for its looks as well as for its taste. It’s slightly spinach-y flavor makes it a good addition to salads. According to Mother Earth News, the leaves can only really be eaten when the plant is young.
At a garden center, you might notice taller shrubs or trees labeled “sorrel.” These are actually an entirely different plant, commonly known as Jamaican sorrel (Hibiscus sabdariffa) or roselle. While you can grow Jamaican sorrel at home, the process and end result will be considerably different from growing Rumex varieties of sorrel.
Sorrel is a fairly hardy plant and will survive all year in USDA zones 5 and above. That also means that you can plant sorrel fairly early in the growing season. If you are going to start your plants from seed, you can direct sow them in your garden starting about three weeks before the last frost your area.
In the above video, Claire from Claire’s Allotment shows you how simple it is to plant sorrel from seeds. She starts the seeds in her greenhouse, but you can easily start yours directly in the garden.
To plant the seeds, scatter a handful over the planting area or dig a 1/2 inch deep trench and bury the seeds in it. If you are scattering the seeds, cover them with about a 1/2 inch of soil.
You can water the soil before planting and after, so that the seeds get a sufficient amount of moisture and are able to germinate.
Once the seedlings start to come up, you can thin them out when the plants are about three inches tall. Since sorrel grows in a clump and produces a long taproot, you’ll want to give each plant plenty of space in your garden. Thin plants so that they are at least 12 inches apart.
You can also grow sorrel by planting a transplant or root division directly in your garden. To do that, wait until after the last frost in your area. Dig a hole that is slightly larger than the plant’s roots, and then place the roots into the hole. Fill in the hole with soil and water well.
Care for Sorrel
Thanks to its deep taproot, sorrel can be relatively easy to care for in the garden. As long as you plant it in a spot that gets full sun each day and that has well drained soil, it will need little attention from you.
To give your sorrel a boost, it can be helpful to add a handful or two of compost to the soil before you plant. You can add a bit more compost about halfway through its growing season, too.
Use a light hand when watering sorrel. As a plant from the Mediterranean area, it prefers somewhat drier conditions.
Since sorrel is an perennial in many areas, there might come a point when it becomes too big for your garden. If that is the case, you can divide the plant to make more room. Some people choose to grow the plant as an annual, pulling it up at the end of each season, so that they don’t have to deal with dividing sorrel.
Usually, gardeners who grow sorrel as a perennial divide the plant every three years or so. To do that, dig up your plants when they aren’t in bloom. Fine Gardening recommends dividing plants when the weather is cool, but the soil is somewhat warm.
Once you’ve dug up the plant, gently break apart its roots, separating it into clumps. Replant the healthiest looking parts of the plant, and either compost or consume the rest.
If you want a step by step demonstration, the video above from the University of Nebraska Lincoln shows you how it’s done.
You can begin harvesting the leaves from a sorrel plant when they are just a few inches tall. The sooner you cut the leaves and use them, the more tender they will be.
To harvest sorrel leaves, cut the outermost leaves from the plant, leaving those in the center. If you cut all the leaves off, you end up halting the growth of the plant. Leaving the center leaves allows the plant to continue to grow.
Sorrel produces tall flower stalks when the weather warms up. To prolong your ability to harvest and use the plant’s leaves, cut the stalks off as they appear. You’ll eventually not be able to keep the stalks from coming up.
Once they do produce flowers, cut the buds off before they set seed, so that you don’t end up with hundreds of baby sorrel plants throughout your garden.