How to Grow Stinging Nettles in Your Backyard

How to Grow Stinging Nettles in Your Backyard

How to Grow Stinging Nettles in Your Backyard

Why Grow Stinging Nettles?

Stinging nettles (Urtica dioica) have many uses and benefits that make them worth growing at home. Here are some of the main reasons I chose to grow them in my backyard:

  • Nutritious and mineral-rich – Stinging nettles are packed with vitamins like A, C, K and minerals like iron, calcium, magnesium and potassium. The leaves make a nutritious addition to teas, soups and stews.

  • Natural dye – Nettles can be used to make a green natural dye. I like using it to dye wool, silk and other natural fabrics.

  • Herbal remedies – Nettle leaf tea and extracts are used in herbal medicine as a treatment for hayfever, joint pain, anemia and other conditions. The roots can also be used.

  • Pest control – A nettle leaf extract spray can be used to control aphids and other garden pests. Growing nettles provides me with leaves for making the spray right at home.

  • Attracts butterflies – Butterflies like Red Admirals and Tortoiseshells use nettles for laying their eggs. A nettle patch provides habitat for these beneficial pollinators.

Choosing a Site

Stinging nettles thrive in the following conditions:

  • Sun – They need at least 6 hours of direct sun per day. I chose an open, sunny spot in my backyard.

  • Rich soil – Nettles like nitrogen-rich, moist soil. I amended my site with aged compost.

  • Shelter – A spot protected from strong winds will prevent the plants becoming battered. My patch is sheltered by a fence.

  • Water – Ensure the site has access to water or irrigation. Nettles need consistent moisture.

Avoid light sandy soils as they can dry out too quickly. Heavy clay soils should be amended with compost.

Obtaining Nettle Plants

There are a few options for obtaining nettle plants:

  • Seeds – I was able to find stinging nettle seeds at my local garden store. Seeds can also be purchased online.

  • Transplants – Potted nettle transplants are sometimes available at nurseries. Local wild nettles can also be carefully dug up and transplanted.

  • Divisions – Mature nettle roots can be divided in spring or fall to make new plants. A gardening friend gave me some divisions.

  • Wild harvesting**Consult local guidelines before digging up wild nettles. Only take what you need and avoid over-harvesting natural areas.

I chose a mix of transplants and divisions to kickstart my patch. Seeds can take up to 2 months to germinate.

Planting and Care

I prepared the site by loosening the soil and mixing in aged compost. I spaced the transplants and divisions 12-18 inches apart in rows 2 feet apart.

Here are some tips for ongoing care:

  • Water 1-2 inches per week. Use drip irrigation or a soaker hose to keep the soil consistently moist but not saturated.

  • Fertilize with a nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer or compost 1-2 times during the growing season.

  • Containment – Install a rhizome barrier around the perimeter to contain spreading. Monitor for unwanted growth outside the patch.

  • Pruning – Cut plants back to 6 inches in late fall to encourage dense growth in spring.

  • Pests – Monitor for slugs, snails and aphids. Remove by hand or use nettle leaf spray.

Harvesting and Using Nettles

  • Wear gloves and long sleeves when handling nettles to avoid stings.

  • Harvest leaves and young tops in spring and summer by cutting stems right above soil level. Only take 1/3 of growth at a time to allow regrowth.

  • Use leaves fresh or hang bundled stems to dry for storage.

  • To cook, blanch leaves for 1-2 minutes or dry-fry to remove stings. The leaves can then be used like cooked spinach.

  • Roots can also be harvested in fall or spring. Dig carefully preserving attached rhizomes for replanting.

That covers the basics of how I successfully grow stinging nettles for use in cooking, herbal remedies, natural dye and more! Let me know if you have any other questions.