How to Grow Stinging Nettles in Your Backyard

How to Grow Stinging Nettles in Your Backyard

Growing my own stinging nettles in my backyard has been an incredibly rewarding experience. As a gardener and herb enthusiast, I’m always looking for new plants to add to my garden that are both useful and beautiful. Stinging nettles check both of those boxes!

In this comprehensive guide, I’ll walk you through everything you need to know to successfully grow stinging nettles yourself, including:

Choosing the Right Nettle Species

There are a few different species of stinging nettles to choose from. The most common types are:

  • Urtica dioica – Common nettle native to Europe, Asia and North America. Hardy in USDA zones 3-9. Grows 3-7 feet tall.

  • Urtica urens – Dwarf nettle native to Europe and Asia, naturalized in North America. Grows 1-3 feet tall.

  • Urtica ferox – Ongaonga nettle native to New Zealand. Extremely hardy and can grow up to 10 feet tall.

I’d recommend Urtica dioica for most backyard gardens as it’s easy to find and manageable height. Urtica urens can work well for container gardening.

Choosing the Right Location

Stinging nettles thrive in the following conditions:

  • Full sun – They need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. Partial shade is tolerated.

  • Moist soil – Soil should be constantly damp but not waterlogged. Rich loam or clay soils are ideal.

  • USDA zones 3-9 – Most species can handle cold winters and hot summers. Provide shelter from wind.

Ideally, pick a spot that gets morning sun with some afternoon shade. Ensure good drainage – add compost if needed.

Planting Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles are best propagated by root cuttings or division in spring:

  • Take 3-6 inch root cuttings from an established plant. Cut just below a root node.

  • For division, dig up a mature nettle plant and separate it into smaller sections, ensuring each has some root mass.

Plant root cuttings or divisions 2 inches deep, 8-12 inches apart in prepared soil. Water well and mulch. They will establish over one growing season.

You can also grow stinging nettles from seed indoors and transplant outside after last frost.

Caring for Your Nettles

To keep your stinging nettles happy and healthy:

  • Water 1-2 inches per week if there’s no rain, avoiding leaves getting wet.

  • Fertilize 2-3 times per season with compost or organic nitrogen fertilizer.

  • Harvest often! Regular harvesting promotes new growth.

  • Cut plants back to 6 inches in fall to encourage dense growth next year.

  • Mulch annually with 2-3 inches of organic matter.

  • Division or thinning every 2-3 years prevents overcrowding.

  • Monitor for pests like aphids, slugs and snails. Remove by hand or use organic treatments.

Harvesting Stinging Nettles

  • Wear gloves, long sleeves and pants to avoid stings when harvesting!

  • Harvest leaves and tops when plants are 6-12 inches tall.

  • Use scissors to cut just above a set of leaves, or grasp tops firmly and snap off.

  • Harvest frequently, leaving at least 6 inches of growth. This encourages new growth.

  • To dry leaves, hang bundles or lay single layer on trays in warm area out of sun. Crumble and store when crisp.

  • For cooking, blanch leaves in boiling water for 2-3 minutes to remove stings.

Using Your Nettle Harvest

The benefits of growing my own stinging nettles are endless! Here are some of my favorite ways to use them:

  • Dried or blanched nettle leaves for nutritious teas, soups, pestos and other recipes.

  • Extracts and tinctures made from leaves, roots or seeds for herbal remedies. Excellent source of iron, calcium, magnesium and more.

  • Strong natural fiber obtained from stems for cloth, paper, cordage and more.

  • Liquid fertilizer from leaves – steep leaves in water for 1-2 weeks then apply to plants.

  • Dynamic accumulator plant – roots collect and concentrate nutrients from soil. Chop and drop plants to fertilize garden beds.

  • Natural insect repellent – hang dried leaves near doorways or plant near crops prone to aphids.

As you can see, stinging nettles are extremely versatile plants with so many uses. Despite their stinging defense mechanism, with the right precautions they are easy and rewarding to grow at home. I hope this guide gives you the confidence to add nettles to your own backyard garden! Let me know if you have any other questions.