How to Grow Stinging Nettles in Your Garden

How to Grow Stinging Nettles in Your Garden

How to Grow Stinging Nettles in Your Garden

Introduction to Growing Stinging Nettles

Stinging nettles, or Urtica dioica, are a common weed that can be found growing in the wild across much of Europe, Asia, and North America. Despite their stinging hairs, which can cause an irritating rash on contact, stinging nettles have a long history of both culinary and medicinal use.

While stinging nettles may seem like an unlikely choice, they can make an interesting and useful addition to any herb or vegetable garden. Here’s everything you need to know about growing stinging nettles at home.

Choosing a Nettle Variety

There are a few different varieties of edible stinging nettle to choose from:

  • Common stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) – This is the most widespread wild variety and has very stingy leaves and stems. It can reach 6 feet tall at maturity.

  • Dwarf stinging nettle (Urtica urens) – A smaller variety that only grows 1-2 feet tall. Less stingy than common nettle.

  • Roman nettle (Urtica pilulifera) – A less common variety with rounded leaves. It has less stinging hairs than other types.

For ease of handling, I’d recommend choosing one of the less stingy varieties like dwarf nettle or Roman nettle for the home garden. The common nettle packs the most sting!

Harvesting Wild Nettles

You can also harvest roots or rhizomes from established wild nettle patches to transplant into your garden. Just be sure to wear gloves when digging them up!

Choosing the Right Site

When choosing where to plant your stinging nettles, keep these conditions in mind:

  • Full sun – Nettles prefer a site with 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day. Partial shade is okay, but may reduce yields.

  • Rich soil – Nettles thrive in nitrogen-rich soil with lots of organic matter. Improve sparse garden soils with compost or manure before planting.

  • Ample moisture – Ensure the site has consistent moisture through rain or irrigation. Nettles do best with 1-2 inches of water per week.

  • Good drainage – The soil should drain well and not become waterlogged. Add organic material like compost to improve drainage in heavy clay soils before planting.

  • Sheltered location – Choose a site protected from strong winds, which can damage the plants.

  • Space for growth – Leave 2-3 feet between plants and at least 5 feet between rows. Nettles can grow quite large at maturity.

Propagating Stinging Nettles

Nettles are easy to propagate from either seed or cuttings:

Starting Nettles from Seed

  • When to plant – Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before your last spring frost date. Move seedlings outside after hardening off.

  • How to plant – Sow seeds 1⁄4 inch deep in seed starting mix. Maintain a temperature of 65-70°F for best germination, which takes 10-20 days.

  • Seedlings – Transplant nettle seedlings into larger containers once they reach 6 inches tall. Space them at least 2 feet apart to allow for growth.

Propagating from Cuttings

  • When to take cuttings – Take 4-6 inch tip cuttings from established plants in spring or fall. Avoid flowering stems.

  • Rooting cuttings – Remove lower leaves and place cuttings in water or moist seed starting mix. Keep them consistently moist until roots develop in 1-2 weeks.

  • Transplanting – Once rooted, plant cuttings directly in the garden or start in pots before transplanting outside after hardening off.

Caring for Nettle Plants

With the right care, nettle plants will provide an abundant harvest:

  • Watering – Provide nettles with 1-2 inches of water per week. Irrigate if rainfall is insufficient.

  • Fertilizing – Side dress with a nitrogen-rich fertilizer or compost monthly during the growing season.

  • Pruning – Trim plants back to 6 inches after harvesting to encourage new growth.

  • Weeding – Mulch around plants to suppress weeds. Hand pull any weeds that grow through the mulch.

  • Pests and diseases – Nettles are resistant to most pests and diseases. Aphids can sometimes be a nuisance.

Harvesting Stinging Nettle

  • Wear protective gloves, long sleeves and pants when harvesting to avoid contact with stinging hairs.

  • When to harvest – Cut leaves when they are young and vibrant for best flavor. Older leaves tend to be tough and stringy.

  • How to harvest – Use scissors to snip off leaves and top 4-6 inches of stem. Avoid touching the leaves until wilted or cooked.

  • Regrowth – Nettles will regrow after cutting for multiple harvests. Cut plants back to 6 inches for optimal regrowth.

  • Drying or cooking – Nettle leaves should be dried or cooked to remove stinging hairs prior to consumption. Blanch in boiling water for 1-2 minutes then drain and rinse.

Using Your Stinging Nettle Harvest

Once cooked or dried, stinging nettles have many edible and medicinal uses:

  • Teas – Dried or fresh nettle leaves make a nourishing herbal tea.

  • Pestos and sauces – Cooked nettles can be blended into pestos, butters or creamy sauces.

  • Soups and stews – Add cooked nettles to soups, stews, and other dishes for nutrition.

  • Vegetable side – Steam or saute nettle leaves as a nutritious cooked green.

  • Natural health – Nettle tea, tinctures and extracts are used to support hay fever, joint health, and more.

Enjoy experimenting with stinging nettles freshly harvested from your own garden!