Top of the Crops - Sorrel

Growing Sorrel in a Polytunnel

Sorrel is a useful perennial herb with a slightly lemony tang that makes a great addition to a perennial section of a polytunnel

Sorrel is easy to grow and, as long as it is well-watered throughout the year, will come back year after year, making a wonderful addition for soups, salads and many other meals.

Key Information

The docks and sorrels, which belong to the genus Rumex, encompass approximately 200 species of annual, biennial, and perennial herbs within the Polygonaceae family, commonly known as the buckwheat family. 

When we talk about the herb sorrel we are talking about common sorrel, Rumex acetosa – but several other members of this genus are also called sorrels and several of these are used in similar ways. 

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The Preferred Conditions for Sorrel

Sorrel will like a sunny spot in moist but well-drained soil but many types will do best with a little partial shade in the warmer months and so can good for under-planting in the shade, perhaps, of taller crops or in the dappled light below deciduous trees in a forest garden or fruit tree guild. 
Sorrel thrives in well-drained, fertile soil. A soil pH level ranging from 5.5 to 7.0 is optimal for sorrel growth. While sorrel can tolerate a variety of soil types, including sandy or clay soils, it prefers soil that is rich in organic matter. 

Adding compost or well-rotted manure to the soil before planting can help improve its fertility and texture, providing a favourable environment for sorrel to grow. And ensuring good drainage is essential, as sorrel does not tolerate waterlogged conditions. 

How to Grow Sorrel

Sorrel is easy to grow from seed, which can be sown any time between February and July. Of course, before you can purchase and sow seeds, you need to decide which variety of sorrel you would like to grow, so check out the varieties listed later in this guide as there are several great options to choose from. 


Sorrel seeds can either be sown indoors or later, once the soil has warmed, sown directly in the location where they are to grow. You can grow sorrel in the ground, in a range of soil types, or in containers filled with a suitable growing medium. 

Sowing indoors

If you decide to sow sorrel seeds indoors, seeds should be sown in pots at a depth of around 1cm and left in a light position to germinate. 

When large enough to handle, you should divide the roots and give each seedling its own 5cm pot. In late spring, the sorrel can be planted out into its final growing position, or grown on in larger pots.

Sowing outdoors

Of course it is also possible to simply wait until the soil has warmed sufficiently in your area and then sow the seeds in the soil directly, where they are to grow.

How To Plant Sorrel

You can also buy sorrel as a young plant, in which case these (like those grown from seed indoors) can be planted out between April and August.

Plant your sorrel in either sunny or lightly shaded areas, whether in containers or directly in the ground. For young sorrel plants, whether they're grown from seed or purchased in pots, you can transplant them into your garden during the spring and early summer months.

It's important to gradually expose tender or indoor-raised plants to outdoor conditions to strengthen them and avoid stunting their growth. Begin by placing them outdoors in a sheltered location during the day and bringing them indoors at night for a couple of weeks. Alternatively, you can place them in a cold frame, opening the lid during the day.

Before fully planting them, harden off your sorrel plants to help them adjust to outdoor conditions. When choosing a growing site, opt for rich, fertile soil if possible, although sorrel can tolerate a wide range of well-drained soils in either full sun or light shade. If you prefer, you can also plant sorrel in a large container that is at least 30cm (1ft) wide, filled with peat-free soil-based compost.

Keep in mind that young sorrel plants are susceptible to damage from slugs and snails, so it's essential to take measures to control or deter these pests.

Care Tips for Sorrel

When sorrel plants throw up flower stalks, nip these off to prevent your sorrel from running to seed and to prolong the period of harvest.


It is important to water plants often, especially during the summer. Make sure that you keep the soil or growing medium consistently moist but not waterlogged throughout the growing season. 


To maintain soil moisture and suppress weed growth around your sorrel plants, consider applying a generous layer of organic mulch. Options like well-rotted manure or garden compost work well for this purpose. 

Spread the mulch evenly around the base of the plants, ensuring a thick layer to effectively retain moisture and inhibit weed growth. This mulching technique not only benefits the sorrel plants but also helps to nourish the soil and create a healthier growing environment 


It's important to keep seedlings and young sorrel plants free from weeds to minimize competition for essential resources such as light, water, and nutrients. Regularly inspect the area around your sorrel seedlings and remove any weeds that may be competing for these resources. 

Protecting in Winter

Top growth will die back in autumn but should regrow the following year as long as the roots have not become waterlogged and rotted over the winter. 

Since sorrels are generally pretty hardy in their dormant state, protecting them over winter is often not about protecting them from the cold but rather making sure that waterlogging does not occur. 


Divide sorrel plants every couple of years in spring or autumn and this will not only provide new plants to place elsewhere in your garden or to give away, but will also ensure that the plants remain productive.


Sorrel is best used fresh and picked by hand just before you plan to use it in the kitchen. You can be harvesting sorrel right through from spring to early autumn. The young leaves closest to the tips of the shoots will generally have a better taste than the larger leaves further down the stems.

Storing Sorrel

Place the clean, dry sorrel leaves in a resealable plastic bag or an airtight container lined with paper towels and you can place them in the vegetable crisper drawer of your refrigerator. Sorrel leaves stored this way can typically last for up to one week but will be best when fresh from the garden and used as soon as possible. 

For longer-term storage, you can also freeze sorrel leaves. Blanch the leaves in boiling water for about 30 seconds, then immediately transfer them to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process. Drain the leaves and pat them dry. Arrange the blanched sorrel leaves in a single layer on a baking sheet and place them in the freezer until they are frozen solid. Once frozen, transfer the leaves to a freezer-safe bag or container, removing as much air as possible before sealing. Frozen sorrel leaves can last for several months.

Another option is to make sorrel pesto. Blend sorrel leaves with garlic, nuts or seeds (such as pine nuts or sunflower seeds), Parmesan cheese, olive oil, salt, and pepper until smooth. Store the pesto in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to one week, or freeze it in ice cube trays for longer storage.

Preparation and Uses

Sorrel complements various dishes, including fish, meat, and eggs, and can be enjoyed raw as well. The vibrant young leaves of sorrel are a flavourful enhancement to salads, lending a zesty, citrussy tang. When incorporated into soups and sauces, they impart a unique taste. 

Varieties of Sorrel

  • Common Sorrel (Rumex acetosa): Also known as garden sorrel, this type has tart, lemony-flavoured leaves that are often used in salads, soups, and sauces.

  • French Sorrel (Rumex scutatus): French sorrel has smaller, more delicate leaves than common sorrel and a milder flavor. It is often used in French cuisine for its tangy taste.

  • Red-veined sorrel (Rumex sanguineus): This sorrel is known for its visual appeal as well as its taste though leaves are good when young and can often be harvested all year round. 

  • Sheep's Sorrel (Rumex acetosella): This type of sorrel has a more acidic taste compared to common sorrel and is often used in herbal medicine for its purported health benefits.

  • Buckler-leaved sorrel (Rumex scutatus): With a similar taste and uses to common sorrel, this is another option to consider. It is a low-growing, creeping ground cover plant that is, like other sorrels, very easy to grow in a sunny or part-shaded, fertile and moist soil. 

Common Problems for Sorrel

Once established, sorrel typically thrives and exhibits robust health. However, it's important to protect seedlings and young leaves from slugs and snails, which can pose a threat. Additionally, soft new growth may attract aphids, though intervention is seldom needed.

One other important thing to remember is that sorrels are often very reliable self-seeders so you should be sure to remove the flowering stalks promptly so that the plants cannot disperse their seeds and pop up all over your garden. 

Top Tips for Growing Sorrel in a Polytunnel

Sorrel does not take up too much space and is easily incorporated within a range of different polytunnel layouts and planting schemes. It can be grown alongside numerous other perennial edibles – herbs, vegetables and flowers – which can also have a range of culinary applications. It may also be beneficial within the guilds for polytunnel fruit trees or fruiting shrubs...


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Link, R., (2024) Sorrel: Less Common Leafy Greens with Major Benefits. Dr Axe. [online] Available at: 

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growing sorrel in a polytunnel