Throughout the United States, you’ll find achillea, or common yarrow, growing in woodlands and fields or along old roads and ditches. In Greek mythology, Achilles used yarrow to treat his soldiers’ bleeding. This tough plant was valued by Native Americans and early settlers for its medicinal uses. Native Americans brewed its flowers to make a tea used to treat earaches, toothaches, swelling and headaches. During the Civil War, soldiers used the plant to treat wounds. Today, herbalists use yarrow to treat hay fever, eczema and upper-respiratory problems. Want to learn how to grow yarrow?
Yarrow is an adaptable plant, tolerating a wide range of conditions. It grows in poor, alkaline soils, as well as slightly acidic, moist soil. It tolerates drought, cold and heat. The seeds germinate quickly and the plant also spreads through underground rhizomes. It is hardy in Zones 3-10.
Wild yarrow is typically white and grows 2 to 3 feet high. There are more than 85 species of the plant. Most garden varieties are mounding, spreading plants that grow 18 to 24 inches high. A few, though, stand 12 inches or less and work well as a ground cover. Most people are familiar with white or yellow yarrow, but you can also find yarrow with red, pink, coral or purple blooms.
Growing Conditions for Yarrow
Although yarrow tolerates partial shade, it blooms best in full sun. Amend the soil with compost to improve drainage prior to planting. Plant yarrow from nursery plants or from seeds. Sow seeds in fall or early spring, planting them no more than 1/8 inch under the soil. Yarrow needs a cold period to germinate well. If planting in late spring, store the seeds in the refrigerator for four weeks prior to planting.
Water yarrow frequently the first summer as roots become established. Once established, yarrow may not need additional watering, especially if planted near an irrigated lawn. Yarrow grows quickly and can become untidy. Dig it up and divide it every 2 to 3 years when it becomes crowded.
The plant blooms from summer to fall, depending on growing conditions and moisture. Cut it back after its first flush of growth to encourage new growth and improve its appearance. Leave the last flowers on the plants in the fall to dry. The seedheads can be left intact to provide food for wildlife, or cut down after the first heavy frost. If you want to dry yarrow for floral arrangements, cut the stems shortly after the flowers bloom. Bundle several stems together and tie them with a string. Hang the bundles in a cool, dry place, such as a shed.
Yarrow usually doesn’t need additional fertilizing. If growth seems slow, though, fertilize it in early spring before new growth appears. Apply a balanced fertilizer, according to package directions.
Yarrow has few disease or pest problems, although it is prone to a few fungal diseases. Powdery mildew, which causes a white growth to form on the grayish-green leaves, appears late in the season, especially during hot, dry weather. You may also notice leaf spot or rust, both of which cause spotted leaves.
To reduce disease problems, plant yarrow in sun and thin it out when the plant becomes crowded, so that air circulates freely. Cut it back after the first frost if it is diseased and discard any diseased plant parts. Don’t compost them. If disease is a problem, use drip systems or soaker hoses instead of overhead sprinklers, which spread disease by wetting the leaves. Water early in the morning, rather than at night, so leaves dry quickly, and don’t work in the garden while it’s wet.
Yarrow is one of the easiest plants you can grow. Tuck it in among other low-maintenance perennials, such as catmint, purple coneflower, blazing star, wild geranium, coreopsis, salvia and lamb’s ear. For your little effort, it will reward you with beautiful blooms throughout the summer.
For further reading, check out these resources:
Common Yarrow from Pennsylvania State University
Preserving Summer Flowers from the University of Vermont Extension
When she’s not writing about gardening, food and canning, Julie Christensen enjoys spending time in her gardens, which includes perennials, vegetables and fruit trees. She’s written hundreds of gardening articles for the Gardening Channel, Garden Guides and San Francisco Gate, as well as several e-books.