How to Plant, Grow and Care For Feverfew
Feverfew is a lovely flower that has many practical uses in the garden. It makes a great companion and is fairly low maintenance. In this article, gardening expert Logan Hailey shares everything you need to know about growing feverfew in your garden this season!
The dazzling masses of aromatic yellow and white flowers atop frilly verdant leaves make feverfew one of the most beautiful ornamentals you can grow. This chamomile-look-alike is a popular wildflower related to daisies and tansies. It can be grown as a perennial in zones 5-10 and as an annual in colder regions.
Beneficial predatory insects are magnetized to feverfew, making it one of the best companion plants to include in your vegetable garden.
The pungent, citrus-scented foliage naturally repels pests, while the dainty flowers attract hoverflies and tachinid flies. Moreover, this carefree herb doesn’t ask for much maintenance and naturally re-seeds every year.
Let’s dig into everything you need to know about growing this captivating herb in your garden.
Tanacetum parthenium L.
|Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial||Plant Maintenance: Low||Plant Spacing: 8-12”|
|Plant Family: Asteraceae (Daisy Family)||Plant Height: 24-36”||Watering Needs: Low|
|Plant Genus: Tanacetum||Fertility Needs: Low||Sun Exposure: Full sun|
|Plant Species: parthenium||Temperature: 60-90°F, tolerates to -20°F in dormancy||Lifespan: Tender, short-lived perennial|
|Hardiness Zone: 5-10||Companion Plants: Coreopsis, Daylily, Coneflower||Pests: Aphids|
|Planting Season: Spring||Soil Type: Light, well-drained, neutral pH||Diseases: None|
Feverfew has been cultivated for centuries as a medicinal and insectary plant. As early as the first century, Greek physician Dioscorides prescribed feverfew as a remedy for fevers and inflammation. The plant has also been called “featherfew” because of its frilly, feathery leaves.
With roots in Central Asia, the Himalayan mountains, and southeastern Europe, feverfew has now spread around the world. I’ve even noticed it growing wild alongside roadside ditches throughout the United States! This herb’s fascinating history and easygoing attitude make it a no-brainer addition to any garden.
Feverfew is an herbaceous perennial plant with aromatic foliage and daisy-like flowers that are used for landscaping, herbal remedies, floral arrangements, and companion planting.
Its green parsley-shaped leaves are a gorgeous backdrop to the yellow and white composite flowers. The plant grows as an attractive mounding shrub up to 36” tall and 24” wide. It is a member of the Asteraceae family, closely related to daisies.
Feverfew is often confused with chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla L.), but the two plants are distinct. Feverfew flowers are flatter, less flavorful, and more citrus-scented than chamomile. While chamomile is an annual, feverfew is a perennial.
To make matters more confusing, feverfew is mistakenly often referred to as “wild chamomile.” Both plants are in the daisy family and share relatives like sunflowers, calendula, and marigolds.
|Parsley-like foliage||Frilly, thin foliage|
|Flattened flower base||Dome-shaped, rounded head|
|Citrusy, bitter scent (less fragrant)||Floral, sweet scent (more fragrant)|
|Perennial plant||Annual plant|
|Hardy in zones 5-10||Hardy in zones 2-9|
|Native to Balkan peninsula (Southeastern Europe)||Widespread, with origins throughout the world|
The name feverfew comes from the Latin word febrifuge, which means “driving fever away.” Also known as Tanacetum parthenium L., feverfew likely got its name from Greek physicians who used it to treat fevers.
The genus name Tanacetum means “immortal” and the species name parthenium refers to a legend that feverfew was used to save a construction worker who fell on his head while building the Parthenon temple in Athens.
Feverfew is native to the Balkan region of Southeastern Europe as well as Western Asia and parts of the Himalayas. The herb has been widely cultivated in gardens and landscapes around the world for thousands of years.
In the mid-19th century, feverfew was brought to the United States, where it has now become naturalized in many areas. This chamomile doppelganger can be found growing wild in roadside ditches, pastures, and meadows throughout North America, Australia, Asia, North Africa, and Europe.
Thanks to its wildflower nature, feverfew is insanely easy to grow from seed, cuttings, or root divisions. Once established, the plant will readily self-sow and slowly spread via underground runners. While feverfew is eager to spread, it is not typically invasive. Unwanted seedlings are easy to pull out.
For most gardeners, the best time to plant feverfew is in the spring, as soon as the soil can be worked. You can also start the plant indoors and transplant seedlings outside around the first frost.
Feverfew is somewhat hardy once established, but it is tender as a seedling. When I worked on cut flower farms, we sometimes transplanted feverfew in the fall to achieve longer stems and earlier blooms for spring bouquets. However, overwintering the tender perennial plants requires the extra labor of covering them with row fabric or planting in a greenhouse.
The ideal seeding dates are:
- Spring direct sowing: 1-3 weeks before last frost date (as soon soil is workable)
- Spring transplanting: Sow 5-7 weeks before last frost
- Fall transplanting: 3-4 weeks before first frost
To grow the best feverfew seedlings, remember to:
The most important thing to remember when seeding feverfew is: Do not cover the seeds! These tiny seeds require light to germinate and should be sown very shallowly. You can use a mister or a very light stream of water to maintain soil moisture without disturbing the seed placement.
If you are direct sowing outside, you can broadcast the seeds into bare soil. This mimics nature’s process for spreading feverfew. Ensure that the area is thoroughly weeded to prevent grasses or other plants from outcompeting the feverfew seedlings.
Feverfew takes 7-14 days to germinate and enjoys a mild soil temperature of around 70°F. However, it can tolerate colder when directly sown in the garden. A layer of row cover can help encourage more even germination in cold climates, but it usually isn’t necessary.
Keep feverfew seeds continuously moist until the plants develop their first true leaves. As long as seedlings receive 6-8 hours of direct sunlight, there is no need for a germination heat mat or artificial lighting.
You can broadcast (sprinkle) the seeds or sow a couple of seeds every 8-12”. Once plants develop their first true leaves, it is essential to thin the seedlings to 1 plant every 8-12”. If growing as a perennial, it’s best to give each plant about 12” of space in every direction.
Overcrowded feverfew can lead to weak, unsightly plants. The individual thinned plants will end up mounding and bushing into each other to create an attractive continuous display.
Softwood cuttings are another quick way to start a feverfew patch. If you or a friend already has a thriving feverfew plant, you can take a few stem clippings and root them to replicate the plant.
- Use a strong, healthy feverfew plant.
- Find a 4-6” long, non-flowering stem.
- Use sanitized shears to cut the stem just below a node (the point where the leaves meet the stem).
- Strip the lower 2-3” of leaves.
- Optionally, dip the bottom of the cutting in a rooting hormone.
- Place the cutting in a jar of water or potting mix. Only the lower 2-3” should be submerged.
- Place in a warm, sunny area with bright indirect light.
- Regularly change the water and maintain continuous moisture.
- Wait 1-2 weeks until you see roots form, then transplant to a pot.
Feverfew cuttings root the best in warm soil, so a heating mat can increase your chances of success.
Due to the clumping nature of feverfew plants, they are very easy to divide. Division is as simple as digging up the plant and cutting the rhizomatous crown into a few chunks. The steps are as follows:
- Divide feverfew in the spring or fall, before or after flowering.
- Find a mature, thriving feverfew plant.
- Use a sharp-edged shovel to dig a circle around the plant, a few icnehs wider than its circumfrence.
- Dig about 1 foot deep.
- Lif the plant from the ground.
- Use the shovel to chop the rhizome into several chunks.
- Each chunk should be at least 6-8” in diameter.
- Replant one chunk in the original space and backfill so only leaves are exposed.
- Transplant the remaining divisions to pots or other parts of your garden.
- Provide at least 12” of space in all directions.
Feverfew is best planted in the spring or early fall. Sow seeds about 2 weeks before your last frost. Alternatively, you can divide and transplant this herb in the late summer or early fall. Be sure it has at least 4-6 weeks to get established before cold weather sets in. In mild climates, feverfew overwinters well and provides extra early flowers.
Transplanting feverfew is as simple as any other garden herb. Whether you start from a nursery plant, homegrown seedling, cutting, or division, the process is the same:
- Dig a hole 1 to 2 times larger than the root ball.
- Gently massage the pot to loosen the roots.
- If the plant is rootbound, cut off any protruding roots and use your fingers to loosen the tangled root ball.
- Grasp the plant from the base and turn the pot on its side.
- Place the feverfew in the hole.
- Backfill with compost and native soil.
- Be sure not to bury any leaves or stems. Keep the crown just below soil level.
- Thoroughly water in and maintain continuous moisture for a few weeks.
Space feverfew plants 8-12” apart in rows 12” apart. The plants naturally like to form clumps.
Feverfew is as easy to grow as its doppelganger, chamomile. You can keep this herb as an annual or a perennial with very little maintenance. Plant it in border beds or naturalized areas where it can self-slow freely. The keys to happy feverfew are bright sunshine and loamy soil.
Feverfew prefers full sunshine, but tolerates partial shade. Plants grown in part shade may not flower as profusely or aromatically.
This herb is a long-day plant, which means that the amount of sunshine directly impacts the flowering cycle. Plants typically start blooming around the summer solstice when the days lengthen.
Because of its love for sunshine, indoor plants tend to get leggy and unhappy. Feverfew is also fairly hardy, so there is no reason to waste your indoor growing space. This herb will flourish in outdoor patio containers.
Feverfew prefers consistently moist soil. It does not tolerate long periods drought. The plant grows best in slightly damp soil that is never bone-dry nor overly soggy.
If you don’t get much summer rain, it’s best to mulch your feverfew plants with chopped leaves or a layer of compost. You may need to irrigate 1 to 3 times per week during dry spells. Soil with high amounts of organic matter requires less irrigation because it holds onto moisture.
Feverfew prefers light, fluffy soil that is well-drained and regularly moist. Heavy clay soils need to be loosened with a broadfork or digging fork and amended with decayed organic matter. Sandy soil will probably need compost or leaf mold to improve the water holding capacity.
A pH between 6.0 and 7.2 ensures proper mineral absorption for this herb. If your soil is too acidic, amend with compost, limestone, or wood ashes.
Feverfew thrives in warm weather and sunshine. It can be grown as a perennial in zones 5 through 10, or an annual in colder zones. In its dormant state, a well-rooted plant can tolerate a whopping -20°F. During the summer, the herb prefers cozy temperatures in the 70s and 80s.
Seeds germinate best when soil is around 70°F. Indoor sowing and transplanting tends to be best for cut flower varieties of feverfew. Wild types don’t mind direct seeding after the chance of frost has passed.
Feverfew enjoys a fertile soil that is rich in organic matter. A quality compost should provide plenty of nutrients. In poor soils, you can amend with small amounts of all-purpose, slow-release fertilizer.
Like many herbs, its best to avoid feeding high-nitrogen fertilizers. Too much nitrogen can cause the plant to grow excess foliage with less flowers. Overfertilization also reduces the pleasant smell of the flowers.
Aside from consistent irrigation, feverfew is relatively maintenance-free. If growing feverfew as a perennial, you can cut it back to the ground after the first hard frost. The plant will regenerate in the spring with fresh, attractive new growth.
Feverfew is a self-seeding plant that can spread quickly in its optimum conditions. While it’s unlikely to take over your garden, it may require some weeding. Unwanted seedlings are easy to pullout. Clumps should be divided annually to prevent them from getting out-of-hand.
Feverfew comes in several cultivars for different uses and asesthetics:
- Wild type: The classic Tanacetum parthenium L. is the most resilient and common variety of feverfew. Due to its wildflower nature, it can be more aggressive in its optimum environment.
- White blooms: ‘Crown White,’ ‘Ultra Double White,’ and ‘White Bonnet’ have gorgeous pure white flowers.
- Yellow flowers: For stunning cream-yellow flowers, choose ‘Golden Ball.’
- Golden leaves: ‘Aureum’ is one of the most popular feverfews because it has golden-hue leaves and smaller displays of white flowers. It also grows a stout 12” tall, making it perfect for containers.
Feverfew is naturally resilient to common garden pests and diseases. The only issue you may have are aphids (they seem to eat everything, don’t they?)
If you notice aphids crawling on this white and yellow beauty, a heavy stream of water can usually knock them off. In extreme infestations, throw away affected plant parts and treat the herb with a diluted neem solution.
Frequently Asked Questions
Feverfew is a non-fussy herb that is very easy to grow. This flower can easily be grown from seed, cutting, or division. Plant in an area with plenty of sunlight and well-drained soil.
Feverfew thrives in areas with full sunshine and loamy, well-drained soil. It can be found flourishing in wildflower fields and landscape margins.
Feverfew’s main drawback is its tendency to spread. This self-seeding plant is not necessarily invasive, but it can be aggressive when grown in its optimum conditions. The best way to contain feverfew is to remove spent flower heads and divide the plant clumps every year. Alternatively, plant feverfew in a cottage garden or naturalized area on the borders of your landscape.
Now that you’ve learned all you need to know about growing this lovely flower, all that’s left is to start seeding or transplant them into your garden. Fever few has many different uses, so adding it to your garden space will provide you with many different benefits.