How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Chamomile in Your Garden
Chamomile can be used in a variety of different ways, most commonly in different types of tea. That makes it a go-to flower for many gardeners who want to grow their own. In this article, organic gardening expert Logan Hailey guides you in exactly how to plant, grow, and care for chamomile plants.
There is nothing more soothing and delicious than the fragrant floral aroma of fresh chamomile. The dried grocery store tea bags just can’t compare. Chamomile is a remarkably useful and easy to grow herb perfect for novice and advanced gardeners alike.
These tiny white and yellow flowers have inched their way into our lives as a lovely reminder to slow down, relax, and mellow out. In our bodies, chamomile has a profound calming effect that has been used for centuries to remedy insomnia, indigestion, stress, anxiety, insect repellant, even as an anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial agent.
In the garden, this flower attracts an abundance of beneficial insects while acting as a pest repellant and companion plant for many vegetables. The elegant stems of fern-like foliage and adorable blossoms are also a delightful addition to bouquets and summer floral arrangements.
Chamomile plants are as laid back as sipping an evening tea. The plant eagerly sprouts from seeds and bursts with dazzling tiny flowers all summer long. Whether you are seeking the scientifically-proven medicinal properties of this popular herb, or you just want to add some fragrant diversity to the garden, chamomile is a staple herbal crop for any growing zone.
Chamomile Plant Overview
Plant Type Self-Seeding Herbaceous Annual
Species Matricaria chamomilla
Hardiness Zone USDA 3-10
Planting Season Spring
Plant Height 18-24 inches
Fertility Needs Low
Temperature 65-85° Tolerates Frost and Heat
Plant With All Vegetables
Soil Type Sandy Loam
Plant Spacing 8 inch Plants and 18 inch Rows
Watering Needs Low
Sun Exposure Full Sun to Partial Shade
Days to Maturity 60-65 days
Pests Aphis, Mealybugs, Thrips
Diseases Powdery Mildew and Botrytis
History and Cultivation
Chamomile is one of the most popular herbal teas on the planet. Whether enjoyed as a stand-alone floral tisane or blended with other soothing herbs like mint and lemon, chamomile has found its way into kitchen cupboards for thousands of years. Ancient traditions and modern science have proven the positive effects on the body as well as a garden ecosystem.
Where Does Chamomile Originate?
Chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla or M. recutita L.) has been an important aromatic and medicinal plant for thousands of years. The plant grows wild throughout Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia. It has escaped cultivation and become naturalized throughout North and South America.
The earliest recorded uses date all the way back to 1550 BC when ancient Egyptians used chamomile as an offering to their gods as well as a cure for sick people and an embalming agent in their tombs. It has likely been wild foraged and cultivated in gardens for far longer.
History of Chamomile
Europeans began using chamomile as early as the 1st century AD. Roman naturalist and herbalist Pliny the Elder prescribed chamomile as a remedy for headaches, kidney issues, liver disorders, and as a topical poultice for skin inflammation.
Medieval Europeans used it as incense in their homes and castles. The Middle Ages also brought a great rise in the use of chamomile for asthma, nausea, nervous system issues, skin diseases, and children’s ailments.
14th-century European gardens planted it widely and harvested it to make teas, creams, and oils. In Spain, chamomile became a popular flavoring for sherry (a liquor) and was even used to lighten women’s hair.
Chamomile made its way into the hearts and gardens of Americans via German settlers in the 19th century. Thanks to its gentle and safe pharmacology, American physicians used it to treat many conditions, specifically those in pregnant women and in young children
What is Chamomile?
This European and Asian native is a member of the Aster family, Asteraceae. This family actually includes dandelions, and sunflowers. Its abundance of daisy-like flowers with white petals and vibrant yellow centers bloom summer through fall in most climates. Chamomile has feathery branched leaves about ½ inch to 3 inches long and multiple branches that spring up from the base.
When the flowers or leaves of the plant are crushed, they emit a relaxing sweet aroma reminiscent of apples or floral perfume. In fact, it is believed that the name “chamomile” comes from the Greek word khamaimelon, which roughly translates to “earth apple.”
Botanically, chamomile goes by many names. Matricaria recutita is the most common scientific name for this delicious flower. However, the scientific classification of this herb has remained ambiguous for decades because the name “chamomile” is used to describe several species of plants. Let’s clear up the confusion
German Chamomile vs. Roman Chamomile
The two major varieties of chamomile are actually different species entirely: German Chamomile (Matricaria recuita or Chamomilla recutita) is the most commonly known annual flowering herb, while Roman or English Chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is a perennial groundcover that has very similar herbal properties. All Latin mix-ups aside, both are used interchangeably in teas and in the garden.
While both types have the essential oil chamazulene (an active medicinal constituent), the German variant actually has a higher concentration.
Roman or English Chamomile
|Matricaria recutita, Matricaria chamomilla or Chamomilla recutita||Chamaemelum nobile|
|Most common chamomile||Less commonly used as tea or medicine|
|Europe, North Africa, and parts of Asia||Europe and North Africa|
|USDA zone 3-10 (as an annual)||USDA zone 5-8 (for perennial growth)|
|Higher concentration of medicinal properties (particular Chamazulene essential oil)||Same medicinal uses|
|Abundant quantities of smaller flowers||Larger, but fewer flowers|
|Annual plant||Perennial plant|
|Taller, upright growth (about 24 inches)||Low growing, sprawling (3-6 inches tall)|
|Best for flower and vegetable beds||Excellent culinary groundcover or lawn substitute|
Thanks to its wild nature, chamomile is incredibly easy to propagate by seed. They can even be scattered on the soil surface and germinate within a week! Seeding chamomile is a fun and rewarding process that can create a self-sowing annual patch for years to come.
You can also start chamomile indoors and transplant it into the garden or you can propagate chamomile by cuttings.
How to Direct Seed
The most important thing to remember is that chamomile seeds are very small and need light to germinate. They need to stay shallowly on the surface and cannot be buried. However, you don’t want them to wash away or get blown in the wind either. Use slightly different methods for German and Roman types to ensure you
Seeding German (common) Chamomile
German chamomile can be planted alongside your vegetables in annual garden beds. It looks beautiful when grown in big clumps, but it can also be scattered throughout the garden as a companion plant. It companion plants well with annuals that sometimes deal with fungal problems like zinnias. When it comes to veggie companions, collards, tomatoes and cucumber also make good neighbors. Having chamomile planted near them will ward off pests.
Chamomile has a knack for self-seeding year after year (but don’t worry, it is not invasive and won’t take over your garden). When you choose a location for your beds, just keep in mind that the plants may drop their seeds throughout late summer and fall (unless you harvest all of the flowers).
Prepare a fine seed bed with compost and a rake. Then, scatter the seeds in narrow bands about 18” apart. Press the seeds lightly into the soil and maybe cover with the finest bit of compost if you are worried about wind. Remember, they need light to germinate!
Water in very gently and keep the soil moist for 1-2 weeks. When it emerges, thin the seedlings into clusters of 2 or 3 plants spaced about 8” apart in rows 18” apart.
Seeding Roman Chamomile
Because Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is actually a short perennial groundcover plant, it should be planted in walkways, flower beds, or along the margins of your garden. It is not ideal for putting directly in your vegetable gardens because it will spread and grow perennially in most climates. The most common way to plant this variety is by purchasing rhizomes or root divisions. However, you can also directly sow the seeds.
The beds do not need to be prepared as carefully as German chamomile because the Roman type is more resilient and willing to grow in poor soils. Scatter 2-3 seeds per inch and gently tamp into the ground, avoiding covering them with soil.
These seeds still need light to germinate. Thin the plants to clusters of 2 or 3 every 12” to allow for quicker establishment. Once established, it will spread by rhizomes in a similar way to grass.
Propagation by Cuttings
If you want to proliferate your chamomile mid-spring, you can take cuttings from established patches and root them to grow new plants. This process is very similar for both German and Roman types, however, it is most common with the perennial Roman chamomile.
Begin with a strong, healthy mother plant that has been thoroughly watered the night before cutting. There should be an abundance of new growth foliage and some woody stems at the base. Take your cuttings on a spring morning from an area of the plant that isn’t yet flowering.
Dig your fingers into the ground near the base of the stem to expose some of the underground part (rhizome) of the cutting. It should be white and have small roots. Use sharp sanitized pruners or a garden knife to cut a piece of stem about 4” long from the base. Cut the stem about ½-1” below the ground surface.
Take as many cuttings as you like, then wrap them in a moistened paper towel to protect them as you prepare their containers. You can root it in a moist potting soil mixture (preferably with a good amount of perlite). Fill cell trays with the mix and use a pencil to poke a hole about 2” deep in the center of each cell. Place the bottom of each cutting into the cell and firm the soil around it just like planting a new seedling.
Water thoroughly and keep in a lightly shaded protected area. The cfuttings will root within 6 to 8 weeks, at which point you can transplant to the garden or up-pot just like a regular seedling.
How to Start Transplants
If you prefer to get a head start on your herb garden in the spring, start the seeds indoors in a greenhouse, windowsill, or beneath grow lights about 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost.
Fill seed starting cell trays with a quality organic potting mix and lightly press the seeds into the surface of the soil. The seeds need light to germinate, so do not cover them with soil. Mist the surface to avoid displacing them and maintain an environment around 60-80°F.
Chamomile will germinate within 10-14 days and should be transplanted out when seedlings are 1-2” tall and have 3-4 sets of true leaves. It’s best not to let the seedlings get too old in their trays. Younger seedlings transplant the best.
Whether you choose to buy chamomile starts from a local nursery or to grow seedlings yourself, be sure that they are not root bound or overgrown in their containers.
How to Transplant Chamomile
Chamomile should be transplanted when it is about 1-2” tall and has 3-4 true leaves. Be sure that the plants are thoroughly rooted in their container, but not too oversized. Young seedlings are best!
Begin by hardening off your chamomile seedlings by slowly acclimating them to outdoor temperatures. This plant is mildly frost-tolerant but needs some time to adapt to outdoor conditions if it has been growing in a protected area for the beginning of its life.
Start by moving them outdoors during the day and indoors at night, then let the seedlings sit outside for 3-5 full days and nights before transplanting. Once you have quality, vigorous young seedlings that have been hardened off, you are ready to plant in the garden!
For German chamomile, prepare your beds just as you would for vegetables: weed the bed, amend with compost, loosen the soil with a broadfork or digging fork, and then rake flat.
For Roman chamomile, prepare perennial flower beds or ground cover areas as if you are establishing grass, thyme, or other ornamentals. It helps to still amend with compost and rake clean.
Use a hori hori planting knife or garden trowel to make a hole slightly larger than the seedling cell. Grasp the plant at the base and wiggle it free from its container. Place in the hole and be sure that the top of the plant remains at the same level as the soil surface. Gently backfill over the roots and water thoroughly.
German chamomile should be spaced about 8” apart in rows 18” apart. If you are interplanting with other vegetables, be sure that your veggies have plenty of space. Remember that these plants grow about 15-24” tall and may sprawl 8-10” in each direction.
Roman chamomile can be spaced 8-12” apart in rows 12” apart. Don’t plant in places where you don’t want it to spread. This variety likes to creep with its rhizomes and establish patches. Remember, they can handle some foot traffic, so consider planting Roman chamomile as a fragrant footpath between raised wooden garden beds.
How to Grow Chamomile
Chamomile is super simple to grow and very easy to please. This herb is mostly hands-off after planting. Just a little bit of water and remembering to harvest are all you really need to do to keep it happy.
Both varieties prefer full sun, however, the perennial Roman type is more tolerant of a little bit of shade. It’s important to make sure that you meet this plant’s proper light requirements for it to grow at its full capability.
Chamomile needs plenty of water upon establishment, but it can be quite drought-tolerant once the plants have grown their roots. To maximize flower production, irrigate modestly at least once or twice a week during times of drought.
German (common) chamomile prefers fertile, well-drained loam or sandy loam soils. Amend with compost for the best results.
Roman chamomile can grow in poorer, slightly acidic clay soils as long as there is a moderate amount of drainage.
Climate and Temperature
In spite of its delicate aromatic blossoms, chamomile is surprisingly cold hardy. German chamomile can handle mild spring frosts down to about 30°F. The ideal growing temperature for common chamomile is between 60 and 80°F.
Roman chamomile is perennial in zones 5-8, but it can be grown as an annual groundcover in colder zones. It prefers cooler temperatures around 65°F, but can also handle some intense heat as long as it has enough water and a little bit of shady protection.
There is no need to fertilize chamomile. Too much fertility can actually result in less aromatic plants and an overproduction of foliage rather than flowers. Don’t fuss over chamomile; it is a wilder herb that makes do with what she’s got!
Chamomile flowers are best gathered in full bloom, usually from May through July. The flowers have the most fragrance in the morning when they are partially to fully open.
If you’re in for a nice zen afternoon of gathering herbs, the flowers can be plucked by hand straight from the tops of the stems. However, if you want to harvest a bulk quantity, it’s probably best to invest in a chamomile rake, which is what commercial chamomile growers use to harvest their aromatic blossoms for sale. It is a handheld metal container with a comb-like surface that cuts the blossoms off of chamomile very quickly.
This handy tool is a little pricey, but it is essential for any herb aficionado or herbal farmer who wants to harvest moderate quantities and other small flowering herbs such as flax seeds, poppy seed heads, lavender blossoms, clover, and more.
Drying and Storage
Chamomile is typically dried on large screens in a place with good air circulation and out of direct sunlight (note: some people dry it in the sun but there is evidence that this may reduce the medicinal properties of the plant). You can buy hanging herb drying racks online or make your own with a wooden square of 2x4s and a piece of hardware cloth stapled into the bottom.
Spread the blossoms out on the screen as evenly as possible and hang in an aerated place for 5-7 days or more depending on the conditions. A dehydrator or dehumidifier is not necessary unless you live in an extremely moist climate.
Alternatively, you can cut whole chamomile branches, tie them together, and hang them upside down to dry in big bundles. This is the best option only at the end of the season after you have harvested as many flowers as possible.
Check the blossoms by squeezing them to be sure they are fully dry. Then, store them with a lid in a glass jar or a sealed plastic bag with the air removed. Label with the harvest date and variety. It can be stored for about a year or longer under proper conditions.
You can also preserve fresh chamomile by infusing it into alcohol (as in an herbal tincture), liqueurs, or honey.
Best Seed Varieties
Chamomile doesn’t come in a huge variety of seed cultivars. You typically just have the option between German (common) chamomile and Roman (AKA English) chamomile. The most important thing to remember is that you should always source certified organic seeds if you plan to use it as a medicinal tea.
German (common) Chamomile
- Smaller blossoms, greater quantity
- More medicinal properties
- Taller (24”) lengthy growth habit
- Best for companion planting
- Great for vegetable garden beds
- Larger blossoms, less numerous
- Stouter, short growth habit
- Best for landscape plantings
- Handle foot traffic
Be sure to check out the comparison chart above for more info on which type is best for you. Because they are different species, you can also plant both types of chamomile in your garden without risking cross-pollination. This might make for some fun taste tests and garden trivia for kids!
Pests and Diseases
Thanks to its fragrant aroma, most insects steer clear. Luckily the only bugs that do find chamomile are typically not a major issue that will threaten your harvest. If you find yourself with a few annoying pests or diseases on your plants, there are some simple organic solutions to take care of them right away.
Aphids, Thrips, and Mealybugs
Aphids can be identified by their tiny black, white, or green oval-shaped bodies crawling around on the undersides of leaves. They may leave behind a gross sugary sap.
You can wash any of these bugs off with a heavy jet of water on the leaves or by using a diluted neem oil spray directly on the affected parts of the plant. Follow the recommended dilution on the neem solution bottle. If flowers are affected, simply cut them off and wait for new ones to grow before harvesting again (trust me, you don’t want your chamomile tea to taste like neem).
For preventative measures, plant white alyssum, yarrow, and other insectary flowers around the perimeter to attract ladybugs, parasitic wasps, and other insect predators.
Botrytis and Powdery Mildew
It is equally rare to have any major issue with plant diseases on your chamomile. However, if you live in an exceptionally humid climate, these two pathogens may take hold of this plant after it is harvested and reduce your storage time.
Botrytis rot can cause brownish-yellow lesions on living plants or cause rotting, fuzzy, or moldy flowers when drying. Powdery mildew can also thrive in humid, stagnant conditions, causing a white powdery appearance on the leaves and eventually killing them.
The easiest prevention is providing plenty of circulation during growth and after harvest. Once drying flowers are affected by mildews, it’s best to dispose of them, sanitize the surfaces, and start over. Try to keep plants as dry as possible by using drip or soaker hose irrigation.
Chamomile is predominately used as a medicinal or culinary herb. It is most popularly enjoyed as a tea, infused as a single ingredient, or mixed with other herbs. Its vast range of medicinal properties include anti-inflammatory, anti-microbial, calming nervine actions, digestive aid, and more.
Chamomile can also be infused into alcohol tinctures, liqueurs, oils, or honey. It can be distilled into an essential oil that is used for skin care as well as aromatherapy. Chamomile is also frequently incorporated as a lovely accent in floral bouquets.
As a garden aid, this flower is a beneficial plant that attracts pollinators as well as predatory insects. The aroma of makes it an excellent companion for many vegetables because it repels pests. The crushed flowers and leaves can be used in garden spray preparations to kill bugs and fungal infections. Chamomile has also been used as a bug repellent for humans and pets (the essential oil is most commonly used).
Frequently Asked Questions
Is chamomile easy to grow?
As a wild weed that has escaped from cultivation, chamomile is one of the easiest herbs to grow in your garden. The seeds germinate readily and plants are very easy to care for. They are drought tolerant and don’t require any fertilizer. They also provide many benefits to your garden.
What conditions does chamomile need to grow?
German chamomile grows best in a sandy loam soil that is well-drained and rich in organic matter. Amend your beds with compost and plant it alongside vegetables and other herbs. Full sunlight is ideal unless you live in an extremely hot climate, in which case it will benefit from partial shade. Water plants regularly to help them get established and harvest flowers regularly to encourage more and more blooms.
Do chamomile come back every year?
German chamomile is a self-seeding annual. This means that the plants technically only live one season, but they tend to drop their seeds in that area and keep coming back in a patch year after year (unless you weed them out). Roman chamomile is a perennial rhizomatous plant that stays evergreen in USDA zones 5-8. It will survive winter frosts and flower year after year as a fragrant groundcover.
From soothing an upset stomach to helping kiddos get ready for bed, chamomile is a kitchen staple and family herbal classic. This tea is as easy to grow as it is to drink. Chamomile is a gift that keeps on giving to your health and your garden. If you are looking for a white flower that also has health benefits, look no further than this amazing plant!