Growing Chamomile for a Peaceful Garden

Ladies and gents, I do believe we’ve found the most wholesome plant in the gardening world! Chamomile, the “apple on the ground”, is a beautiful bundle of low-maintenance, cold-hardy, and medicinal traits, wrapped in cute, daisy-like flowers. Seriously, you’re going to love growing chamomile plant and the whimsical vibe its flowers bring.

Chamomile is perhaps the most famous in tea form. Its blossoms have a unique, calming aroma when brewed that’s believed to ease anxiety and depression. In the garden, the plant has a wild flower look, with thin white petals and dome-shaped, sunny yellow centers. Each chamomile flower is actually an inflorescence, meaning it’s made up of multiple, closely-clustered flowers (like a sunflower). They also smell like apples, especially when bruised. 

Many gardeners grow chamomile as companion plants. Their scent deters common pests and fights bacteria and infection. Chamomile also attracts pollinators and beneficial insects. Overall, it’s a fantastic addition to any herb or flower garden.

Good Products For Growing Chamomile:

Quick Care Guide

Growing chamomile
As they’re growing, chamomile flowers are constantly blooming. Source: Lynne Hand
Common Name(s)Common chamomile, German chamomile, Roman chamomile, wild chamomile
Scientific NameChamaemelum nobile, Matricaria chamomilla
Days to Harvest6-10 weeks
LightFull sun
WaterDrought-resistant, water when nearly dry
SoilWell-draining
FertilizerNone needed
PestsAphids, thrips, mealybugs
DiseasesBotrytis blight, powdery mildew

All About Chamomile

German chamomile
Cheery and bright, chamomile is an easy plant to grow. Source: Edwin Casimir

There are actually several species that are identified as a type of chamomile. All are in the Asteraceae (daisy) family and have the iconic white and yellow flowers. However, only two of those species are used for food and other products, so we’ll focus on those. These types of chamomile are native to Europe and Western Asia, but are grown around the world today.

The most common form of chamomile is Chamaemelum nobile, or Roman chamomile plant. This species is a chamomile perennial that’s mat-like and low growing – making it a perfect ground cover or edging. It flowers from summer to early fall and remains evergreen in zones 4 and up. It spreads easily, so you may find yourself cutting back the runners often.

The other species you’re likely to come across is Matricaria chamomilla, or German chamomile plant (also called Matricaria recutita). Unlike Roman chamomile, this plant is an annual that can grow up to 2 feet tall. Its flowers are also sweeter in taste, so it’s typically the preferred plant for commercial chamomile production. Though it doesn’t last through the winter, German chamomile is often self-seeding and makes a reappearance the following spring. In fact, it’s quite common for this species to grow wild in North America.

Chamomile is such a historically significant plant that it once was practically royalty. In ancient times, it was believed to be a literal gift from the Sun God. Some cultures even have legacies of bowing down to the chamomile plant. This herb was used medicinally by Hippocrates, grew in popularity during the middle ages, and still remains a common homeopathic plant today.

Conclusive research is still needed, but chamomile is believed to aid in relaxation and reduce inflammation. It’s believed to have many other medicinal properties, but may cause negative reactions when ingested directly. Some people are allergic to this plant, especially those allergic to other Asteraceae flowers, such as ragweed. Consult with your doctor before you grow chamomile for anything other than herbal tea.

Planting

For best results, start your chamomile seeds indoors about 6-8 weeks before the last frost. Lightly press the small seeds a couple of inches apart in well-draining soil, keep them moist, and place them in direct light. It takes about 1-2 weeks for the seeds to germinate. The seedlings can be transplanted outdoors after the danger of frost is gone.

You can also grow chamomile directly in the ground just before the last frost. German chamomile can even be planted in the fall so it’ll germinate on its own the following spring. This herb can be grown in containers, but the flowers really grow and look best in the ground. No matter where you plant, make sure the soil is well-draining and in direct sun.

Chamomile Plant Care

Roman chamomile
Roman chamomile has a flatter center to its flower than German does. Source: Melanie Shaw

As long as you choose a good location and have a watering system, you’re basically off the hook for the rest of the growing season. Roman and German chamomile usually only require additional care on a case by case basis.

Sun and Temperature

Grow Roman or German chamomile in full sun whenever possible. It can tolerate some light shade, but much prefers sunny locations. Though it enjoys the sun, this herb does best in cooler temperatures around 65° F, but can handle temperatures up to 100° F. At night, it withstands the danger of frost to some extent.

Water and Humidity

One of the few things that puts your chamomile plants in danger is overwatering. Because this plant is drought-resistant, it’s better to err on the safe side and only water when the soil is almost dry. Give the plant a reasonable amount of water each time, although there should never be puddles left on the soil surface.

Because it’s drought-tolerant, chamomile doesn’t require a specific level of humidity. However, high humidity can invite pests and diseases, so it’s best to keep things dry.

Soil

Well-drained soil is essential to chamomile growing. As long as moisture passes through it quickly, you can use any soil texture. You can amend soil drainage by adding sand or perlite as needed. Roman and German chamomile can also grow in soil with low fertility and are generally impartial to pH.

Fertilizing

German chamomile seeds
The plant’s seeds are tiny, and at least one species self-sows. Source: John and Anni

Chamomile plants really don’t care about fertilizer. They’re so adaptable, in fact, that they’re considered invasive weeds in some areas because they grow practically anywhere.

Pruning

Pruning is only necessary as-needed with chamomile flowers. The low-growing Roman chamomile spreads out quickly, so you might need to cut it back to keep it contained as a ground cover. Simply use clean, sharp clippers to trim back the creeping stems.

To keep your Roman chamomile close to the ground, mow it down to a couple inches after the chamomile flowers fade. It will come back healthier and more compact the following spring.

Propagation

Because it spreads out via runners, Roman chamomile is easy to propagate by division. In spring or early fall, simply cut off a section of the plant and roots. You can dig it up and use clippers to divide the plant. For larger clumps, use a spade to slice through the soil and roots and lift up a section. Plant the division in its new home and be consistent with watering until it’s established.

German chamomile spreads by self-seeding, so you can collect seeds or simply transplant excess seedlings each spring. To save seeds, wait until the German chamomile flowers dry up on the stem and clip them off. Let the mature blossoms dry out and then shake the seeds loose. Store the German chamomile seeds in a cool, dry place and use them within 3-4 years.

Harvesting and Storing

Chamomile in bloom
Chamomile flowers are small but beautiful. Source: matsuyuki

The when and how to harvest chamomile flowers is super simple. You’ll be sipping your relaxing tea before you know it!

Harvesting

At the earliest, your plant may blossom a month after planting. It will continue to flower throughout the growing season until early fall, so you can harvest as much or little as you want.

Wait until a dry day, early in the morning once the flowers are fully open and the dew has just dried. Pinch off the blossoms, leaving the entire stem behind. This process can take a while, but it’s well worth it. If you have a berry rake, you can use that to harvest large quantities of flowers all at once.

Storing

You can make chamomile tea with freshly-picked flowering chamomile, but you’ll need twice as many to get a good flavor. Luckily, learning how to dry chamomile flowers is super easy. After harvesting Roman or German chamomile, simply spread the blossoms in a single layer in a warm area that’s out of direct sunlight and well-ventilated. When they’re completely dry, move the flowers to an airtight container and keep them in a cool location. Use the herbs within a year for best results.

To make tea, steep 1 teaspoon of dried chamomile flowers per cup of boiling water for 2-3 minutes. For extra flavoring, add in dried lavender, honey, sugar, or milk (my favorite is oat milk). The scent alone will calm your nerves before you even take a sip!

Troubleshooting

Closeup of German chamomile flower
German chamomile flowers have a raised cone in the center. Source: Dvorak319

When you grow Roman or German chamomile, you likely won’t encounter growing issues at all. In the rare case that you do though, here’s what you should know before sipping that chamomile tea.

Growing Problems

The Roman and German chamomile plants thrive under neglect. For practically any growing problem, the most likely culprit is that you’re paying too much attention to the plant. For example, the absence of chamomile flowers is a symptom of over-fertilization. Avoid supplementing the soil and use a less-fertile growing medium if needed. You should also check that the chamomile isn’t growing in a location that gets fertilizer runoff from other plants.

Pests

Roman and German chamomile plants are virtually pest-free. The only insects that may hang around them are aphids, thrips, and mealybugs. However, infestations of these pests rarely pose a significant threat to chamomile and usually only show up if the plant is severely underwatered.

To reduce the risk to other plants in your garden, do a spraying of neem oil weekly. This will reduce the population of pests on your chamomile and prevent them from spreading.

Diseases

Disease is also rare in Roman and German chamomile, but can cause damage if it shows up. Infections, particularly rot. are brought on by excess moisture and humidity that’s easy to prevent. Here are the most common diseases in chamomile. 

Botrytis blight (Botrytis cinerea) is a fungal disease that thrives in moisture. It starts as brown-yellow spots on the plant that eventually rot. In time, it also grows a fuzzy, gray fungus that can easily spread to other plants. Prevention is the key to keeping this disease away, so ensure the plants are dry and in low humidity. 

For existing infections, carefully remove any diseased parts of the plant and destroy them away from the garden. Apply copper fungicide to the surrounding plants to prevent the spores from spreading.

Powdery mildew is a white fungus that spreads over the plant, literally blocking out the sun and sapping nutrients. When infected, the leaves turn yellow and eventually die. You can easily treat powdery mildew with neem oil.

Frequently Asked Questions

Roman chamomile in botanical garden
Roman chamomile leaves have a sweet aroma as this sign indicates. Source: AndreyZharkikh

Q: Is chamomile a perennial or an annual?

A: It depends on the type. German chamomile is an annual that self-seeds every fall and reappears in the spring. On the other hand, Roman chamomile is an evergreen perennial.

Q: Can you grow chamomile inside?

A: Yes, but it’s best to grow Roman or German chamomile in the ground where it can get full sun and adequate drainage.

Q: Can you walk on a chamomile lawn?

A: Yes, but the flowers won’t tolerate heavy foot traffic.

Q: Are chamomile leaves edible?

A: The leaves are edible, but usually only the chamomile flowers are consumed. However, Roman and German chamomile plants are toxic to cats and dogs.

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