How to Plant, Grow and Care for Yarrow
Are you thinking of adding yarrow to your garden this season? This versatile herb can serve many purposes and makes a wonderful companion plant. In this article, gardening expert and former organic farmer Logan Hailey shares everything you need to know about growing yarrow this season, including maintenance and care needs.
If you want a gorgeous plant that practically grows itself, yarrow is the herb for you! Yarrow can be found growing in meadows and roadside fields across North America, but it is also a dazzling addition to any garden. This fragrant aster family herb is aromatic, edible, pest-repellant, low-maintenance, and offers extraordinary benefits for your local pollinators and predatory insects. Plus, it’s tough as nails!
The densely flattened blossoms of yarrow come in a rainbow of colors and provide flowers all summer long in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9. Better yet, this perennial herb requires little to no upkeep and still comes back every year.
With so much to offer for such little effort, why wouldn’t you want yarrow in your garden? Let’s dig into everything you need to know about planting and tending this herb as a beautiful ornamental, edible, and insectary garden flower.
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) Overview
Plant Type Herbaceous perennial
Plant Family Asteraceae (daisy family)
Plant Genus Achillea
Plant Species millefolium
Hardiness Zone 2-10
Planting Season Early spring or late fall
Plant Maintenance Low
Plant Height 2-4 feet tall
Fertility Needs None
Temperature -10°F to 85°F
Companion Plants Most garden vegetables,
Soil Type Slightly acidic, well-drained
Plant Spacing 1-3 feet
Watering Needs Low
Sun Exposure Full sun
Lifespan 5+ years (long-lived perennial)
Pests Aphids, mealybugs, spittlebugs
Diseases Botrytis, root rot, powdery mildew
Yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is an herbaceous perennial flowering plant that grows around the world. It is most well-known for its medicinal herbal properties and its use as a landscape plant. It magnetizes butterflies, bees, and beneficial insects to your garden while repelling harmful pests.
Yarrow is remarkably easy to grow. It is widely adapted to USDA zones 3 through 9 and doesn’t mind harsh winters. This resilient herb is deer-resistant, pollinator-attracting, and pest-repellant. It comes back every year with little to no maintenance.
The genus Achillea includes about 80 species of yarrow, but Achillea millefolium is the wildflower species native to the United States. Most yarrow cultivars found in nurseries and landscape gardens are variations of Achillea millefolium or Achillea filipendulina.
Modern varieties of yarrow come in vibrant pink, purple, yellow, red, orange, and gold flower colors. The native wildflower yarrow has creamy white blooms. All types of yarrow have fern-like, lacy foliage that smells delightfully piney and earthy when crushed.
As a member of Asteraceae or Compositae (the aster or daisy family), yarrow’s signature flower heads include hundreds of tiny florets that are held together in a giant cluster. When you look at yarrow’s blossoms very closely, you will see that the giant white blooms actually look like dozens of tiny daisies.
Is Yarrow a Weed and is it Invasive?
While yarrow is a strong grower, it is not an invasive weed. To the untrained eye, yarrow plants in lawns or gardens may seem like a weed, but the plant actually provides a range of benefits. Some lawn professionals have started to mow yarrow and allow it to grow as a blade grass lawn substitute (after all, it requires far less water or care than a lawn and it stands up to foot traffic).
Common yarrow is a native wildflower that easily spreads, but it is not considered invasive because it is unlikely to displace native vegetation. If you’re worried about yarrow’s excited growth habit, you’ll be glad to know that it is easily contained.
Simply snip spent blooms before they can develop seeds. Alternatively, cut or mow yarrow plants down periodically. You should also plant yarrow on garden edges and margins rather than in the beds themselves. This ensures that yarrow won’t self-seed and spread in your vegetable garden.
Yarrow is very quick to establish and spread. It is most commonly propagated by seed, root division, or cutting in the early spring or late fall.
Because the plant is so easy to grow, seeds are the cheapest option. However, if you want to enjoy a large flower display in the first year, it’s best to transplant an established yarrow plant from a local nursery.
Tiny yarrow seeds readily germinate in the garden or indoors in cell trays. Start this lacy-leaved flower outdoors in early spring as soon as the soil can be worked. In mild regions, you can also direct seed outdoors in late fall. Indoor seeding should begin at least 8-10 weeks before you plan to transplant yarrow into the garden.
Light is required for germination, so only cover yarrow seeds with a very thin layer of soil or vermiculite. Alternatively, just press them into the soil surface and lightly mist them with water. Yarrow seeds need moisture to germinate but the seedlings readily adapt to low-water conditions.
When growing in seed trays, germination heat mats significantly speed up the process. Be sure that the soil mix is especially well-drained and nutrient-poor. Avoid planting yarrow in super rich, fertile soil or it may have weak stems and little to no smell when it blooms.
Yarrow takes up to 130 days to flower from seed. For quicker results, start with a transplant or a root division.
Propagation by Division
Yarrow rhizomes readily spread via division, which is exactly what it sounds like: You find a mature yarrow plant growing in your garden or wild in a field, then you dig it up and cut the root system into segments using a shovel. The best time to divide yarrow is in the spring just as new growth emerges, or in the fall after flowers have faded.
Dividing these robust plants is a quick and easy process:
- Identify a mature yarrow plant, preferably without flowers.
- Use a shovel to dig a 6-12” circle around the yarrow root zone.
- Lift the clump out of the soil.
- Use pruners to remove any dead stems or diseased plant parts.
- Use your shovel to slice the yarrow root clump into smaller portions.
- Ensure that your root divisions are at least 4-6” in diameter.
- Replant the divisions elsewhere in your garden or pot them up to give to friends.
Because yarrow spreads rapidly, it is best to divide your plants every 2 to 3 years in the spring. This keeps them spaced out and prevents them from spreading too far outside their realm.
Propagation by Cuttings
Although less common, you can easily propagate yarrow by softwood stem cuttings. This herbaceous perennial puts off the best stems for cuttings in the late spring and early summer.
To take yarrow cuttings:
- Locate a healthy stem with at least 3-5 buds. Avoid taking cuttings from flowering stems.
- Use sharp pruners or scissors to cut a length of about 6”.
- Strip the lower leaves of each cutting and plant a few niches deep.
- Plant into a mix of peat moss and vermiculite.
- Optionally, you can also root in a glass of water.
- Keep cuttings moist and in a sunny area that is about 50-60°F.
- When 1-2” long roots begin to form, you can transplant the cutting into a container.
- You can also transplant outdoors in the garden. Remember, do not fertilize!
Yarrow cuttings are very robust and don’t require as much tender handling as other cuttings.
This hardy wildflower is easy to plant and doesn’t mind a little root disturbance. In mild climates, you can plant yarrow almost year-round. Colder climate gardeners will want to wait until the soil has fully thawed and become workable in the early spring.
Be sure that each plant has at least 12-24” spacing on all sides. Some yarrow plants can grow up to 2-3 feet wide and tall, so you may wish to widen the spacing.
If properly pruned, dwarf yarrow can be planted as close as 8” apart or grown in smaller containers.
Transplanting yarrow from pots or cell trays requires almost the same method as most vegetable starts. The most important thing to consider is the planting location. Never plant yarrow in the fertile, compost-rich soil of your garden beds!
This flower actually needs poor, low-nutrient soil to thrive. It prefers a well-drained area. While it will tolerate some clay, yarrow dislikes super wet or soggy environments.
Once yarrow seedlings have matured and established their root system, follow this process to transplant:
- Dig a hole about 1.5 to 2 times the size of the yarrow root ball.
- Massage the bottom of the pot to loosen the roots from the container.
- Grasp the plant at the base and gently lift from the pot.
- Plant yarrow at the same soil depth as its original growing medium.
- Avoid burying the base of the stem.
- Backfill with soil and water-in with a generous dose of water.
- Yarrow does not typically need any irrigation after establishment.
Pretty as lace and tough as nails, yarrow is one of the easiest plants to grow in your garden. As long as you give yarrow the environment it craves, you’ll likely never have to tend it again.
Yarrow is a meadow plant that thrives in sunny, hot, dry conditions. Too much shade can cause yarrow to grow “leggy,” which means the stems will be long, floppy, and lacking leaves.
If you need to “stake up” your yarrow, it’s probably a sign that it’s growing in too much shade and needs to be transplanted. Avoid planting yarrow beneath the shade of trees or structures. Keep it out in the open where it can bask in the light.
When growing yarrow seedlings, you should also take care to keep the baby plants under bright, intense light. A grow light hovering about 12” over the seedlings is ideal for supporting their growth. Alternatively, you can grow in a bright south-facing window. Yarrow will not thrive in partially shaded or poorly lit windowsills.
Achillea millefolium rarely (if ever) needs supplemental watering. This drought-tolerant perennial is ready to tough it through even the hottest summers without water. After all, that’s what it does in the wild!
Frequent, light waterings are only necessary during the germination and seedling stage. Once transplanted, yarrow needs about ½ inch of water every week until established. Then you can leave it to its own devices!
There is no need to install an irrigation system around the yarrow. Plant it in dry garden borders alongside Mediterranean plants like lavender and rosemary. The natural rainfall of most regions will suffice for these lowkey plants.
Avoid overwatering yarrow or planting in a waterlogged area. Yarrow despises soggy soils that stay too wet. This can cause root rot, stunted growth, and a range of other issues.
Drainage is key for this beautiful fragrant flower. Yarrow grows wild in disturbed areas like roadsides, grasslands, open forests, and old farm fields. Loamy or sandy soil is ideal. A pH range of 6.0 to 8.0 is preferred, but yarrow is not picky.
Yarrow can survive in clay soil, but it won’t be as happy (especially if the clay is constantly saturated with water). If you have heavy soil, consider double digging and amending it with horticultural sand, vermiculite, or perlite to improve the drainage.
The Achillea genus doesn’t mind temperatures down to -15°F, but they also tolerate up to 100°F on the other end. While yarrow may go dormant in harsh winters, it reliably resprouts and blooms again. If your yarrow plant appears to “die back” in a hard frost, don’t panic! The root system is probably still alive.
In the summer, yarrow thrives in the same hot, dry conditions as many Mediterranean herbs. For the best appearance in a landscape, you can give yarrow a bit of water to keep it perky during the hottest months of the year.
Do NOT fertilize yarrow! This rugged perennial actually enjoys and prefers poor soil. Too much fertility can cause yarrow to have:
- Weak stems
- Poor fragrance
- Fewer flowers
- A floppy appearance
Avoid mixing in compost or fertilizer of any kind. If you need to improve soil drainage, use horticultural sand, vermiculite, or perlite.
While not required, annual pruning can help improve the aesthetic of yarrow in your garden. This is an herbaceous perennial, which means all the above-ground parts die back in the first hard frost of fall.
In warmer climates, often just the tall floral stems will die back and a clump of foliage will remain at the base. Either way, the underground root system remains alive and well. In the fall, you can prune back dead floral stems to improve the yarrow’s appearance.
There are hundreds of species and varieties of yarrow around the world. This ubiquitous wildflower has crossed itself in the wild and undergone significant breeding in domesticated settings. Fortunately, most yarrow varieties are grown in the same way.
Our favorite types include:
- Best for Pollinators: The classic native wild-type Achillea millefolium (often labeled ‘Common Yarrow’)
- Best for Landscapes: ‘Apple Blossom,’ ‘Cerise Queen,’ and ‘Gold’
- Best for Cut Flowers: ‘Summer Pastels’ and ‘Favorite Berries’
Yarrow is one of the most durable plants in the garden, but it is not invincible. These pests and diseases may attack weak plants or those growing in subpar conditions.
Aphids, Mealybugs, and Spittlebugs
Tiny sap-sucking insects are less likely to attack yarrow than your vegetable plants, but they sometimes appear on the fern like leaves.
The easiest way to deal with any of these bugs is to simply blast your yarrow with a strong stream of water (not so strong that you damage the leaves). The water should remove any aphids, mealybugs, or spittlebugs from the plant. Be sure to do this in the morning of a sunny day so the leaves can dry off.
Alternatively, allow a few bugs to hang out on the plant and let the natural predators have their feast.
Also known as gray mold, Botrytis is the most common disease that affects yarrow. It looks like dead, brown, or gray areas on any part of the plant. There may be visible fuzzy gray mold on the flowers, stems, or leaves. This is mostly a problem in extra humid climates in the Pacific Northwest, the Northeast, or the Southeast.
Since yarrow isn’t a crop, it’s not usually the target of major disease prevention. The disease is also unlikely to kill this landscape flower. The only reason you should be worried about botrytis on yarrow is that it can spread to nearby perennials.
The easiest way to get rid of Botrytis is to carefully remove all infected stems, burn them or throw them away, sanitize your tools, and prune the plant to maintain airflow. Optionally, you can apply a diluted neem solution or organic biological fungicide like Mycostop.
If your yarrow has root rot, the leaves may turn yellow, easily wilt, and stop growing very quickly. The plants rapidly lose their vigor because their roots can no longer properly take up water.
If the rot is in its beginning stages, you can probably save the plant by digging it up and pruning off all infected parts of the root system (throw the diseased roots away or burn them). Then, divide the clump and transplant to a different area with better soil drainage.
Brown leaves and a white powdery substance on your yarrow plant are usually signs of powdery mildew. This fungal disease is caused by shady conditions, poor air circulation, or too much moisture. The alternation of cooler, humid nights and hot, dry days creates ideal conditions for these pathogenic fungi to take hold.
To get rid of powdery mildew, remove any infected parts and dispose of them. Sanitize your tools. Transplant the yarrow to a location with more sunlight and better drainage.
Prune away any dense growth to allow for more airflow inside the plant. Optionally, apply a diluted baking soda, neem oil, or organic fungicide solution.
The only Achilles heel of Achillea millefolium is that it is so resilient that it requires some maintenance to keep its growth in check. Thankfully, there are lots of ways to harvest and use your yarrow.
Thanks to its deep roots, yarrow is known as a nutrient accumulator. The plant “mines” the soil for minerals like calcium, magnesium, copper, phosphorus, and potassium, making them available to nearby plants.
Yarrow can thrive in poor soil and help improve soil quality over time. Better yet, yarrow can filter out soil contaminants like lead.
Bees, beetles, and butterflies go absolutely crazy for yarrow blossoms. If you are having pollination issues in your squash or your tomato flowers aren’t growing into fruit, a yarrow border planting may be the perfect solution.
Yarrow flowers are rich in nectar and pollen that nourish the pollinators that keep our gardens fruiting. In addition to honey bees, yarrow caters to native bees like miner bees, bumble bees, mason bees, and leafcutter bees.
Do you want your garden to have built-in resilience against pests? Instead of relying on pesticides or physical barriers, biological control (or “biocontrol”) makes use of nature’s original pest control—the “good guy” bugs like lacewings, lady beetles, and parasitic wasps. These voracious predators of aphids, flea beetles, and potato bugs all happen to be magnetized to yarrow!
Some growers import these predatory insects by releasing them in their gardens. But conservation biocontrol is the practice of planting flowers and herbs to attract native predators of pests that already live in your area.
While importing beneficial bugs can provide a quick fix for a pest outbreak, the latter method is far more effective for long-term pest management.
Yarrow is one of the most effective biocontrol species and is a recommended companion plant for nearly every garden crop. The key is to plant yarrow in the borders surrounding your vegetable garden rather than inside the crop beds themselves. Yarrow is also an amazing beneficial perennial to plant in orchards and berry beds.
Yarrow has recently become a very popular cut flower that can be integrated into bouquets and arrangements. The soft, romantic flowers make a nice textural backdrop for bolder shapes like zinnias, peonies, and dahlias.
Be sure to cut yarrow stems in the late evening or early morning when temperatures are the coolest. Check that the flower heads are fully open and the stems are firm. Yarrow stems have a long vase life of 7-12 days. They also hold up very well in dried bouquets.
Frequently Asked Questions
Where does yarrow grow best?
Yarrow is a native wildflower that thrives in sunny, dry, warm areas with well-drained soil. Yarrow struggles in soggy, poorly drained soils and shady areas without airflow. It also dislikes overly fertile or rich soils. You will see the most flowers on a yarrow plant growing out in the open with full sunlight and dry quick-draining soil.
Is yarrow easy to grow?
Yarrow is a rugged flower that requires little to no effort in the garden. This lacey, honey-scented perennial is remarkably easy to grow. As long as it has sunshine and drainage, this herbaceous flower is quite difficult to kill.
Does yarrow plant spread?
Common yarrow spreads by self-sowing seeds and sending out runners from its underground rhizomes. However, yarrow is unlikely to become invasive. Simply snip off spent blooms and divide the plant every 1-2 years to keep it in check. Plant it in landscaping beds or pollinator borders for the best results. Avoid planting yarrow inside your annual vegetable beds
With fern-like leaves that smell like pine and fluffy blooms that smell like honey, yarrow is a joy to have in the garden. This plant provides so many benefits yet asks for so little care.
It’s difficult to justify any reason for not planting it! Just remember to give yarrow full sunlight, 2-3 feet of space, and an annual refresh (cutting back dead foliage and dividing the roots) for the healthiest growth.