Dictionary of Flowers: Achillea (Yarrow)

Purple and yellow Yarrow. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Spherical Bull and Flickr
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Purple and yellow Yarrow. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Spherical Bull and Flickr

  • Achillea
  • Common name: yarrow
  • Family: Asteraceae
  • Category: Perennial in USDA zones 3-9
  • Height: 8" to 24", depending on species
  • Width: 12" to 18", depending on species
  • Sun
  • Blooms: early summer to early fall
  • Attracts: butterflies
  • Growth habit: clump forming. Used as a filler in container combinations
  • Maintenance: easy
  • Soil: average to poor, free draining. Water regularly if grown in containers. Drought tolerant when established
  • Garden uses: containers, mixed border, rockery
  • Diseases: powdery mildew, rot
  • Pests: aphids

Yarrow's botanical name is derived from the Greek hero Achilles, who could heal wounds. It is a reference to the plant's medicinal uses.

Yarrow is a drought tolerant perennial native to Europe and Asia that blooms for a long period and is available in a variety of colors, including yellow, white, red, pink, and pale shades of orange, such as cream, apricot and terracotta.

The silver-green colored foliage is interesting even when yarrow is not in bloom. Yarrow's small flowers appear in flat clusters that stand above the leaves.

It prefers well drained soil, both when planted on the ground and when grown in containers. It is easy to maintain, requiring deadheading for a longer bloom period.

Yarrow prefers lean soil, but it can handle a little organic fertilizer or compost tea. Soil that is too rich will result in plants that flop or don’t bloom well.

A close-up of the surprisingly intricate flowers of a white Yarrow. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Thiophene_Guy and Flickr
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A close-up of the surprisingly intricate flowers of a white Yarrow. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Thiophene_Guy and Flickr

Clumps spread after a few years and need division either in spring or fall. In fall, cut back clumps to ensure vigorous growth the next season.

Yarrow is easily available in nurseries during spring. It can be grown from seed, either by wintersowing or by starting indoors. In either case, it can take two seasons for yarrow grown from seed to bloom.

Sow seed in late winter on moist seed starting mix and keep the temperature between 60 to 75°F. Seed requires light to germinate. Seedlings appear in about 10 days.

Achillea Seedlings

When the seedlings have a few pairs of true leaves, pinch back and transplant to a larger pot. They need to be hardened off for about two weeks before planting outdoors, after the risk of frost has passed.

Seeds from hybrid varieties will not come true to the parent plant. It is best to divide the plant or take stem cuttings in spring and summer.

Yarrow attracts butterflies. It is deer-resistant.

Overgrown Yarrow in a container. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Gail Frederick and Flickr
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Overgrown Yarrow in a container. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Gail Frederick and Flickr

If powdery mildew appears, treat with sulfur. Aphids can be knocked down with a strong spray of water or treated with insecticide.

Popular varieties:

  • Hybrid 'Moonshine' - yellow, 1 to 2 feet tall
  • Millefolium 'Cerise Queen' - bright pink, 18 to 24 inches
  • Achillea ptarmica 'Gypsy White' - white, 12 inches
  • Achillea millefolium 'Seduction' series - different colors, 2 feet tall
  • Flipendulina 'Gold Plate' - 3 to 4 feet tall, bright yellow
  • Achillea 'Summer Pastels' Series - 18 to 24 inches, pastel colors
A stunning red and yellow Yarrow. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Joel Dinda and Flickr
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A stunning red and yellow Yarrow. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Joel Dinda and Flickr

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