Butterflies & Bees in the Garden · Perennials

Yay for Yarrow!

Achillea & Larkspur

When temperatures are high and the amount of rainfall is low, I am especially thankful for perennials, like yarrow, that scoff at summer’s dog days. In fact, yarrow prefers full sun and average soil with excellent drainage. Want to make yarrow unhappy? Plant it in fertile soil and water regularly.

Native to Europe and parts of Asia, the genus Achillea is named for Achilles, the Greek mythological hero, who used it to treat his soldiers’ wounds. Yarrow, as it is commonly called, made its way to North America in colonial times.

There are many species of Achillea. When folks in this area talk about yarrow, they are usually talking about Achillea millefolium, Achillea filipendulina or one of the many cultivars now available.

Achillea millefolium typically grows 2 to 3 feet tall and blooms from June to September on lax stems that often flop from the weight of their flattened clusters of white flowers. The green, fern-like foliage of Achillea millefolium smells spicy when bruised. Plants spread aggressively by both self-seeding and by rhizomes. So aggressively, in fact, that many consider it to be too weedy for planting in gardens.

Achillea filipendulina, commonly called fern-leaf yarrow, grows in clumps 2 to 3 feet wide. Tiny, golden, flattened flower clusters bloom all summer long on 3- to 4-foot tall stems over green, hairy, fern-like basal foliage. Staking of flowers is often required.

Who wants to plant Achillea millefolium or Achillea filipendulina with their flopping flowers? Not me! Thankfully, gardeners can enjoy the benefit of yarrow’s drought tolerance and enjoy beautiful, non-drooping  flowers. There is now a wide range of cultivars, most selected for strong stems that hold larger flowers without flopping. Many also offer flowers in new colors.

Achillea millefolium ‘Paprika’ sports dusty ruby-red flowers with tiny golden centers on 2-foot stems. The color of flowers quickly fades to pink, creating a bi-color effect. Plants spread, but less aggressively than the species. Plant some yellow-flowering zinnias nearby to highlight the yellow centers of the yarrow and to set a table butterflies won’t be able to resist.

Achillea 'Saucy Seduction'
Achillea ‘Saucy Seduction’
Achillea 'Sunny Seduction'
Achillea ‘Sunny Seduction’

The Seduction series of Achillea millefolium comes from the Netherlands. ‘Saucy Seduction’ shows off bright, rose-pink flowers with tiny white centers on 2-foot stems; ‘Strawberry Seduction’ boasts strawberry-red flowers with yellow centers on 18-inch stems; and the soft yellow flowers of ‘Sunny Seduction’ bloom on 2-foot stems.

Achillea 'Coronation Gold'

Achillea ‘Coronation Gold’ is one of my favorites. It features golden-yellow flowers that rise above gray-green foliage on very strong stems up to 3 feet tall. Flowers hold their color for a long time.

Achillea 'Moonshine'

Achillea ‘Moonshine’ is a bit smaller than ‘Coronation Gold’ and its blooms are lighter. Its lemon-yellow flowers bloom above silvery foliage. Both are clump-forming types and are beautiful partnered with blue-flowering salvia or Russian sage.

Achillea 'Terra Cotta'

The flowers of Achillea ‘Terra Cotta’ displays an earthy color combination of peachy pink, orange and coppery bronze. They bloom on 2- to 3-foot stems. Picture these planted with goldenrod in front of ornamental grasses for a smooth and colorful transition into fall.

Regardless of the variety chosen, there are some general guidelines for caring for yarrow:
1) Plant it in full sun in average, well-drained soil.
2) Cut back plant stems after flowering to encourage another round of blooms.
3) Divide plants every 3 to 4 years to help them maintain vigor.

Cut some blooms of yarrow to use in bouquets or to dry for dried arrangements. Harvest them in the morning or evening, when temperatures are cool. Choose clusters with just half of the flowers open. Slit stems up the bottom and put them in cool water to condition. Flowers last up to a week in arrangements. The fragrant foliage is pretty in bouquets, too.

To dry flowers, hang them upside down or stand stems in a vase without water in a spot out of direct sunlight. Flowers can also be pressed.

Yarrow & Daisies

Yarrow is a rugged perennial equally at home in the herb garden, cottage garden or perennial border. Today is the perfect day to head out to a local garden center and make friends with a new variety. Garden with me!

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