How to Grow Common Yarrow

yellow yarrow

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

The perennial flowering common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) goes by many names—gordaldo, nosebleed plant, and old man's pepper—to name a few. In the southwestern U.S., it's often referred to as a plumajillo, the Spanish word for "little feather" because of the plant's leaf shape and texture. They can grow to reach over 3 feet tall during their growing season. The plant features flower stalks that are nearly four times its foliage height and fern-like feathery green leaves. The best time to plant this herbaceous perennial with golden-hued flowers is in the fall. It has a delicate beauty but can also be considered an aggressive weed. It's native to temperate regions of Asia and Europe's northern hemisphere and was introduced to North America during the colonial era.

Botanical Name Achillea millefolium
Common Name Yarrow, common yarrow, gordaldo, nosebleed plant, old man's pepper, devil's nettle, sanguinary, milfoil, soldier's woundwort, thousand-leaf, thousand-seal
Plant Type Herbaceous flowering perennial
Mature Size 2 to 3 feet tall, 2 to 3 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full sun
Soil Type Sandy, loamy, clay, well-draining
Soil pH 4 to 8 (acidic, neutral, and alkaline)
Bloom Time June to September
Flower Color White, yellow, pink, red
Hardiness Zones 3 to 9
Native Area Northern hemisphere of Asia, Europe, and North America
Toxicity Toxic to cats, dogs, horses; potential minor skin irritation to humans

Common Yarrow Care

Common yarrow is drought-tolerant and will grow well in poor soil. It's an ideal plant for xeriscaping in desert environments. Yarrow is most often propagated, so you will likely buy it as a plant. To add it to your garden, loosen the soil about 12 to 15 inches deep and add 2 to 4 inches of compost; mix it in well. Make sure you use well-draining soil; yarrow cannot tolerate wet soil. Space the plants 1 to 2 feet apart so that they can establish easily.

Common yarrow doesn't need much attention, but it can be susceptible to botrytis mold and powdery mildew, both of which will appear as a white powder on the leaves. Treat it with an appropriate fungicide. Yarrow can also be affected by spittlebugs, which look like a speck of spit on plants. If the number of bugs becomes overwhelming, hose them off and use an insecticide applied under high pressure.

Yarrow 'Little Moonshine'
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Light

Yarrow prefers full sunlight, but it can grow in partial shade. If the plant doesn't get enough sunlight, the long, thin stems can become floppy and need staking.

Soil

Common yarrow grows best in dry to medium, well-drained soils, whether sandy clay or sandy loams. It can tolerate poor garden soils. In fact, soils that are too nutrient-rich will encourage aggressive growth, so avoid fertilizer.

Water

Common yarrow is drought-tolerant, but if the garden receives less than 1 inch of rain in any given week, give the plant extra water.

Temperature and Humidity

Yarrow can tolerate hot, humid days, and drought.

Fertilizer

Yarrow plants are low-maintenance. An annual side-dressing with compost should be enough. A soil that is too nutrient-rich may encourage the invasive spread of the yarrow plant.

Is Common Yarrow Toxic?

Common yarrow is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. People may experience some skin sensitivity when touching the plant. However, humans eat all parts of the plant and commonly make tea from the flowers for its medicinal treatment of hay fever, colds, and stomach ailments.

Symptoms of Poisoning

In animals, consumption can cause vomiting and diarrhea as well as depression, anorexia, and hypersalivation. In humans, touching the yarrow plant can, in some rare cases, cause skin rashes as well as increase the skin's photosensitivity.

Common Yarrow Varieties

  • 'Apple Blossom' syn. 'Apfelblute': A cross between A. millefolium and A. taygetea; features purple-pinkish flowers that are 2 to 3 inches wide
  • 'Cerise Queen': Grows deep pink flowers and dark green foliage; grows to between 1 to 3 feet tall at maturity
  • 'Little Moonshine': Compact variety that only grows to 9 to 12 inches tall; features bright yellow flowers and silvery-green leaves
  • 'New Vintage Red': Grows to 12 to 15 inches tall with vibrant red flowers and bright green leaves
  • 'Paprika': A Galaxy hybrid that grows brick-red flowers that are 2 to 3 inches wide with blooms that eventually fade to shades of pink
yarrow in the garden
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault 
Yarrow 'apple blossom'
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault
Yarrow with white flowers
The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Pruning

Yarrow needs pruning regularly. Deadheading will keep the flowers in near-continual bloom. Plant stems can begin to flop if grown in a hot, humid climate. Cut back the plant stems in late spring before blooms come in to reduce plant height and avoid flopping. Yarrow can become invasive. Pruning will keep the plant in check by preventing self-sowing.

Propagating Common Yarrow

Yarrow grows easily from seed. In ideal growing conditions, yarrow can spread rapidly and sometimes aggressively. Divide every two to three years, as needed, to maintain the vitality of the planting.

How to Grow Common Yarrow From Seed

Start yarrow from seeds indoors about six to eight weeks before the last predicted frost. Sow the seeds in standard potting soil and put the plant in a warm, sunny location. In about 14 to 21 days, the seeds will begin to germinate.

Potting and Repotting Yarrow

Common yarrow grows tall, up to 40 inches. To accommodate this growth, get a large potting container when planting the seeds or transplanting the seedlings.

Overwintering

In late autumn, as the temperature starts to drop dramatically, before the first frost, you can help yarrow maintain its vitality by pruning back to its basal leaves or foliage at the base of the stem. The basal leaves will protect the yarrow plant during the winter.