Common Yarrow Plant Profile

yarrow in the wild
The wild yarrow I see growing in New England has clusters of white flowers. David Beaulieu

The perennial flower yarrow goes by a great number of names—gordaldo, nosebleed plant, and old man's pepper, just to name a few. In Southwestern U.S. states, it's often referred to a plumajillo, the Spanish word for "little feather" because of the plant's leaf shape and texture.

For most, though, it's simply common yarrow (Achillea millefolium), an herbaceous perennial that has a delicate beauty but can also be considered an aggressive weed. It's native to temperate regions of the Northern Hemisphere of Asia and Europe, but the plant was introduced to North America during the Colonial times. The plant features flower stalks that are nearly four times its foliage height and fern-like feathery green leaves.

Common Yarrow
Botanical Name Achillea millefolium
Common Name Yarrow, common yarrow, gordaldo, nosebleed plant, old man's pepper, devil's nettle, sanguinary, milfoil, soldier's woundowrt, 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 4.0 to 8.0
Bloom Time June to September
Flower Color White, yellow
Hardiness Zones 3 to 9
Native Area Northern hemisphere of Asia, Europe, and North America

How to Grow Yarrow

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. The soil should be well-drained, as yarrow cannot tolerate wet soil. Space the plants 1 to 2 feet apart, as they don't have any trouble getting established and spreading.

Because common yarrow is drought-tolerant and grows well in poor soil, it's ideal for xeriscaping in desert environments.

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 to be staked.

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 they should be avoided.

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

A. millefolium can tolerate both hot, humid days, as well as drought.

Fertilizer

Yarrow plants are very low-maintenance, so an annual side-dressing with compost should be enough. A soil that is too nutrient-rich can encourage invasive spreading of the yarrow plant.

Propagating Yarrow

In ideal growing conditions, yarrow can spread rapidly, although not necessarily aggressively. Divide every two to three years, as needed, to maintain the vitality of the planting.

Varieties of Yarrow

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

Toxicity of Yarrow

Common yarrow is toxic to dogs, cats, and horses. Consumption can cause vomiting and diarrhea, as well as depression, anorexia, and hypersalivation.

In humans, touching yarrow can, in rare cases, cause skin rashes, as well as increase the skin's photosensitivity.

Pruning

Yarrow needs to be pruned regularly for a few reasons: First, deadheading will keep the flowers in near-continual bloom. Additionally, the plant stems can begin to flop, particularly if it's grown in a hot, humid climate. Cut back the plant stems in late spring, before the yarrow flowers, to reduce the plant height and avoid that flopping. Finally, yarrow can, in certain conditions, become invasive. Pruning will help keep the plant in check by avoiding self-sowing.

Growing Yarrow from Seeds

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

Common Pests and Diseases

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 little bit of spit on plants. If the number of bugs seems overwhelming, first hose them off with water and then move onto using an insecticide applied under high pressure.