June 19, 2014
Yarrow: A Garden Spotlight Bees Will  Love - Photo by Jessica Walliser (HobbyFarms.com)
Photo by Jessica Walliser

Of the hundreds of different perennials I grow in my garden, common yarrow (Achillea millefolium) is a personal favorite. In its straight species form, this widely distributed North American native plant is so common that it’s even considered an invasive weed in some regions. Most gardeners, however, do not purposefully grow the white-flowered straight species. Instead they turn to one of dozens of different subspecies, varieties and cultivars.

Pick a Color
With selections that range in color from pink and purple to red and yellow, common yarrow bears hairy, feathery, lance-shaped leaves that are distinctly fragranced. Its many small flowers are combined into a flat-topped flower structure that is very inviting to many butterflies, bees and other pollinators. The flowers are very long-lasting and provide weeks of color in the garden, but their top-heavy structure means that the plants may require staking, particularly if they are sited in less-than-full sun. Some of my favorite cultivars include Paprika with spicy red flowers, Cerise Queen with hot-pink flowers, Salmon Beauty with peachy-pink blossoms, and Summer Wine with deep-pink/maroon flower heads.

Much breeding has been occurring within the species over the past dozen or so years, yielding some shorter-statured varieties, perfect for smaller gardens. My favorite petite yarrows include the red Angelique, light-pink Heidi and blood-red Red Velvet. Petite varieties reach only 18 to 25 inches in height, about half the height of regular cultivars.

From Across the Pond
Another species of yarrow, A. filipendulina, or fern-leaf yarrow, is another prized plant in my garden. It’s a European introduction that bears densely packed, flat-topped flower clusters in a brilliant golden yellow. The foliage is grey-green and slightly fuzzy. It, too, provides a long season of color with flower clusters that can reach a hearty 5 inches across. By mid-summer, the flowers of the fern-leaf yarrow growing in my yard are loaded with beneficial insects and pollinators of all sorts.

Three readily sourced selections of fern-leaf yarrow have every garden covered, no matter its size. The cultivar Coronation Gold reaches a whopping 3 feet tall, while Gold Coin Dwarf hits a mere 15 inches, and pint-sized Goldie tops out at just 8 inches tall. Cute as a button!

Grow It
Maintenance and care for both types of yarrow is a breeze. Stake taller varieties early in the season to prevent flopping and keep the plants regularly deadheaded for maximum bloom production, removing spent flower stems all the way down to the base of the plant. To prevent reduced flowering and crowding, divide yarrow by lifting and separating plants every four to five years.

Common yarrow is drought tolerant and prefers gardens with a minimum of 6 to 8 hours of full sun. The dense mat of lacy foliage they produce before the flower stalks arrive is one of my favorite early season garden textures. Common yarrow is hardy from USDA zones 3 to 8 and blooms from late spring through late summer. The average size of most cultivars is 2 to 3 feet in height with an equal spread.

Both common yarrow and fern-leaf yarrow are worthwhile workhorse perennials that gardeners should welcome into their landscape.

Grow more pollinator-friendly plants:

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