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Yarrow yields valuable herb, perennial flowers
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Yarrow is considered an herb, a perennial and a leader for cut-and-dried flower arrangements, yet it is still overlooked by many Southern gardeners.
There have been many herbal uses for yarrow. The leaves have a peppery taste and have been used finely chopped in salads while the flowers have been used to flavor liqueurs. It has a reputation in France for medicinal purposes where it was called carpenter's herb in the belief that it has healing properties when used on the hands of working folks.
Yarrow, known botanically as Achillea millefolium, is named for the Greek hero Achilles who is said to have discovered its medicinal properties. It is native to Europe and western Asia, and is now naturalized in many parts of the world.
It is one of those plants that tends to make gardeners look as though they have a green thumb. The yarrow doesn't require the most luxuriant of soils to perform and put on a show, but it does require good drainage. Plant in full sun for best flower production, and plant on raised beds if you aren't sure about your drainage.
As you prepare your bed, incorporate a pound of 5-10-5 fertilizer per 100 square feet of bed space. Depending on variety, they will reach 12 to 42 inches in height, so you may want to place some toward the back of the border and some in the middle. Space plants 18 to 24inches apart as recommended by your selection. Yarrow is also easy to grow from direct seeding. Plant in bold drifts to create the best show.
Some of the prettiest gardens I have seen used yellow yarrow as a buffer between ox-eye or Shasta daisies and pink verbenas. I have seen striking combinations with Russian sage, the blue anise sage and the old fashioned larkspur. They work well with drought-tolerant plants like lantana and gomphrena. Don't overlook the gray-to-green leaves with a fern-like texture as an asset in the garden.
Harvest yarrow while still in bloom and before any flowers start to turn brown. Hang them upside down in a well-ventilated room until dry. After spring bloom, cut stalks down to the ground to encourage new growth and another fall bloom. You will notice good butterfly activity on this plant, giving it another check mark in the attributes column.
Yarrow is a prolific spreader, which is a quality I am finding more and more gardeners appreciate. On the other hand, if you want to suppress the spread, pluck unwanted plants and deadhead before flowers have a chance to re-seed. One of the best cottage gardens in the country is located in Corinth. There, the yarrow, larkspurs and hollyhocks all re-seed for a dazzling show. If you want to divide, it is best to do it in the fall.
Achillea millefolium, or common yarrow, is available in varieties like Fire King, almost a dozen colors of Debutante, and Summer Pastels, an All-American Selections winner series from 1990. Cerise Queen with its cherry-red blooms is still one of the most popular. Coronation Gold is a superior variety of Achillea filipendulina.