Yarrow (Achillea millefolium): A Seasonal Look

The joy of summer green and beauty of cool white are accurate descriptors of the Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, in my garden.   Gifted to me as a passalong plant some 20 odd years ago, it is a plant that is lovely to view and easy to grow.

A member of the Asteraceae (Aster) family, common Yarrow grows throughout a large area of continental North America.  According to the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center (LBJWC) plant data base, the plant is classified as both a single species with varieties and as multiple distinct species. 

My guess is that mine is the true native variety, considering how long I’ve had the plant (hybrids and cultivars are now more readily available than when I was given my Yarrow starts) and that the blooms are a natural snowy white, rather than hybrid pink or yellow.  Yarrow’s fine foliage is 5-6  inches tall and acts as a lacy ground cover for most of the year.   In early spring, the graceful low-growing foliage grows anew and also sends bloom stalks upward to meet the spring sky.  In time, buds appear at the terminal ends of multiple branches.

Depending upon sun amounts received, Yarrow bloom stalks can reach upwards to three feet.  Mine all grow with some shade, which is ideal for Yarrow. While Yarrow is a great plant for shade or part shade, in my experience, deep shade will render the plant a full-time, evergreen ground cover, but it abandons all attempts at blooming.

But with some sun, the garden benefits from both beautiful foliage and flowers.

By May and throughout June, the disk flowers open for pollinator business and gardener admiration.

Most of the pollinators I see on Yarrow are of a diminutive sort; these include many types of flies, tiny native bees, and the smaller butterflies.

This Horsefly-like Carpenter bee is one of the larger pollinators to visit my Yarrow blooms.

 

I grow Yarrow in several areas of my garden and it’s complementary to other members of a perennial garden.

Additionally, Yarrow adds a prairie quality to the summer garden.   The prime bloom time lasts about 6-8 weeks, but even when the flowers fade, Yarrow remains handsome.

 

Into July, a toasty quality appears on Yarrow as the pure white flowers go to seed. As summer settles in with its heat and glaring sun, the flowers decline, seeds develops and Yarrow’s pure white tops turn tan and toasty.

The white Yarrow blooms are hard to improve upon, but as the plant undergoes its seasonal evolution, I don’t mind the transition from blooms to seed.  It’s a gradual transition and the plant remains attractive for most of summer.

I’ve seen House Finches and Lesser Goldfinches nibbling at the Yarrow seeds, so along with it acting as a good pollinator plant, other wildlife benefit from this perennial as its growing season advances.

Yarrow’s flower-to-seed heads beauty doesn’t last forever, though. Typically, by the time the flowers are long done and the seed heads are crumbling, the bloom stalks are also bent with age and environmental impacts.  After all, they’ve held aloft sweet blooms and nutty seeds for many to enjoy through spring thunder and wind storms and searing summer sun.   Bottom line:  Yarrow is messy by late summer.

Sometimes, parts of the foliage turns brown in sympathy with the beige seed heads.

Once the bloom stalks have flopped for good, I cut them back.   There’s no real art or skill with this pruning, it’s just about cutting the now-brown stalks at or near the ground, which usually reveals new ground cover growth settling in place for the coming seasons:  autumn, winter, spring.

In the above photo, the remains of pruned stalks lie disguarded outside of the garden’s limestone border; you can see new Yarrow foliage emerged on the other side of the limestone.  This foliage will be the basis of the ground cover which will flush out during autumn and remain evergreen in winter.

In especially dry summers and/or if I haven’t irrigated, the new ground cover foliage endures a breaking-in period where it’s sparse and ratty looking; Yarrow down-time usually occurs in August.  Fortunately, the ugly duckling phase doesn’t last long,  because the foliage quickly greens up and fills in with help from the shorter days and regular rainfall that September normally brings.

 

While Yarrow flowers produce seeds (those finches are eating something!), the only spread I’ve observed is with the roots of established plants.  In this shot, the foliage has crept out of the border of the garden and into a walkway.  I’m tolerant of this creeping action–to a point.  When I’ve had enough of Yarrow’s teen-like testing of boundaries, I simply dig out the offenders and toss them into the compost bin or give to another gardener.  With healthy attached roots and a smidge of extra watering, Yarrow transplants easily.

 

By autumn, brilliant green, ferny foliage returns and the groundcover is set for the upcoming cool seasons.

I’ve experienced no insect or disease problems with Yarrow and it’s a drought tolerant plant.   Another plus with planting Yarrow is that it is deer resistant.  Its foliage and flowers are fragrant and has been used for medicinal purposes.  I’m not big on cut flowers, but Yarrow is a nice addition to a vase.

Because it’s somewhat statuesque from April to August and low-to-the ground for the rest of the year, care should be exercised when considering placement of Yarrow:  it works in the back of a bed during its peak blooming time, but will be unseen for the remainder of the year. My solution has been to plant all my Yarrow along pathways and pair it with similar sized plants.

Whether you purchase Yarrow or it’s given to you as a passalong plant, treasure it!  Yarrow is easy to grow and lovely to look at.

In Spring:

 

Summer:

My sweet old dog, Asher, enjoying the garden one afternoon, several years ago.  Asher died late last summer.

 

Late Summer:

Yarrow in its ground cover mode planted with Chili pequin (top right) and a container plant (left).

 

Autumn and Winter:

 

 

Hot. Pink.

Central Texas bounced through spring, skipping over late May and June, and landed, smack dab, in July.  Or so it seems when venturing outdoors.  It’s hot here, hotter than it should be in late spring, and hotter than this perspiring gardener prefers.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mind the heat–in July, August, and I’ll even tolerate it for some of September.  But as the temps creep ever closer, day-by-day, toward 100F / 38C (in the forecast for the next few days), this toasty trend heralds the coming of the The Long Hot of summer here in Austin.

The heat is a little early for my taste, but as the saying goes:  Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody does anything about it.

These Rock rosePavonia lasiopetala, are also hot, hot, hot, but in the pink sort of way.   I’m certainly not complaining about them.

The sunflowers nod their approval of Rock rose.

Most of my Rock rose began blooming toward the end of April and are still pinking-up the garden.  I’ll prune them in the next few weeks as they bloom best on new wood.  They’ll continue to flower in our hot weather and with minimal water, but the flowers will close in mid-afternoon to conserve moisture.

We all hunker down in the heat.

Rock rose mix nicely with other early summer bloomers, like Big red sage, Salvia penstemonoides, and YarrowAchillea millefolium.

I transplanted the Big red sage in the fall from my increasingly shady back garden. They’re much happier here.  The Yarrow is also blooming better now that the front garden receives more sun.

 

This little guy looks like he’s waiting for me to leave, so that he can enjoy his breakfast of petals or leaves.

Look closely at the pollen grains on his legs.

I prefer seeing this little gal.

Slurp, slurp with her little bee proboscis.

 

Summer has arrived: time to don hats, slather sunscreen, gulp water, enjoy (or tolerate) the heat,

…and value the flowers of summer.

 

Wildflower Wednesday, August 2014

Today I join Gail at clay and limestone with heat loving wildflowers for August. No longer cool nor even somewhat pleasant, we’re crawling down the hard stretch of summer here in Austin, Texas. But the light is different and once in a great while, I feel a slight change to the breeze. When there is a breeze.  I say that every year, to anyone who will listen: Sometime in August there is a change–the air is different, the breeze is different! Usually those I’m in conversation with roll their eyes and smirk.

I get lots of smirks.

There’s no smirking though when viewing  this hot, summer/fall blooming GoldeneyeViguiera dentata.

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A few of these flowers open throughout the summer months, but in October? Watch out! There will be an explosion of yellow.

The ridiculously pink Rock RosePavonia lasiopetala, is a long-blooming native perennial. These pinks,

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look almost too pink.  They open in the wee hours before dawn and close in the afternoon heat.  This group is tired of the heat and are closing up shop for the day,

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…while this group contends with both heat and sun.

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By 4pm in hot August, Rock Rose blooms are done for the day. Fresh, perky blossoms will open for business early the next morning.

The glory of Purple ConeflowerEchinacea purpurea, 

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is over for the year.   I leave the gone-to-seed flower heads as long as possible for finch nibbling, but the blooms are crispy now and I’ve pruned most back to their rosettes. After the spring/summer blooms are done and pruned, there’s usually a second flowering that is shorter in stature, but very welcomed,

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…by pollinators and people.  Later in fall, Purple Coneflower will segue again into seed production for winter finch food.

YarrowAchillea millefolium, is taking a bow for its long bloom season as well.  All of mine, save this patch,

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are pruned to their ground foliage for the year.  I’ve always found the ecru disks of spent blooms as attractive as the snowy white of the peak of Yarrow season, so I keep them through the long summer months.

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The finches appreciate the seeds, too.

Turk’s Cap,  Malvaviscus arboreus, blooms magnificently during this toasty time of year.

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Visited by bees,

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Turk’s Cap produce scads of swirled lovelies with pollen and nectar galore and will do so for another month or two.

Frostweed, Verbesina virginica, employs a hopeful common name.

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Frost.  That’s hard to imagine right now. Frostweed’s snowy blooms evoke a coolness we can only dream about with our daily 100 degree-plus temperatures and the death rays of the August sun.

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Flowering will continue into September, giving way to seed production in the fall.

Slather on the sunscreen, drink plenty of fluids and traipse over to clay and limestone to see other hot August wildflowers.