Wondering about growing chamomile?
Chamomile has been used for centuries as a remedy for inflammatory issues, like arthritis and colic, as well a treatment for aches and pains. It’s a popular sedative and can help reduce stress and anxiety, as established in clinical studies. As if that weren’t enough, chamomile is helpful in soothing upset stomachs or reducing nausea. Applied topically, chamomile can reduce skin irritations. The great news is that growing chamomile is very easy, so you can enjoy all the benefits this herb has to offer easily. Here’s how to grow annual and perennial chamomile.
Perennial Chamomile vs. Annual Chamomile
There are two common varieties of chamomile. Roman chamomile is perennial, so you can plant it once and harvest flowers for years. German chamomile is an annual, so it needs to be grown from seed each year. The tradeoff is that it gets taller and has the potential to produce more flowers. In nearly every way, the flowers from both are identical, so you can use them interchangeably.
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How do you grow chamomile?
It’s a really easy plant to grow, especially in Zones 4-9. Both annual and perennial chamomile varieties need sun to flower but the plants don’t care for extremely hot weather. When the temperature climbs, the plants tend to get leggy and aren’t likely to flower. Because of this, those growing in places with hot summers might want to grow Roman chamomile or plant their annual chamomile early in order to get the most blossoms.
In climates with longer growing seasons, it can flower a second time. It’s best to sheer the plants back after the first bloom to encourage new flowers and to keep the plants looking compact and healthy. The perennial version will often keep some green foliage over the winter, which can be a nice way to keep a little winter color.
Chamomile Growing Conditions
Both the annual and perennial versions are easy, unfussy plants. They’ll grow well in nearly any soil. Once established, they can tolerate both wet and dry conditions. In most US growing zones, the plants need 6-8 hours of sunlight to produce flowers vigorously. In very hot climates, late day sun can cause them to become leggy.
Avoid fertilizing chamomile as it can reduce the aromatic compounds in the leaves and flowers.
Growing Perennial Chamomile
It can be started from seeds but the germination rate is fairly low. One the other hand, one four inch plant will spread rapidly and can easily take over a foot or more of bed space in no time. This may be one of the easiest plants to propagate from cuttings or divisions, so even if you only purchase one plant, you can have a large patch within a year.
It’s pretty forgiving about being walked on (gently) or otherwise disturbed, so it makes a great filler between pavers. Some people even grow chamomile lawns in areas where there isn’t a lot of heavy foot traffic! Chamomile can outcompete some weeds, mostly by keeping soil covered and preventing germination. It’s less effective against weeds that spread by runners or rhizomes.
The plants have a wonderful aroma that is fresh and vaguely citrusy, which is another great reason to grow them along a path. I use mine as edging for my perennial herb bed. It does a great job keeping weeds and grass out and if it gets nipped by the lawn mower, the foliage grows right back.
Roman chamomile grows around 12″ tall.
Once established, perennial chamomile doesn’t need much maintenance, other than a seasonal trim.
Growing Annual Chamomile
German chamomile seeds are very small and have a germination rate around 50-70%. It can be started indoors and moved outside after the last frost date in your area. If your growing conditions are favorable, it can be directly sown in the bed. German chamomile will happily re-seed, so once a patch is established, you may never need to sow seeds again! Be sure to leave some of the flowers unharvested if you want your patch to re-seed.
Unlike Roman, German can grow to 18″ and it may produce more flowers, in optimal conditions. Serious chamomile connoisseurs can grow both types and enjoy the best of both worlds.
Does chamomile grow fast?
I’m not kidding about how easy it is to propagate nor how fast it will fill in. This border is only a year old and the entire thing came from dividing a single four inch plug plant into smaller pieces.
Despite its rapid growth, it’s very easy to control. Just pull up the runners and either plant them elsewhere or use them in the kitchen.
Growing chamomile in pots
Chamomile will grow in pots or containers very happily. I prefer to put annual chamomile in pots and perennial chamomile in the ground but both will grow in containers. Keep in mind the perennial version likes to spread and grows closer to the ground. If you want to grow it in a container, be sure it has room to spread out.
Growing German chamomile in a container
Annual German chamomile looks lovely in a pot or container! Sow the seeds directly into the container or transplant seedlings started indoors. Keep the container well watered but ensure it has good drainage. If the plant starts to look ‘leggy’, try moving it to a location that gets a bit of late afternoon dappled shade. If flower production seems low, move the container to a slightly sunnier spot.
If you grow Roman chamomile, propagation is a cinch. You can either divide established plants or remove new growth and transplant it.
Propagating from runners
The plant will send out sturdy runners by mid-season, and these runners will make a long root just under the soil. Just select a large section of runner root and leaves and cut it off the main plant. Immediately rebury the root in the desire spot and water lightly to pack the soil around it.
Propagating by division
As long as the plant is a year old and in good growing condition, you can divide it to make new plants. Each division will rapidly grow and become the size of the original plant! Propagation herbs by division is almost like magic – here’s how to do it.
Dig the plant up, gently. Divide it into 2,3 or 4 chunks, ensuring each chunk has a root. The roots are pale brown and easy to spot. Immediately put each clump into its new spot and cover with soil. Water the new plants right away to help settle the soil around the roots and ease the transplant shock.
How to propagate chamomile successfully
This rugged plant can tolerate a fair amount of stress but if you follow these propagation tips, your plants will flourish.
- Avoid splitting or transplanting in peak summer heat. High temperatures will stress the transplants significantly and it will be harder for them to establish.
- Unless the weather is extremely hot, the new plant will settle in quickly and start growing. Give it a little water for the first few days to help it along
- It’s best to propagate by division early in the season and to propagate from runners towards the end of the season.
- Prepare the soil in the transplant area before you start working with the parent plant. That way you can take the new plants directly to their new home and get them in the dirt.
In June, the plants will form cute little white flowers with yellow centers. The easiest method of chamomile harvesting is gently raking your hands through the plants or by using a harvesting rake (they’re amazing!). If you’re growing more than a couple of plants, the rake is a great investment. As noted, it’s possible in warmer zones to get a second round of flowers in the later summer or early fall.
Harvesting chamomile flowers each day will encourage the plants to make new flowers, thus increasing the yield and prolonging the harvest. Once flowering tapers off, try cutting the plants back a few inches. In many climates, the plants will be able to flower again towards the end of the growing season.
Remember, if you’re growing annual chamomile and you want it to re-seed, be sure to leave a few flowers on the plant. These flowers will go to seed and drop next year’s plants into the soil. For most vigorous reseeding, allow a few flowers to seed out over the course of the growing season.
Chamomile Seeds: how to harvest and save chamomile seeds
It’s easy to harvest chamomile seeds if you don’t want to rely on your patch to self-seed or you want to plant them elsewhere. Once the plant flowers, allow some of the chamomile flowers to set seeds and dry on the plant. Then carefully harvest the dried chamomile flowers and place them on a screen. In the book The Complete Guide to Saving Seeds, the Goughs suggest drying the seed heads on a screen for at least two weeks. Then gently rub the dry flowers to separate the tiny seeds from the petals and chafe. Store in a cool, dark place in a closed container.
Chamomile seeds do not require cold stratification but they can be slow to germinate.
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