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Growing Chamomile: The Complete Guide to Plant, Grow, and Harvest Chamomile
I love growing chamomile. My chamomile plants sit in my backyard herb and flower garden nestled next to my patio where I have my swing and rocking chairs. The tall plant adds height next to the sprawling mint that I can’t seem to contain no matter how hard I try, and the delicate flowers smell so wonderful when we brush against them.
But chamomile is more than an appealing addition to the garden. Did you know people in ancient Greece, Egypt, and Rome valued it for its medicinal properties? Historically, this multi-purpose herb was used to treat a variety of ailments, from hay fever to menstrual disorders. Today, it’s most commonly known for its sedative effect that helps ease insomnia and for its ability to ease upset stomachs.
Speaking of, do you enjoy a cup of hot chamomile tea before you head to bed? Then you need to try it fresh out of the garden. Dried tea is delicious, but fresh flowers give the tea a sweet, floral, apple flavor that you can only get straight off the plant.
Once the flowering season is over, you can dry it and use it all year long. I dry the chamomile that I grow each fall and use in herbal teas and herbal bath sachets for my kids. Once, I was intimidated by growing this lovely herb, but it’s not as hard as you might think.
There are two common species of chamomile: German and Roman.
Roman chamomile spreads via rhizome and can take over an area if you aren't careful. If you plant Roman chamomile, be sure to select a permanent spot or consider growing it in a container. It's low-growing, so it makes a charming ground cover or pot filler around taller flowers. Roman chamomile can grow in zones 3-9.
Flore Pleno is a double-flowered variety that has a low-growing habit. It can tolerate heat and drought and is evergreen in zones 4-9.
Treneague is a non-flowering variety that forms an evergreen mat in areas with mild winters. It's suitable as a lawn replacement. It can handle drought and resists deer.
German chamomile is an annual plant that grows best in USDA hardiness zones 4-9. The plant reaches around 2 feet in height. It’s an aggressive self-seeder, which means that even though it’s an annual, it may return year after year.
Bodegold is a German variety that has large flowers and a high level of essential oils. It blooms earlier in the year than some varieties, and the flowers are particularly fragrant.
Zloty Lan is a high-yielding, large plant that is less sweet than Bodegold. It's a reliable self-sower and blooms from mid to late summer.
How to Grow Chamomile
Growing Chamomile From Seeds
Chamomile seeds should be started indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost date in springtime. Sow seeds 1/4-inch deep in seed starting soil. Keep the soil moist and warm, around 70℉.
You need to be patient with chamomile because it takes 14-21 days to germinate. Just when you think you did something wrong, the sprouts will arise.
Give seedlings ample sunlight or keep them under a grow light for several hours each day. Make sure you increase the height of the light as the plants grow.
When your seedlings are 3-4 weeks old, add fertilizer. A good choice is a complete indoor houseplant food at half strength.
If you planted your seeds in small cells, transplant them into 4-inch pots once the seedlings have 2 true leaves. Chamomile needs space to grow their strong root system.
Planting Chamomile Seeds Outside
Plant to direct sow chamomile seeds in late spring or early summer to avoid frost. All threat of frost needs to pass before planting.
Sprinkle the seeds across the top of the soil. You will thin the rows later, so don’t worry about the perfect placement yet. Use your hands to cover with soil. The seeds need light to germinate.
Water thoroughly until the soil is moist. Seeds need plenty of water to germinate, so mist the area daily.
Soon those seeds will sprout. Once they’re 2 inches tall, thin them, leaving 8-10 inches between each. Try your best to make rows! To thin, cut the plant off at ground level. Pulling them out will disrupt the root system.
Planting Chamomile Plants
You can also plant purchased plants or divide plants from a friend's garden. Dig a hole for your seedling that is twice as large as the root ball. You want to leave ample space for the roots to spread out. Loosen up the root ball, place the plant into the hole and fill in with dirt.
Make sure you water thoroughly, leaving a puddle around the stem. It will fill in the air pockets around the plant and help the roots come in good contact with the soil.
Chamomile isn’t a frost tolerant plant, so transplant the seedlings outside once the final frost date in your area passes. Plants are ready to be moved outside when they have 2 true leaves.
Before transplanting outside, chamomile seedlings must be hardened off. Start by moving them to a sheltered place for a few hours per day. Gradually increase the length of time they are outside. Do this for at least a week before putting them in their permanent home.
Failure to harden off your chamomile plant could lead to transplant shock, scalding, or plant death. You want to avoid that after all your hard work growing the plants from seeds.
Growing chamomile needs full sun or part shade if you live in a hot area.
To prepare the garden bed, turn the soil 8-inches down. Use a rake to remove clumps of grass and stones.
If you have poor soil quality, German chamomile can live in tougher conditions. It’s a good choice if you have clay or low nutrients in your soil. However, it’s an annual that needs to be replanted each year if it doesn’t self-seed.
Roman chamomile needs well-draining, fertile soil. To increase your soil quality, mix organic compost throughout the planting zone. For earth that drains well but needs a nutrient boost, add a slow-release fertilizer into the soil before planting.
Due to its hardiness, chamomile isn’t particular about soil pH. It prefers a neutral range between 5.6 and 7.5.
If you need to adjust the pH level, use limestone or wood ash to make the soil less acidic. Sulfur will increase the soil’s acidity level.
Make sure the soil temperature is around 70℉. Planting once the threat of frost passes ensures the proper soil temperature.
Each plant should be spaced 8-10 inches apart. Each row should be 9-12 inches apart.
Growing Chamomile in Pots
Chamomile grows well in pots, making it a great choice for your patio garden. You can use almost any container so long as it has drainage holes. Drainage is important because wet soil will lead to rot. As 12-inch pot will provide plenty of space for your chamomile plant.
Use a loose, well-drained potting mixture. A succulent mix or regular potting soil with perlite or coco coir is ideal. Both allow for good air circulation with proper drainage.
When cold weather comes, move the pots inside. If the temperatures exceed 90℉, move the plant to a shady, cooler location.
How to Care for Chamomile
For the most part, chamomile grows well with little help. I’ve let my chamomile plants go and found they lived without any intervention, but of course, they do much better with attention and the right care.
Try to keep the weeds under control in the area near your chamomile. This herb doesn’t like to fight for its water, space, and nutrients.
If you don’t want to weed often, spreading a layer of mulch around the plants help to suppress weeds without much work on your end. Herbs prefer organic mulch. Try aged bark or shredded leaves which will break down and add nutrients to the soil.
Plan to keep your plant water regularly, especially during hot and dry spells. Chamomile needs one inch of water each week throughout the growing season.
Until you see flowers on your plant, water them gently each day. You don’t need to soak the soil thoroughly. Water until it's moist.
Chamomile is hardy, so once established, you can reduce how often you water the plant. A full-grown chamomile plant does fine with less water. Let the soil go dry between waterings. Unless you’re in a hot spell, expect to water once a week.
Most of the time, chamomile doesn’t require feeding. If you’re growing Roman chamomile as a perennial, use a phosphorus-rich soluble fertilizer in the springtime. Doing so encourages new growth.
For your container chamomile plants, fertilize once a month with a slow-release fertilizer.
For perennial chamomile, gardeners need to prune the entire plant back to prepare it for winter. Don’t leave the clippings on the ground. Doing so gives places to harbor insects and diseases throughout the winter months.
To propagate chamomile, you can either collect the seeds or take a cutting from another chamomile plant. Removing a cutting from chamomile isn’t as easy as other plants because you need to take some of the earth with you.
Before you take a cutting, water deeply the evening before.
The next day, pick a 4-inch long stem with foliage but no flowers. It needs to have an unblemished base. Remove the dirt around the stem, looking for the underground part of the stem. It’ll be white with small roots.
Cut the stem 1/2-inch below ground level. Then, place the cutting in a moist paper towel. It needs to stay hydrated to stay alive.
Pick a 4-inch pot and fill with 3 parts soil and 1 part perlite. Water it deeply. Then, poke a 2-inch deep hole in the center. Place the stem into the hole upright.
Store in a cold frame, next to a window, or a shady spot in your greenhouse. Water once a week. You should notice growth over the next 6-8 weeks.
Chamomile Pests and Diseases
Most insects stay away from chamomile. It can be used as a deterrent for several pests, but there are a few pests and diseases that might cause problems.
Aphids are green, red, or black sucking insects that feed on the underside of the leaves. They leave a trail of sticky residue that attracts ants.
You can do a few things to help with aphids. First, try to introduce natural predators to your gardens like wasps or lady beetles. Wash the plants with insecticidal soap.
If you find flat, wingless insects that have a white, waxy shell on the plant, you might have mealybugs. Mealybugs create cotton-looking lumps on the stems, branches, and leaves. These pests love to drink the juices from the leaves and stems of plants, leading to weak growth.
To treat mealybugs, wash the chamomile plant and try to remove the insects. Neem oil is particularly effective against mealybugs. You can also introduce predator insects like lacewings and ladybugs.
If you find tiny, spider-like pests the size of a grain of pepper, you might have a spider mite infestation. Spider mites can be red, black, or brown.
These little pests drink the plant juices and inject toxins. Spider mites cause white dots over the leaves and cause visible webbing over the plant. Leaves might turn yellow and dry.
The best way to control spider mites is with a neem oil spray every other day. For severe infestations, you might need a miticide product.
Scale looks similar to mealybugs because they have a waxy, outer shell. They remove the juices from plant stems and leaves. Scale weakens plants, causing them to be more vulnerable to other pests and diseases.
Try to scrape them off with your finger or use a cotton swab with rubbing alcohol to remove them. Some gardeners find success with horticultural oils. Remove young seedlings to avoid infecting other plants.
This disease leads to the older leaves and center of the plant to rot. You might first notice yellowish-brown irregular spots on the leaves. Water soaked spots on the stem is another sign.
Botrytis blight turns the plant a fuzzy grey, and it sends a cloud of spores when touched.
To treat this disease, remove the infected plants and plant debris to stop the spread. All the plants need good air circulation. Pea gravel can help to decrease humidity around the plants.
Sometimes, powdery mildew takes over chamomile plants. It’s a fungus disease that leads to a white powder on the foliage. Powdery mildew can weaken your plants because it stops their ability to create carbohydrates from sunlight.
Make sure you get rid of the infected plants to help increase air circulation. Then you'll need to treat the plants with a fungicide.
This is one of the most common issues chamomile plants face when you try to grow chamomile from seeds. Everything looks like it’s going well, then it wilts and dies. You have no idea what you did wrong!
This disease is called damping off and its caused by a fungus that grows in areas that have abundant moisture and warmer air temperatures.
Damping off means your soil is too wet or you have too much nitrogen in it. To prevent this, keep your seedlings moist but try not to overwater. Don’t over-fertilize, and make sure you thin out the seedlings.
Root & Crown Rot
Another disease that you need to watch for is root & crown rot. You will notice dry, yellowed leaves. Over time, this disease will cause branches to turn brown and die.
Root & crown rot is caused by too much watering. Standing water is a primary culprit, so watch your watering techniques to help diminish the problem.
Rabbits are adorable, but they are also ferocious eaters and will devour your chamomile plants. I can hardly blame them, but if you don't want to share, keep rabbits away with fencing. You can also sprinkle red pepper around plants.
Best Companion Plants for Chamomile
Chamomile has natural antibacterial and antifungal properties, so it’s helpful to place near plants that have mildew, fungus, or mold issues. In fact, you can spray plants with chamomile tea to help ward off these diseases.
If you want to take advantage of those benefits, try planting near:
- Bee Balm
For vegetable gardens, chamomile helps to improve the growth and flavor of certain plants. Chamomile has long been planted near fruit trees!
Vegetable and herb companions for chamomile include:
- Brussel Sprouts
How to Harvest and Store Your Chamomile
When it’s time to harvest, the petals go flat or start to fall back from the center. It looks like the petals are drooping backward. This generally happens 90 o 120 days after planting.
Pick a day when the dew was dried, and it’s sunny. You don’t want to harvest wet flowers to get them the best chance at drying properly. To harvest, snip flowers off when they’re open.
If you harvest your plants daily, chamomile will continue to bloom throughout the summer. The flowers don’t all bloom at the same time, so you can have a constant supply.
Once harvested, you have to dry your chamomile blossoms if you don't use them right away. There are a few ways to do this.
- First, if you cut a few inches of stem underneath the blossoms, you can tie the stems together and hang the herbs to dry. I like to hang mine from a window over my kitchen sink. It will take 2 to 3 weeks to dry fully.
- If you harvest the blossoms without stems, you can layer the flowers on a plate or baking sheet. Place them in a cabinet away from sunlight and dust. They will dry naturally. If you have a drying screen, that’s the best choice for optimal airflow. Drying takes 1 to 2 weeks.
- Alternatively, the quickest method is a food dehydrator. Lay your flower blossoms on one of the screens and run at the lowest setting until all of the blossoms are dry. To see if they’re ready, try crushing a flower between your fingers. It should crumble easily.
- Don’t have a dehydrator? You’re not out of luck! Lay your blooms on a baking sheet and stick them in your oven at 150-170℉. Watch carefully to ensure they don’t burn.
Store dried chamomile in a glass jar with a lid. Store the whole, dried flower bud in a jar away from direct sunlight. A cabinet is a perfect place.
Chamomile is a Superb Herb to Grow
Chamomile is a wildflower, so they tend to be a hardy flower that grows in many conditions and situations. The antibacterial and antifungal properties make it a fantastic plant to grow throughout your entire garden. It will defend other plants.
When growing chamomile, remember that the herb loves full sun and well-draining soil. Too much water isn’t this herb’s friend.
You can harvest chamomile throughout most of the growing season, leaving you with plenty of chamomile blooms to make your own tea. Dried chamomile also can be used in herbal baths or herbal sprays. You’ll find plenty of uses for chamomile!