Harvesting Yarrow Seeds: Achillea millefolium

Yarrow is a versatile herbaceous perennial that has long been valued for its medicinal properties and usefulness in the garden. Once established, yarrow is very low maintenance and readily reseeds itself. Harvesting yarrow seeds from your plants is an easy way to save money on buying new seeds, and ensures you have a steady supply for sowing in future years.

Yarrow (Achillea millefolium)

Is a flowering perennial herb that grows wild in many parts of the world. It is native to Europe, Asia and North America. The common name “yarrow” is derived from the Anglo-Saxon word “gearwe”, which translates as “to heal”.

This hardy plant thrives in a wide range of soil conditions and environments. It prefers full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Established plants are drought tolerant. The fern-like leaves are aromatic when crushed.

Yarrow produces flattened clusters of tiny white, pink or yellow flowers at the tops of stems from spring to fall. The flowers are held on branching stems above the foliage. Many cultivars and hybrids are available with different flower colors and growth habits.

In addition to its ornamental appeal, yarrow has a long history of diverse uses. Medicinally it has been used to reduce inflammation and bleeding, as well as treat colds, flu and gastrointestinal ailments. The fresh or dried leaves and flowers can be used to make a soothing tea. Yarrow is also grown as a natural dye and insect repellant in the garden.

Propagating yarrow from seeds is a frugal way to increase your stock of this versatile plant. Let’s look at when and how to harvest yarrow seeds from your garden.

When to Harvest Yarrow Seeds

Yarrow seeds are ready for picking when the flower heads finish blooming and turn completely brown and dry. This usually occurs in mid to late summer.

The prime time to harvest is on a warm, sunny day after the morning dew has evaporated. The seed heads should be dry enough that they are brittle and release their contents easily. Avoid harvesting immediately after rain or heavy dew, which can promote mold growth.

Look for the following signs that the seed heads are ready for gathering:

  • Flower petals have dropped off
  • Flower heads are completely dry and brown
  • Stems/seed heads snap crisply when bent
  • Seeds shake loose when heads are disturbed

Timing is important, as you want to collect the seeds when they are mature but before they fall off the plant on their own. Seeds that drop to the ground are more challenging to gather.

Patience is key when waiting for yarrow seeds to ripen. Resist the urge to harvest too early. If picked prematurely, seeds may not germinate well. If left on the plant too long after maturing, they can be lost to the elements or birds. Frequent garden observation and feeling the dryness of the seed heads will help identify the ideal moment.

How to Harvest Yarrow Seeds

Collecting yarrow seeds is a simple process that can be broken down into a few basic steps:

1. Cut the Seed Heads

Use hand pruners or scissors to snip the entire dry seed heads off the stems. Leaving a longer section of stem attached provides a “handle” that makes the bunches easier to handle.

You may need to make several passes as some seed heads mature earlier than others. Focus on the ripest ones first.

2. Place in Breathable Bags

Gently place the cut seed heads into paper bags or porous cloth sacks. Avoid using plastic bags, as lack of airflow can cause mold.

Paper bags allow good air circulation to keep the seeds dry until you’re ready for final processing. Mark each bag with the plant name and harvest date.

3. Hang Upside Down

Find a warm, dry indoor location away from direct light to hang your seed bags for drying. Attics, garages or sheds are ideal.

Loop a string or rubber band around the top of each bag and hang upside down from rafters, hooks or nails. The inverted position allows any remaining moisture to drain out and seeds to freely fall to the bottom of the bag as they detach.

4. Allow 1-2 Weeks Drying Time

Keep the bagged seed heads in place for 1-2 weeks to finish curing. Check periodically and gently rub the bags to separate seeds, but don’t rush this step. Proper drying time ensures maximum seed viability.

5. Remove Seeds from Plant Matter

When ready, give each bag a final rub and shake over a collecting bowl to sift out the tiny seeds and remove all dried plant debris. Discard spent flower heads.

6. Store Seeds in Airtight Container

Place the gathered seeds in an airtight glass jar or ziplock bag labeled with the plant name and year harvested. Store in a cool, dark place until ready to plant. Yarrow seeds remain viable for 2-3 years when stored properly.

Tips for the Best Seed Harvest

Follow these tips for optimal yarrow seed harvest:

  • Don’t rush – Wait until seed heads are completely brown and crisp before cutting.
  • Check often – Monitor the flower heads daily as they near maturity.
  • Harvest early in the day – Pick seeds when the morning dew has dried but seed heads are still pliable.
  • Use sharp pruners – Clean cuts minimize seed loss. Leave long stems for handling.
  • Allow proper drying time – 1-2 weeks hanging upside down in breathable bags.
  • Rub bags gently – Separate seeds from plant matter without crushing.
  • Label everything – Note plant name, harvest date, etc. Proper identification is key.
  • Store properly – Cool, dark place in airtight containers maintains viability.

Follow these simple steps and you’ll be rewarded with a bountiful yarrow seed harvest. You’ll have a free supply of seeds for planting more of this useful ornamental herb.

How to Grow Yarrow from Seeds

In addition to harvesting seeds from mature plants in your garden, you can also grow new yarrow plants from seeds started indoors.

Starting seeds inside gives the plants an early head start on the growing season. This is especially beneficial in climates with shorter summers. Here’s an overview of how to grow yarrow from seeds:

When to Start Seeds

Time your seed starting so that the young plants will be ready to transplant outdoors about 2 months before your last expected spring frost date.

For most areas, this means sowing yarrow seeds indoors 8-10 weeks prior to the average final frost. Check your local frost dates and count backward.

Seed Starting Mix and Containers

Fill clean seed starting trays or individual pots with a sterile, soilless seed starting mix. These mixes are lightweight and drain well to prevent damping off disease.

Yarrow has tiny seeds, so don’t plant too deeply. Sprinkle the seeds on the soil surface and gently press them in. Water with a fine mist to settle the seeds without washing them away.

Propagation Environment

Maintain a consistent 70-75°F temperature for germinating yarrow seeds. Keep the seed starting mix moist but not saturated.

Once sprouted, move to an area with 65-70°F temperatures. Provide ample light from grow lights or a sunny window. Turn the containers frequently for even growth.

Transplanting Outdoors

Gradually expose the seedlings to the outdoor climate over 7-10 days. This process is called hardening off. Then transplant into the garden after all danger of frost has passed.

Space the plants 12-18 inches apart in full sun and well-draining soil. Water regularly until established. The young plants will thrive with minimal care.

With proper timing and care, starting yarrow from seeds indoors can help expand your garden collection. Coupled with saving your own seeds, you’ll have an ongoing supply of this versatile perennial.

Storing Yarrow Seeds

Properly storing harvested yarrow seeds is key to maintaining viability over time. Follow these storage guidelines:

  • Place seeds in an airtight glass jar or ziplock bag. This prevents moisture loss and seals out light.
  • Label containers with the plant name and year collected. Store seeds from different years separately.
  • Keep seeds in a cool, dark place around 40-50°F. The refrigerator works well.
  • Avoid storing seeds in hot places like attics or near appliances, as heat shortens lifespan.
  • Inspect stored seeds occasionally. Discard any that are moldy or infested with insects.
  • Most yarrow seeds remain viable for 2-3 years when stored properly and kept dry.
  • For longest viability, store seeds with a silica gel desiccant pack to absorb excess moisture.

Following suitable storage methods will maintain seed viability from season to season. Stored seeds can be direct sown outdoors in either spring or fall.

When to Plant Yarrow Seeds Outdoors

Yarrow seeds sown directly in the garden can be planted in either spring or fall. Follow these tips on timing:

Spring

  • Sow seeds as soon as soil can be worked in early spring.
  • Lightly cover with 1/4 inch soil.
  • Maintain even moisture until sprouting.
  • Thin seedlings 8-12 inches apart when 2-4 inches tall.

Fall

  • Sow seeds 6-8 weeks before last expected fall frost.
  • The chill of winter helps stimulate germination.
  • Thin seedlings the following spring.

Dormancy

  • Some freshly harvested seeds may have a dormancy period up to 12 months.
  • This natural dormancy prevents premature sprouting.
  • Dormant seeds sown right after harvest may not sprout until the 2nd season.

General Tips

  • Prepare a weed-free seedbed in full sun in average, well-drained soil.
  • Water regularly after planting until plants become established.
  • Cover new plantings with row cover to protect from heavy rain.

Properly stored yarrow seeds can be planted directly in the garden bed in either spring or fall. Time sowing about 6-8 weeks before your average last frost date for optimal germination.

Common Pests and Diseases

Yarrow is relatively pest and disease free, especially once established. However, young seedlings may be affected by the following potential problems:

Damping off – Fungal disease that causes new seedlings to rot at the soil line. Prevent by sterilizing all seed starting equipment, avoiding overwatering, and ensuring good airflow.

Root rot – Caused by poor drainage or overwatering. Improve soil structure and drainage. Allow soil to dry between waterings.

Powdery mildew – White fungal growth on leaves. Improve air circulation and avoid wetting foliage. Apply neem oil spray weekly.

Slugs and snails – Eat holes in leaves overnight. Hand pick pests, set out beer traps, or apply diatomaceous earth around plants.

Spider mites – Tiny pests that suck plant juices and cause stippling damage. Knock off with strong spray of water or apply insecticidal soap.

Aphids – Small, soft-bodied insects that feed on new growth. Use a strong stream of water to dislodge or apply neem oil.

Rodents – Mice, voles or rabbits may nibble on new seedlings. Use wire mesh cages to protect plants until established.

Careful cultural practices can help avoid most pest and disease issues with yarrow. Know what potential problems to watch for and take prompt action at first signs of damage.

Uses for Yarrow Plants and Seeds

Both the yarrow plant and its seeds provide a number of beneficial uses:

Ornamental – Attractive ferny foliage and bright, long-lasting flowers. Excellent for borders, rock gardens, wildflower meadows.

Pollinator habitat – Abundant small flowers attract bees, butterflies and other beneficial insects.

Medicinal – Used to treat wounds, inflammation, colds, flu, gastrointestinal issues. Apply externally or brew into tea.

Landscaping – Extensive root system helps prevent soil erosion. Tolerates poor, dry soils.

Natural dye – Flowers and leaves produce shades of gold, brown, orange when used for dyeing wool.

Repels pests – Strong aroma repels mosquitos, flies, gnats. Interplant with vegetables.

Dry flowers – Excellent for drying. Use in arrangements or craft projects.

Edible – Young leaves can be added to salads. Seeds used as seasoning.

Sachets – Add dried leaves to sachets or potpourri.

Wildlife food source – Seeds provide food for songbirds and small mammals.

Yarrow is valued both for its visual appeal in the landscape as well as its numerous uses. Saving seeds allows you to fully utilize all the benefits of this multi-purpose perennial.

Common Yarrow FAQs

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions about yarrow:

Is yarrow hardy?
Yarrow is extremely hardy in zones 3-9 once established. It can tolerate poor, dry soils and a wide temperature range.

Is yarrow deer resistant?
Yes, deer and rabbits generally avoid yarrow due to its strong fragrance. Makes a good addition to gardens plagued by deer.

Is yarrow invasive?
It spreads readily by rhizomes and self-seeding in ideal growing conditions. Can be kept under control by removing flower heads before they go to seed.

Does yarrow spread aggressively?
Well-behaved in poor soils; spreads rapidly in amended garden beds. Give it plenty of room or grow in containers to restrict spread.

What are some good yarrow companion plants?
Roses, lavender, coneflower, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, butterfly weed, coreopsis, helianthus, salvia, gaillardia.

How do you dry yarrow flowers?
Hang small flower bundles upside down in a dry, well-ventilated area out of direct light. When crispy dry, store in airtight containers.

What does yarrow tea taste like?
Pleasantly aromatic with a slightly astringent, bitter taste reminiscent of chamomile. Sweeten with honey if desired.