Achillea Tomentosa - An Attractive Ground Cover
The common name for Achillea tomentosa is the Wolly yarrow. We often see yarrow growing in the wild, and sometimes growing in our gardens, as weeds. The yarrow can be quite an attractive plant however, and very often either is planted in the garden or, if growing wild, is allowed to stay. It is a perennial, having small clusters of flowers, often white, but also yellow, pink, and even shades of purple. The blooms are fairly long lasting and the yarrow, standing approximately 3 feet in height, can be a very attractive addition to the yard or garden.
Achillea Tomentosa, The Dwarf Yarrow - There are numerous species of yarrow, Achillea tomentosa being one of the more interesting ones. Achillea tomentosa does not grow to 3 feet in height. Although it has the flat clusters of flowers, in this case yellow, characteristic of the yarrow, the tomentosa species only grows to a height of several inches, usually not exceeding 2" of foliage and another 2" due to flower stalks. Achillea tomentosa is most often planted as a ground cover.
Achilles Did Play A Role - When first coming across the name, it sounds like a medical or anatomical term, having something to do with the Achilles tendon. There actually is a connection. Achilles of course was the hero in Homer's “Iliad” and the student of an expert of medicinal uses of various plants. In the time of Achilles (or maybe we should say in the time of Homer), the yarrow was used for various medicinal purposes, including using the leaves for the clotting of blood in treating wounds. The yarrow plant came to be associated with Achilles, though apparently was of little help when it came to treating the wound on Achilles' heel.
Culture - Getting back to our ground cover, Achilles tomentosa is commonly called the Dwarf Yarrow, or the King Edward. It is a rapid grower and ideal for a rock garden as well as general ground cover. Being a rapid grower it can become invasive, so either some care must be taken as to where to plant it, or the plant just needs to be monitored occasionally to see if it is spreading to an area where it is not wanted. Like its taller cousins, the flowers of the Dwarf yarrow make good, long-lasting cut flowers. The plant usually starts to bloom in late spring or early summer. If spent flowers are cut, or blooms are taken as cut flowers, blooming may continue into early fall. When in bloom, the plant will attract butterflies and bees and makes a nice addition to a "butterfly garden". Fortunately, it does not attract deer, in fact is considered to be deer resistant.
The foliage is evergreen and grayish to silver-gray in color with a distinctively aromatic odor. The leaves are fine, twice-divided, and hairy on both top and bottom (ideal for applying to an open wound). Achillea tomentosa is not terribly particular about the soil it is planted in, at least as far as nutrients are concerned, which is one factor in making it so useful as a ground cover. It will grow equally well in either a mildly acidic or a mildly alkaline soil. When the plant is to be used as a ground cover, individual plants or divisions can be set about a foot apart. The plants will fairly rapidly fill the area between them. Since Achillea tomentosa is hardy in USDA Zones 3 through 11, it can be grown practically anywhere in the United States and the southern part of Canada. Watering needs are average as the plant is reasonably drought tolerant, in fact it will suffer if over watered. While it can be planted from seeds, this yarrow species is normally propagated through root ball division.
If you appreciate the beauty of the yarrow's blossom, consider this smaller variety, which not only has equally beautiful blossoms, but feels good if you walk on it with bare feet.