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German Chamomile vs. Roman Chamomile
There are two common species of chamomile available to plant in your garden.
- German chamomile: German chamomile (Matricaria recutita) is an annual plant known for its potent essential oils. German chamomile can reach a height of two feet, and its daisy-like flowers bloom in early summer. You can make chamomile tea with German chamomile, but the tea will have a bitter taste.
- Roman chamomile: Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is a perennial plant you can grow as a lawn or ground cover. Like German chamomile, it also features daisy-like flowers that bloom from early summer through the first autumn frost. Its low height (three to six inches tall) makes it the perfect option for edging walkways and filling out space between taller plants. Roman chamomile also serves as a living mulch that suppresses weed growth between rows of vegetables; alternatively, you can sprinkle Roman chamomile flower stems throughout your garden bed as mulch after harvesting. Roman chamomile has a slightly sweet taste, perfect for chamomile tea.
How to Grow Chamomile in Your Garden
Whether you choose German or Roman chamomile for your garden, you’ll find the flowers are easy to care for.
- Soil type: Chamomile thrives in well-drained, sandy soils. Work a two-inch layer of compost (or other organic matter) into your garden bed to improve drainage and enrich the soil with nutrients.
- Light: Full sun is ideal for chamomile, but in particularly hot climates, partial shade prevents the plants from drying out.
- Watering: Ensure the soil around your chamomile plants is consistently moist but never sopping wet. In general, chamomile requires an inch of water every week throughout the growing season. A full-grown chamomile plant is able to get by with less water, so once chamomile reaches maturity, it's okay to allow the soil to dry before watering.
- Starting seeds indoors: Start chamomile seeds indoors four to six weeks before transplanting outside. Fill small pots or a seed tray with seed-starting mix. Place your container in a warm area with direct sunlight or under a grow light, and make sure to keep the soil moist. Once the seedlings have grown two true leaves (a seedling's first two leaves are called cotyledons, and the subsequent leaves are known as their true leaves), you can transplant them outdoors.
- Starting seeds outdoors: Sow chamomile seeds in late spring or early summer to avoid the danger of frost. Spread the seeds along the soil surface and gently press them into the soil—about a quarter of an inch deep, making sure light can still reach them. Moisten the soil with a spray bottle and continue to mist daily. After germination when the seedlings sprout to a height of two inches, you will need to thin out the weakest seedlings to give the stronger ones proper space to grow. When thinning, cut the seedlings off at the soil surface—pulling them could damage the delicate roots of the stronger seedlings growing nearby. Space German chamomile six to eight inches apart, and leave 18 inches between the more low-growing Roman chamomile plants.
- Companion planting: Chamomile is a wonderful companion plant to grow in a vegetable garden, as it benefits brassicas, onions, cucumbers, and other herbs.
How to Harvest Chamomile
In order to reap the full benefits of your chamomile, ensure that you're harvesting it properly.
- When to harvest chamomile: You'll know chamomile is ready to harvest once its flower petals begin to droop backwards. This typically occurs in late summer or early autumn, about three to four months after planting. Don’t harvest chamomile right after rain when the flowers are wet—wait at least two days to give them time to dry.
- How to harvest chamomile: Simply snip the flower heads off each stem with a pair of scissors.
- How to dry and store chamomile: Dry the chamomile flowers in a loose paper bag with air circulation for one to two weeks. You'll know they are completely dry when you rub them between your fingers and they crumble into tiny pieces. Store the dried flowers in an airtight container, like a glass mason jar or a tea tin, and place in a cool, dark location.
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