Planting chamomile: guide to sowing & harvesting

Katja
Katja
Katja
Katja

I study landscape ecology and through my studies have discovered a love for plants. Plants are not only beautiful, but also have countless fascinating survival strategies. To bring a bit of nature into my home as well, I nurture my houseplants and herbs on every possible windowsill.

Favourite fruit: rhubarb and all kinds of berries
Favourite vegetables: onions and garlic

Do you want to harvest chamomile tea from your own garden? No problem − growing chamomile is a breeze.

Lots of chamomile flowers in bloom
Chamomile produces its first flowers at the end of May [Photo: pilialoha/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing native wild herbs such as chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla), also known as German chamomile or scented mayweed, is worthwhile for a variety of reasons. Wild herbs can be used by us in the kitchen and serve as a food source for bees. Because chamomile is a very easy-care herb, you can plant, harvest and brew your own chamomile tea in no time. Here are some tips and tricks on how to grow chamomile in the garden.

Planting chamomile: the right location

A location with plenty of light is ideal for chamomile, preferably in full sun. That said, a little less light should not do any harm to its growth. The most important thing to consider is the soil – loamy, silty soils are ideal. It should not be too sandy, and a pH value around seven as well as a high nutrient and humus content are also good for chamomile. If the soil does not have these characteristics, it can be improved by mixing in some high-quality potting soil. In addition, add a drainage layer to the bottom of the pot and mix in about 15% sand with the soil to improve the permeability.

Sowing chamomile

Chamomile is best sown directly outdoors. The first seedlings should emerge after just four to five days in the right conditions. As chamomile seedlings can be sensitive to frost, it is best not to sow before the beginning of May. From March, however, seeds can be started indoors in a bright spot. You can then transplant the seedlings outdoors around mid-May.

Whether sowing indoors or outdoors, do not fully cover the seeds with soil. Chamomile seeds need the light as they are light germinators. Prepare the soil by removing other plants and root debris and by loosening the soil with the help of a rake. Then spread the chamomile seeds, lightly press them down and moisten the soil well. Chamomile is great as a fragrant lawn alternative or planted individually. When planted individually, a spacing of about 20 cm between plants is recommended. The chamomile seeds will germinate after one to two weeks at 15 to 20 °C.

Young chamomile plant without flowers
Seedlings sown in autumn should be protected from frosts [Photo: Isolda Swan/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: If growing chamomile indoors, it is best to use soil that is meant especially for seed sowing. The lower nutrient content in such soils helps the plants develop stronger roots.

Alternatively, you can sow chamomile outdoors in autumn. It then germinates before winter and the leaf rosettes must be cared for through the cold season. The foliage is hardy but should be protected from low temperatures with a layer of mulch.

If your chamomile finishes blossoming before being harvested, it will grow again in the same place by self-seeding. To make use of chamomile as a medicinal plant, the flowers must be harvested before the seeds ripen.

Three chamomile flowers
If the flowers are not harvested, chamomile will self-seed [Photo: Simon Groewe/ Shutterstock.com]

Can you plant chamomile from tea bags? No. Attempting to grow chamomile from tea bags is not worthwhile. Chamomile tea is made from dried flowers which contain beneficial ingredients. These flowers are usually harvested before seed formation takes place. Therefore, it is unusual for there to be any chamomile seeds in the tea bags.

Summary: Sowing chamomile

  • Choose a suitable location
  • Amend the soil if necessary
  • Remove old roots and weeds, loosen the soil slightly
  • Spread the seeds, but do not cover them with soil
  • Press seeds down lightly and water well
Tilling rake on prepared garden bed
Before sowing chamomile, remove other plant debris from the garden bed [Photo: Tanongsak Sangthong/ Shutterstock.com]

Pricking out and transplanting chamomile plants

Chamomile usually fares best with direct sowing in the open because transplanting and pricking out puts stress on the plants. However, starting the seeds indoors is still an option. Plants started inside will eventually grow large enough to be transplanted into the garden or into their own pots. You can prick out the seedlings when the first true pair of leaves form after the cotyledons. If transplanting chamomile into a container, remember to create a drainage layer beforehand. Around the end of April, the plants can be transplanted outside into the flower bed. Keep about 15 cm between the individual plants so they have room to grow. Dig a small hole for each young plant − deep enough so that the chamomile is planted almost on the leaf base. Finally, fill in the holes with soil and water well.

Container with chamomile seedlings
After pre-planting, the chamomile seedlings need to be pricked out [Photo: D.Somsup/ Shutterstock.com]

Good neighbours: chamomile companion plants

Chamomile does particularly well in vegetable gardens. It gets along with potatoes (Solanum tuberosum), leeks (Allium porrum), kohlrabi (Brassica oleracea var. gongylodes) and other cabbages as well as nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus). Chamomile can help protect its neighbours from fungi and pests.

On the other hand, planting chamomile and peppermint (Mentha x piperita) together is not a good idea. This is due, among other things, to the chemicals they release into the soil and their environment. Chamomile does not tolerate the substances of peppermint very well − its growth is inhibited as a result. Other plants, in turn, promote each other through this exchange of substances. Practicing mixed cultivation can benefit the growth of plants and their neighbours, so it is something worth considering when planning your garden.

Peppermint plants in bloom
Even though they go well together in herbal infusions, chamomile and mint should be grown separately in the garden [Photo: Menno van der Haven/ Shutterstock.com]

For more information on harvesting and storing chamomile, check out this article.

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