Roman chamomile: cultivation & use as a lawn alternative

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 dream of a fragrant lawn full of flowers? Forming a close-knit carpet full of aromatic blossoms, Roman chamomile could be just the plant for you!

white and yellow chamomile flowers
Roman and German chamomile look very similar [Photo: Mikulas P/ Shutterstock.com]

Roman chamomile makes an excellent alternative to a grass lawn and can also be planted as a bee-friendly ornamental. Find out how to grow it and what to bear in mind when caring for Roman chamomile here.

Roman chamomile: origin and character

Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) is known by many names, such as English chamomile, garden chamomile, ground apple and Anthemis nobilis. It is widespread throughout Western and Southern Europe as well as North Africa. It looks confusingly similar to German chamomile (Matricaria chamomilla) − both belong to the daisy family (Asteraceae) and are used as medicinal and culinary herbs.

This perennial is often used as a lawn substitute. It quickly forms ground-covering shoots which create a dense carpet. Occasional footfall on Roman chamomile does not harm the growth of a chamomile lawn, and the aromatic flowers and leaves bring a refreshing, delicate apple scent to the garden.

The plant has finely pinnate, fragrant leaves and typically grows about 30 cm tall. It flowers from June to October, developing flowerheads with lots of yellow tubular flowers clustered together inside a white ray of florets. As it still offers nectar in autumn, bees cherish Roman chamomile.

bee on a chamomile flower
The uncultivated form of Roman chamomile is very bee-friendly [Photo: Igor_khabal/ Shutterstock.com]

Tip: Because of its lovely aroma, Roman chamomile is great for adding to a soothing bath.

What is the difference between Roman and German chamomile? The main difference between German chamomile (also called scented mayweed) and Roman chamomile is their lifespans. Roman chamomile is a perennial, sprouting anew in spring, while German chamomile is an annual. Roman chamomile is also slightly smaller than German chamomile, which can grow up to 50 cm tall. More detailed information on the potential confusion of chamomile types can be found in this article.

Growing Roman chamomile: sowing, location and soil

Aside from growing as a lawn alternative, you can also simply plant Roman chamomile as an ornamental or herbal plant in your garden. Like German chamomile and dyer’s chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria), it is quite low-maintenance. It prefers a spot in full sun or partial shade with loose, well-drained soil. If your garden soil is loamy, mix in some sand to improve permeability. If, on the other hand, the soil is poor in nutrients, mix in a high-quality potting soil. Before mixing it in, loosen the soil and remove any root remains and unwanted weeds.

You can introduce Roman chamomile to your garden by sowing seeds or planting already established plants. The best times of year to sow Roman chamomile seeds are late spring and late summer. Just moisten the soil and spread the seeds on top. The seeds should not be covered, as they need light to germinate. When temperatures are between 15 and 20 °C, germination will take about two weeks. Water regularly during this time.

field full of chamomile flowers
Roman chamomile grows as ground cover and can form stunning fragrant carpets of flowers [Photo: Mei Dud/ Shutterstock.com]

Chamomile as a lawn substitute

As Roman chamomile is relatively tread tolerant − surviving the odd footfall − it can be used as a lawn plant instead of grass turf. It spreads like a carpet by forming runners. The pleasant scent emanating from the flowers and leaves is another bonus. However, it is important to note that a Roman chamomile lawn is not quite as robust as a traditional grass lawn.

If you are planning to use Roman chamomile as a lawn substitute, you will need to decide whether you want a white carpet of flowers or a non-flowering green. In addition to the wild flowering form, there are also other suitable varieties:

‘Treneague’: This chamomile plant does not produce flowers, only green foliage. It grows about 10 cm high and spreads quickly through its runners.

green chamomile plant without flowers
The foliage of the chamomile lawn is also wonderfully fragrant even without flowers [Photo: Danny Hummel/ Shutterstock.com]

‘Plena’: This variety develops double flowers, creating a lovely flowering carpet. Unfortunately, the variety ‘Plena’ is not bee-friendly, and its flowers are sterile − meaning it does not form any seeds.

double-flowered ‘Plena’ chamomile blossoms
The variety ‘Plena’ has double flowers [Photo: Dawn Quadling/ Shutterstock.com]

In preparation for sowing a chamomile lawn, clear the soil of roots from previous plants and, if the soil is heavy, mix in some sand to loosen it. The plant spacing for a chamomile lawn is 20 cm. That comes to about eleven plants per square metre. Not every seed will germinate though, so feel free to be generous when sowing them. You can prick out the young plants later. For a dense and lush lawn, the location should be bright and sunny. To help the plants branch out and appear even denser, we advise trimming for the first time in late summer. Beginning the following year, you can maintain the chamomile lawn with a lawn mower.

bright green, young chamomile plant
Roman chamomile germinates after just two weeks in the right conditions [Photo: Martina Simonazzi/ Shutterstock.com]

Plant care

When it comes to care, Roman chamomile is pretty low maintenance. It tolerates slightly drier soil and only needs watering during long periods of drought. When the plant is cultivated as a lawn, water more regularly so that the plants produce plenty of lush growth. However, make sure to avoid waterlogging.

Even fertilising is rarely necessary. A single application of slow-release fertiliser in spring should keep the plant going. In particularly poor soils, work in some fertiliser before sowing in the first year. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food is ideal for this. It will supply plants with all the essential nutrients for healthy growth over a period of three months, while also supporting an active soil life.

Plantura All Purpose Plant Food
Plantura All Purpose Plant Food

With a long-lasting effect, for healthy soil, child & pet friendly

Pruning encourages chamomile to branch out into bushier plants. Keep in mind that the right time for pruning differs depending on the variety. Flowering varieties should not be pruned before June, otherwise they will not flower, whereas you can prune non-flowering varieties earlier in the year. Late summer is generally ideal for pruning, as it also helps prepare the plants for overwintering. Prune generously to encourage a dense and strongly-branched carpet of foliage.

Is Roman chamomile winter hardy?

In our climate, Roman chamomile is winter hardy. It can withstand temperatures as low as -30 °C. There is no need to take any special precautions for overwintering.
You should place potted Roman chamomile close to a house wall in winter, however. Alternatively, wrap the pot with jute to prevent the soil in the pot from freezing.

Uses and benefits of Roman chamomile

In principle, Roman chamomile has similar healing properties to German chamomile. It is mainly the flowers that are harvested for use. They are commonly used as a tea to help with digestion, nervous conditions and menstrual cramps. The flowers of Roman chamomile contain essential oils such as chamazulene and nobilin. To preserve the flowers, harvest and dry as quickly and gently as possible. While we are on the subject, dyer’s chamomile (Anthemis tinctoria) is used less for cooking and medicine, but rather, historically, used for dyeing fabric.

tea infuser full of chamomile
Tea made from Roman chamomile can help with digestion [Photo: FerBustos/ Shutterstock.com]

Is Roman chamomile poisonous?

As a medicinal plant and culinary herb, Roman chamomile is not poisonous and can be planted without a second thought in gardens frequented by children and pets. However, like many plants in the daisy family, Roman chamomile can cause contact dermatitis for those with allergies. Caution is also advised for consumption. Depending on age and general health, avoid exceeding a daily dose of about 6 g of the dried flowers. If consumed by people or pets regularly and in large quantities, symptoms of poisoning may occur.

Although they are actually two different species, there are hardly any differences between the benefits and uses of German and Roman chamomile. Read here how to harvest and store chamomile.

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