Chamomile isn’t just for sipping in a steaming mug of tea curled up with a good book next to a cozy fire. It’s also a beautiful, aromatic lawn alternative that requires less maintenance than traditional grass.
Put on the kettle and we’ll walk you through how to grow your own sweet, apple-scented lawn.
- What is chamomile?
- Methods of growing chamomile
- How to grow chamomile in 6 simple steps
- Benefits of a chamomile lawn
- Disadvantages of a chamomile lawn
- FAQ about chamomile
- Replacing your lawn with calming chamomile
What is chamomile?
Chamomile is a low-growing herbaceous perennial famous for its soothing scent and medicinal benefits. It’s a popular lawn alternative for homeowners who enjoy a fresh cup of tea and want a low-maintenance, eco-friendly lawn.
There are two major types of chamomile: Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile) and German chamomile (Matricaria Recutita).
For a lawn substitute, Roman chamomile (also known as English chamomile) is the way to go. It grows 3 to 6 inches tall, so it’s about the height of normal turfgrass, and it won’t require mowing. German chamomile is a beautiful, bushy annual that grows up to 3 feet tall, so it’s better suited for a wildflower garden.
With dainty, daisy-like flowers and feathery, fern-like leaves, Roman chamomile is a visual delight that requires little maintenance. You’ll just need to trim rogue shoots and remove dead flower heads in late summer.
If you’d prefer a nonflowering evergreen mat that still smells wonderful, choose the “Treneague” cultivar of Roman chamomile. It won’t require as much trimming as flowering varieties.
Characteristics of Roman chamomile (Chamaemelum nobile)
- USDA hardiness zones: 4-9
- Duration: Perennial (evergreen in mild winters)
- Height: 3-6 inches
- Spreads by: Creeping stems
- Bloom time: June to September
- Sun exposure: Full sun to partial shade
- Soil needs: Well-drained loamy or sandy soil
- Drought tolerance: Moderate
- Potential for disease: Low
- Potential for pests: Low
- Maintenance needs: Low
- Foot traffic: Low
Tips for growing chamomile
Chamomile grows best in cooler climates with plenty of sun and sandy loam soil.
How much sun does chamomile need?
While chamomile grows best in full sun, it can tolerate dappled shade.
In full shade, chamomile will only give a patchy cover and may wilt and die.
What kind of soil does chamomile like?
Chamomile prefers light soils that won’t get bogged down with water or easily compacted. Though it can grow in nutrient-poor soils, it cannot tolerate heavy clay. Well-draining soil is key to a healthy chamomile lawn.
How much water does chamomile need?
Young chamomile plants need 1 inch of water every week. As they mature, they require less water and you can let soil dry out between waterings. Just make sure to give them a drink during dry spells.
Where should I plant chamomile?
Chamomile is a strong spreader: With each plant growing about 12 inches wide, it can be planted as a full ground cover across your lawn or you can plant it around footpaths and garden beds as a charming accent piece.
Have hills or slopes in your backyard where grass refuses to grow? Chamomile will naturally control erosion, so it both beautifies your lawn and protects local ecosystems from harmful runoff.
Avoid planting chamomile if you have dogs or cats. While low doses can be used to treat anxiety and skin inflammation in dogs, too much chamomile is toxic.
Methods of growing chamomile
If you have an existing grass lawn, you’ll first need to remove grass with a sod cutter or smother it by sheet mulching.
Once your lawn is bare, chamomile can be directly seeded onto your lawn, or seedlings can be transplanted from indoor pots. In general, transplanting will establish a stronger chamomile lawn, but it requires additional preparation if you are sowing your own seeds indoors, and it costs more if you are purchasing seedlings from a garden store.
When to plant
If you are seeding directly, sow seeds in early spring right after your area’s average last date of frost.
If you are transplanting seedlings, begin growing your chamomile indoors in early spring, about six weeks before your last date of frost. By late spring, your seedlings will be the right size for transplant.
What you need
- Chamomile seeds or seedlings
- Soil test
- Long-handled cultivator or hoe
- Pre-emergent herbicide (optional)
- Garden fork (optional)
- Planting pots (for seedlings)
How to grow chamomile in 6 simple steps
1. Test and amend your soil
Before making any major lawn changes, test your soil and perform the necessary amendments for your new plants to thrive.
A soil test will give you information about your soil’s pH and nutrient levels. If your soil is too acidic, you may want to apply lime. If your soil is too alkaline, sulfur or peat moss are beneficial soil additions.
Not sure where to get a soil test? Contact your local cooperative extension office for information about soil labs near you.
2. Weed your lawn
Grab a long-handled cultivator or a hoe and start pulling out pesky weeds. Some weeds will need to be removed by hand, so it’s a good idea to wear gloves.
Chamomile does not compete well with weeds, so it’s important to flush out all weeds before planting. Weed two to three times before planting and wait two to three weeks in between weedings to allow dormant weeds to germinate. This will eliminate the competition so your fresh chamomile can establish strongly.
Pro Tip: Chamomile is sensitive to harsh chemicals, so do not use broad-spectrum herbicide after you have planted chamomile. Instead, weed by hand or spot spray weeds as they emerge.
3. Add compost
Work a healthy 1- to 3-inch layer of compost into your weeded lawn, tilling the top 6 to 8 inches of your soil with a shovel or garden fork. Compost will give your chamomile plants a nutrient boost so they can flourish in their new environment.
4. Plant your seeds or seedlings
If you are planting seeds directly on your lawn, sow seeds evenly (about 1 ounce of seed per 1,000 square feet), gently pressing them into the ground and covering them with a thin, ¼-inch layer of soil. Chamomile seeds need light to grow, so make sure your soil layer isn’t too thick.
If you are planting seedlings that have grown indoors, you’ll need to acclimate them to the outdoors (“harden them off”) a week before planting. Place them in a sheltered outdoor space, taking care that they aren’t exposed to excessive wind or sun.
If a frost is forecast, cover them or bring them back indoors, then bring them back outside in the morning. The hardening off process prevents temperature shock and sun scalding.
After a week, plant your chamomile seedlings 6-8 inches apart from each other in your freshly tilled soil.
5. Water thoroughly
Give your new plants a deep watering. If you are directly seeding, keep the soil moist as seeds germinate in the first two weeks.
Remember, young chamomile plants need 1 inch of water each week. As they mature, they require less frequent watering and you can let the soil dry out between waterings.
6. Maintain your chamomile lawn
Avoid walking on your new chamomile lawn for at least 12 weeks to give your tender young plants a chance to grow strong roots and shoots. Keep foot traffic to a minimum for the first year.
In late summer, trim your chamomile with a mower (on the highest setting) or shears to remove dead flower heads. This will give your chamomile the energy to produce more flowers next year.
Pro Tip: If you have sown your plants from scratch, you may need to thin out your chamomile plants to ensure their root systems develop fully. Once plants have grown 2-3 inches tall, thin out the smaller and weaker seedlings so that plants are spaced 6-8 inches apart. Cut the stems at the soil surface: Do not rip them out, as this can damage the roots of neighboring plants.
Benefits of a chamomile lawn
✓ Dried flowers are tea-ready
You can make your own delicious tea with fresh or dried chamomile flowers, and picking chamomile flowers will make you feel like a real flower child. Homegrown chamomile tea is healthy and won’t cost a cent: You can drink it hot or add a few ice cubes for a refreshing iced tea. Just avoid it if you’re pregnant.
Unlike grass lawns, chamomile does not need to be mowed, nor does it require frequent watering or fertilization. It can thrive in low-nutrient soils as long as the soil is well-drained. Too much nitrogen can actually inhibit chamomile blooms, so ditch your fertilizer and enjoy the flowers.
✓ Light, lovely apple aroma
Chamomile was named for its attractive, fruity scent. The word “chamomile” comes from Greek “kamai-melon,” meaning “apple on the ground” or “earth apple.”
Chamomile’s aromatic flowers attract bees, butterflies, and other pollinators, creating a habitat for endangered native species and giving you a beautiful show right outside your window.
✓ Medicinal properties
The dried flowers of chamomile contain terpenoids and flavonoids, which offer a host of health benefits, from relieving inflammation to preventing diseases. Dried chamomile is used to treat hay fever, muscle spasms, bleeding, ulcers, gastrointestinal issues, and insomnia. It’s also popular as a soothing essential oil used in aromatherapy.
✓ Few pest problems
Aphids tend to be the only potential pest for chamomile. Otherwise, chamomile does not attract many pest insects, and it’s deer-resistant. It repels cucumber beetles too, so it’s a great companion plant for your vegetable garden.
✓ Repels mosquitoes
Disadvantages of a chamomile lawn
✗ Sensitive to weeds and herbicide
Chamomile does not compete well with weeds, nor does it stand up to harsh chemical herbicides. You’ll need to hand weed or spot spray weeds, which can be quite a weekend hassle.
✗ Cannot tolerate heavy foot traffic
Chamomile can get patchy with repeated, heavy foot traffic. If kids and pets play in your yard, a chamomile lawn may not be the best option.
✗ Cannot tolerate clay soils
✗ Sensitive to shade
If your lawn is highly shaded, you may need to trim branches (taking the right safety precautions) to increase light levels in your yard. If it isn’t possible to give your lawn more light, hostas and ferns will thrive in shady areas where chamomile cannot.
✗ Toxic to dogs and cats (if ingested)
Chamomile isn’t as toxic as chocolate, but when ingested in large amounts (or in small doses over a long period of time), it can lead to vomiting and bleeding issues. If you choose a chamomile lawn, keep an eye on Fido to make sure he isn’t munching on it.
FAQ about chamomile
It generally takes 10 to 14 days for chamomile to germinate. In warm conditions, it can take less than a week.
Chamomile is a quick grower and tends to reach full bloom 10 weeks after planting.
Yes, chamomile is an excellent houseplant that will give your home a luscious apple scent. Just remember to plant it in the correct soil: Light, sandy loam will keep your chamomile happy. Keep the soil moist as the plant takes root and make sure it gets at least 4 hours of sunlight each day. You can harvest its flowers for tea without even going outside!
In late February to early March, plant seeds in pots overtop a heated propagation mat set to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Use high-quality seeds and add compost (with perlite) to your soil to give seeds food to grow.
Keep the soil moist and make sure your plants get at least six hours of sun each day. Alternatively, you can give your plants 16 hours of fluorescent light each day. Turn off the light for eight hours at night, as chamomile needs a dark period to grow.
If you are growing seeds in small cells, you may need to transplant seedlings to 3- to 4-inch pots when they have at least two pairs of full leaves. This will give their roots enough room to grow.
After six to eight weeks indoors, give your plants a week to “harden off” in a protected outdoor area. Then, transplant your seedlings to your lawn.
Harvest flowers when they are in full bloom, using scissors or small pruning shears to snip each flower. To keep the plant healthy, only cut off the flower; do not remove a large portion of the stem.
Replacing your lawn with calming chamomile
Every day, 1 million cups of chamomile tea are consumed around the world. If you’re ready to make it a million and one with your own tea-ready lawn, you can find chamomile seeds and seedlings at your local garden center.
Want to relax with a warm cup of tea instead of sweating it out in your yard? Call a local lawn care pro to give you an apple-scented, flower-filled yard that’ll soothe your soul.
Main Photo Credit: Michael Held | Unsplash