Achillea: Perennial favorite for easy, colorful gardens

You probably know certain people who are just so easy to get along with. They are popular, colorful characters. They’re great at parties because everyone likes them and they can fit in with just about any company. In fact, they’re very much like Achilleas.

Achillea is one of the easiest perennials to grow and I think it’s a good choice for beginners. Pretty much all it needs is full sun and well-drained soil. It thrives in average to poor soil and is drought tolerant once established. Once the flowers have faded, you can cut the plant back by half and this will probably stimulate a second flush of blooms in late summer.

Here are some Achillea varieties to look out for:

Achillea Moonshine
This is still one of the most popular garden plants today, and for good reason. Achillea 'Moonshine' is a good landscape investment because it combines well with almost everything. The bright, canary-yellow blooms are terrific foil for many other colors in your garden including purple, blue and pink.

This is a clump-forming selection that blooms over a long period beginning in early summer. Plants will rebloom if they are cut back after the first round of flowering.

Achillea Paprika
If paprika makes you think spicy and red, you’re on the right track. This Galaxy hybrid selection is known for its large clusters of bright red flowers, and each individual flower in the cluster also has a distinctive yellow eye, kind of like a tiny reverse bullseye. Plant it where sun gives way to afternoon shade and you’ll slow its natural tendency to fade a bit.

Adding to its good looks is the fern-like deep green foliage. Paprika’s blooms just keep on coming all season long if you deadhead the spent flowers. It does its best in a perennial border where it can enjoy enriched soil and regular watering. It is irresistible to butterflies, too.

Achillea Summer Berries
This Achillea variety is another easy-to-grow perennial favorite and is quite often first year flowering. Summer Berries creates an eye-pleasing mix of fruity colors: salmon-apricot/yellow, cherry-red/apricot, white-pink/cream, two-tone pink, and more. It is a good choice for the border and as a cut flower, fresh or dried, keeping colors bright for months when dried.

Again, you’ll attract a host of butterflies and bees to the garden with this hardy perennial that grows to a height of 28 inches and a spread of about 20 inches. Space the plants about a foot apart in a sunny garden and between June and September you’ll see an unbroken swirl of multiple colors.

Unlike most other Achilleas, the blooms on Summer Berries refuse to fade, even in punishing heat and sunlight.

Achillea millefolium Terra Cotta
Terra Cotta was introduced by the world-famous German horticulturist and perennial breeder Ernst Pagel, so you know it has an admirable pedigree. It is an upright, clumping perennial reaching a mature height of around thirty inches spreading to nearly two feet. It likes full sun and can even do well with very little water in sandy soil with good drainage. You don’t need to fertilize; in fact they have a tendency to become droopy if over fed.

Terra Cotta blooms with multicolored flower heads that range from salmon-peach to pale yellow-orange to terra cotta, all appearing at the same time. It will flower all summer if dead-headed often. The foliage is silvery in color. As an added benefit, they are deer resistant.

You can plant them about two feet apart and they will fill in the first year. You might even want to use it as ground cover and simply mow it off in the fall.

Achilleas are the ideal plants for the gardener with limited experience who might be faced with less-than-perfect soil and daily hours of bright sunlight. But, newbie or expert, it’s hard to go wrong with this perennial favorite.

In future columns, I’ll take a look at more perennials that can make even the most “green thumb challenged” look like master gardeners!