How to grow and care for wormwood

Silver foliage is the real strength of this small shrub, which has been grown since ancient times. It is useful as a hedge, as it requires no watering and pruning, and has the added benefit of insect-repelling foliage.

What you need to know about wormwood

Name: wormwood (Artemisia absinthium)

Height: 1m, with a similar spread

Foliage: evergreen, silver and finely dissected

Climate: succeeds in arid/semi-arid, cold temperate, warm temperate and sub-tropical regions, and will tolerate frosts.

Soil: sill tolerate most soils, but heavier ones should have good drainage.

Position: full sun.

Flowering: small yellow flowers in summer.

Feeding: not required.

Watering: dry tolerant. Young plants require watering as they establish. Established plants rarely need watering, except in extremely long dry periods.


Appearance and characteristics of wormwood

Wormwood has fine, much-divided leaves that are so silver they almost look white. The growth is shrub-like and made up of many upright growing stems. It naturally holds its shape, which is why it is sometimes used as a hedge. The flowers occur in summer and are small, yellow and not very showy.

Uses for wormwood

Wormwood is most often used as an informal—that is, unclipped—hedge, especially in hotter and drier districts.

The silvery foliage makes a great backdrop to other garden plants, especially ones with darker or wine-coloured foliage.

The foliage gives off a pungent scent that is said to have insect-repelling properties.

The artemisia absinthium species of wormwood is used to make absinthe, and is also used to flavour other wines, beers and spirits. It also has medicinal properties, and is sometimes used in teas.

How to plant and grow wormwood

You can plant wormwood in any sunny spot on just about any type of soil, provided it doesn’t stay wet for long periods. In heavier soils you might want to grow it in a raised garden bed to ensure good drainage.

How and when to prune wormwood

The plant can be given a light all-over trim with hedge shears or hedge trimmers in late summer to remove the dead flower heads and promote fresh growth. Older plants that need renewal can be cut back hard—almost to the ground—to produce new silvery foliage. Do this in mid-spring.

Common diseases and pests affecting wormwood

Wormwood has very few problems, although it can look less than its best if the ground stays wet for long periods. It is very rarely troubled by insect pests due to its insect-repelling oils.

How to propagate wormwood

Take 10–15cm-long cuttings of unflowered new growth in summer. Strip off the bottom half of the leaves, dip the end into a rooting hormone and place the cuttings into a pot of propagating sand. Rooted cuttings will be ready to plant out in about six months.

If you look at the base of an established old wormwood plant, sometimes you will find a shoot coming up from the ground that has already started to produce roots. You can gently break this away from the mother plant and pot it up into potting mix. Prune so that the shoot is about 10cm long.

If you like this then try

Daisies: easy-care shrubs with showy flowers for many months.

Lavender: grey foliage plant with purple flowers and scented foliage.

Euphorbia: unusual yellow to lime green flowers on plants with grey foliage.

Pyrethrum: white daisy flowers are a feature of this plant, well-known as an insect repellent.

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Health & Safety

Please make sure you use all equipment appropriately and safely when following the advice in these D.I.Y. videos. You need to be familiar with how to use equipment safely and follow the instructions that came with the equipment. If you are unsure, you may feel it is safest to consult an expert, such as the manufacturer or an expert Bunnings Team Member.

Grave health hazards are linked to asbestos, which may be in homes built up to 1990. Health hazards may result from exposure to lead-based paints in older materials and copper chromium arsenic (CCA) treated timber. For information on the dangers of asbestos, lead-based paint and CCA treated timber and tips for dealing with these materials contact your local council's Environmental Health Officer or visit our Health & Safety page. You can also use a simple test kit from Bunnings to indicate the presence of lead-based paint.
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