Helianthus Perennial Sunflower: Perennial Sunflower Care And Growing
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By: Mary Ellen Ellis
We tend to think of sunflowers as big, tall, sun gazing beauties grown across fields, but did you know there are more than 50 varieties? Many sunflowers are actually perennials. Try new perennial varieties in your garden for pretty, striking, and cheerful sunflowers year after year.
Is There a Perennial Sunflower?
Flowers in the Helianthus genus number about 50 and include annuals, those large, sunny yellow blooms you mostly see in gardens. They also include Helianthus perennial sunflower varieties.
Perennial sunflower plants actually make up the majority of sunflower varieties native to North America. Most of the popular garden varieties that you see are annuals, but you can get a lot more range of size and even color when you look into perennial sunflowers.
One easy way to tell the difference between an annual and perennial sunflower is in the roots. Annuals have small, stringy roots while perennial sunflower plants grow tubers.
Perennial Sunflower Varieties
The flowers of perennials are not as large and striking as annuals, but they still have a lot to offer:
- Ashy sunflower (Helianthus mollis): Ashy sunflower grows tall and vigorously, producing bright yellow, 3-inch (8 cm.) flowers. It can be invasive but looks great as part of a wildflower meadow.
- Western sunflower(H. occidentals): This species, known as western sunflower, is shorter than many others and may be more suitable for a home garden. It is also less invasive and easier to contain. The flowers are 2 inches (5 cm.) across and daisy like.
- Silverleaf sunflower (H. argophyllus): Silverleaf sunflower is tall, 5 to 6 feet (1-2 m.) and is known for its silvery leaves. Soft and covered with silky fuzz, the leaves are popular in flower arrangements.
- Swamp sunflower (H. angustifolius): Swamp sunflower is a pretty and tall sunflower that tolerates poor soil and salt.
- Thin-leaved sunflower (Helianthus x multiflorus): There are several cultivars of this cross between the annual sunflower and a perennial known as thin-leaved sunflower. ‘Capenoch Star’ grows to 4 feet (1 m.) and has bright yellow flowers. ‘Loddon Gold’ grows up to 6 feet (2 m.) and has double blooms.
- Beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis): Also called cucumberleaf sunflower and and East Coast dune sunflower. This spreading sunflower perennial works well in coastal gardens, as it’s salt tolerant and thrives in sandy conditions.
Perennial Sunflower Care
Perennial sunflowers are great additions to native gardens, but be aware that they can spread pretty rapidly. You’ll need to control where they grow if you don’t want them taking over too much space.
Most types of sunflower prefer rich, fertile soil, although they can tolerate poorer soils too. The ground should drain well, but the flowers need regular watering or rain and do not tolerate drought well. Plant all varieties in full sun.
It can be difficult to find seeds for perennial sunflowers, but they are easy to grow from seed or from divisions. You should divide your perennials every two to three years and space them two to three feet from each other, so they have room to grow and spread.
Maintenance for perennial sunflowers is pretty low. Stake some of the taller varieties to keep them upright and trim the plants back in the spring. Use fertilizer only if your soil is poor.
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Read more about Sunflowers
Sunflowers are very tough plants, with native species found everywhere from bogs to prairies.
Appearance: The dark green leaves can be heart-shaped or narrow and lance-shaped. The plants are multi-branched and tend to clump, although some varieties can travel by running rhizomes. Daisy-like yellow and gold flowers with center disks will vary slightly from species to species. There are single- and double-flowering varieties.
Hardiness Zone: Most varieties are labeled as hardy from USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8, but many can stretch to zones 3 and 9, although they may not always have a long enough season to bloom in zones 3 to 4.
Sun Exposure: Perennial Helianthus will bloom best in full sun, although they can handle partial shade. Without at least five hours of sun per day, the plants will tend to get leggy and flop.
Mature Size: Height varies greatly by species and by growing conditions. There are Helianthus that reach only 2 to 3 feet tall and others that top 10 feet. Most are clump-forming, spreading about 3 to 4 feet wide. However, some will spread by rhizomes and can become aggressive in the garden.
Bloom Period: These are late-season flowers, coming into bloom toward the end of summer and repeat blooming through the fall. You can easily get eight to 12 weeks of flowers from your plants.
Perennial Sunflowers are Fall GoldSeptember 22, 2014 7:29 pm The tall hybrid sunflower ‘Lemon Queen’ offers lots of starry yellow flowers in early fall.
Fall is for gold: golden trees, golden grasses, and golden sunflowers glowing in the fading sun of the season. The many sunflowers of fall are especially glorious, and unlike the common annual sunflowers of summer, they are perennials that come back year after year. Their numerous species are also American natives that deserve a place in our gardens for reasons beyond simple beauty.
Native perennials tend to be tough and easy, and their habitat value is nearly unmatched. Their profuse, daisy flowers draw hundreds of different insect pollinators and they mature to brown, crackling seedheads packed with nutritious seeds for winter birds and other wildlife. There are also lots of different species and cultivated varieties to choose from of varying heights, textures and colors.Table Mountain’ is a sweet, low-growing perennial sunflower perfect for smaller garden spaces. Image care of Plant Haven
Throughout history, Native Americans cultivated sunflower plants, using the seeds, which are rich in protein and high in fat, to supplement their food supply. They dried the seeds before grinding them into powder to make flour, and boiled them to extract the oil. North American tribes used Jerusalem artichokes (H. tuberosus) as a food staple. Jerusalem artichoke tubers -- the plump parts of the roots resembling potatoes -- can be eaten cooked or raw.
Michelle Fortunato gained gardening experience from numerous years of at-home plant care and a lifelong love of flowers. She has been writing since 1995, and web content writing since 2009. Her gardening articles appear online, and she has been published in several magazines. Fortunato holds certificates in writing from the Institute of Children's Literature.