Although not a true sunflower, this impressively tall plant with brilliant yellow daisy-like flowers adds cheery color to the back of a garden or border. Some smaller varieties are better suited to the middle of the garden. False sunflower is more compact (so less likely to flop) than the real deal. It also starts blooming earlier so you can enjoy the single, semidouble, or double flowers over the span of many weeks.
While the 2- to 3-inch-diameter blossoms of this plant are not as large as those of a real sunflower, they are borne in large enough quantities to make up for it. In most specimens, each flower comprises a single row of golden petals around a darker yellow center eye. (That's why this plant is commonly called ox eye.) Some varieties bear double flowers that include an extra set of petals for a fuller look. For extra interest, check out variegated varieties with foliage in different mixtures of green, white, and pink.
False Sunflower Care Must-Knows
Native to many areas of the United States, false sunflower grows best in well-drained soil. If unsure about the moisture level, err on the side of dry because this plant is drought-tolerant. It also tolerates poor soil (clay or sandy) and rocky conditions. Growing false sunflower in leaner soil acts as a natural growth regulator, which helps prevent the plant from flopping.
Growing these plants in full sun boosts the number of flowers and alleviates the need for supplemental support. With variegated varieties, full sun brings out the most stunning colorations in the foliage. You may be able to get by with part sun, especially with variegated varieties, but plan on staking floppy plants. Avoid floppiness in general by cutting plants back by one-third in late spring to early summer to encourage shorter, well-branched specimens.
False sunflower is occasionally bothered by powdery mildew, a foliar fungus that manifests as a white powdery coating on lower leaves. While this condition is unsightly, it will not likely do long-term damage. The best control is prevention. If your plants experienced powdery mildew the previous season, clean up last year's debris in the spring. Planting false sunflower in full sun keeps foliage drier, another option for preventing mildew.
More Varieties of False Sunflower
'Double Sunstruck' False Sunflower
Heliopsis helianthoides 'Double Sunstruck' has double-yellow blooms atop variegated foliage on dwarf plants, making it a winner. Zones 4-9
'Loraine Sunshine' False Sunflower
This selection of Heliopsis helianthoides has brilliant yellow flowers who team up with nearly white foliage with strong green veins. Zones 4-9
False Sunflower Companion Plants
Asters get their name from the Latin word for "star," and their flowers are indeed the superstars of the fall garden. Some types of this native plant can reach up to 6 feet with flowers in white and pinks but also, perhaps most strikingly, in rich purples and showy lavenders. Not all asters are fall bloomers. Extend the season by growing some of the summer bloomers, as well. Some are naturally compact; tall types that grow more than 2 feet tall benefit from staking or an early-season pinching or cutting back by about one-third in July or so to keep the plant more compact.
Yarrow is one of those plants that give a wildflower look to any garden. In fact, it is indeed a native plant and, predictably, it's easy to care for. In some gardens, it will thrive with almost no care, making it a good candidate for naturalistic plantings in open areas and along the edges of wooded or other wild places. Its colorful, flat-top blooms rise above clusters of ferny foliage. The tough plants resist drought, are rarely eaten by deer and rabbits, and spread moderately quickly, making yarrow a good choice for massing in borders or as a groundcover. If deadheaded after its first flush of blooms fade, yarrow will rebloom. If left to dry on the plant, flower clusters of some types provide winter interest. Flowers of yarrow are excellent either in fresh or dried arrangements.
Blue Oat Grass
Refined and elegant, blue oat grass adapts easily and fits equally well in formal or informal gardens. Its mound of grassy gray-blue leaves arches gracefully throughout the season. In fall, panicles of brownish spikelets reach for the sky well above the foliage.