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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.
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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.