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Add glorious late-season color to your landscape with helenium, a sun-loving perennial that delivers long-lasting floral displays each year from mid to late summer through fall. Use it in borders, cottage gardens, and naturalized areas. Native to both North America and Europe, this sun-loving plant is sometimes called sneezeweed (because it was once used for making snuff). Not to worry, allergy sufferers—helenium won’t make you sneeze. But it does bloom about the same time as wild ragweed, a major source of hay-fever-inducing pollen. Helenium is much loved by bees and other pollinators. Many of the best cultivars are hybrids, and all are excellent for cutting.
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Helenium features bright-green foliage that contrasts beautifully with velvety daisylike flowers in shades of orange, yellow, dark red, and golden brown. Most varieties feature flowers with petals in a stiff skirt that spreads out from the center. Others sport flowers with downward-facing petals in the manner of a shuttlecock. If you like helenium's vibrant flowers, search for annual varieties that bloom nonstop the entire growing season.
Helenium Care Must-Knows
Plant helenium in full sun (at least six hours a day) to promote long-lasting displays of color. Although some varieties tolerate afternoon shade, this plant typically becomes floppy and leggy in part-sun conditions. Helenium also needs good, well-drained, slightly acidic soil and moderate moisture—which makes sense since its native setting tends to be low-lying meadows or the edges of woodlands. Sandy soil needs an infusion of compost to increase moisture retention. Compost also lightens soil with too much clay. Water weekly—more in times of extreme heat. Although similar in looks to both black-eyed Susan and coneflowers, this plant does not share their ability to withstand droughts. It also dislikes boggy areas, so make sure the planting bed doesn't retain standing water.
Helenium grows quickly and will require frequent deadheading in order to promote new flowers and reduce its fondness for self-sowing. Some of the taller varieties may require support or staking to keep plants upright. Pinch deer-resistant helenium back in spring to make it shorter and bushier, possibly at the cost of delaying flowering. Once it blooms, cut the flower stalks down to the foliage. Divide helenium every three years in the spring after it comes out of dormancy to ensure vigor.