Helenium

Warm rust, rich yellow, and burnt orange flowers top the tall, slim stems of sneezeweed (Helenium spp.) from late summer to the first frost.

A native perennial at home in a prairie garden, it’s also found along streams, ponds, and moist meadowlands throughout North America. Most sneezeweeds reach 3 to 5 feet, so they fit well in the back of the garden, providing rich autumn colour for several weeks. Pair sneezeweeds with blue asters, Russian sage, and golden mums for a lovely fall garden.

Plant Facts

Common name: Sneezeweed
Botanical name: Helenium spp.
Height: 24 to 60 inches, depending on cultivar
Plant type: Clump-forming annual or perennial
Zones: 3 to 8, depending on cultivar
Family: Asteraceae

Growing conditions

Sun: Full sun
Soil: Well-drained to heavy soil
Moisture: Medium to wet

Care

Mulch: Put down a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch to conserve moisture, keep roots cool, and suppress weeds. Apply winter mulch after soil is frozen.
Fertiliser: Not necessary in average soil. Over-fertilisation and very rich soil cause rangy, weak growth.
Pruning: Pinch back in early summer to create healthier foliage and sturdy branching. Remove spent flowers to encourage more flowering.

Species and Cultivars

Helenium flexuosum (pictured) has yellow, wedge-shaped, drooping rays and purple-brown disks. It blooms August to October and prefers moist sites near meadows and roadsides. Commonly known as a purple-headed sneezeweed, it grows 1 to 3 feet tall. Zones 5 to 9.
H. autumnale has yellow flower rays from late summer to fall. Grows 5 feet tall. Zones 3 to 8.
H. ‘Butterpat’ has deep yellow flowers and grows 3 feet tall. Zones 4 to 8.
H. hoopesii has grey-green foliage and 3-inch flowers with yellow rays and orange centres. Blooms earlier in summer than other sneezeweeds. Grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Zones 3 to 8.
H. ‘Moerheim Beauty’ bears 2- to 3-inches flowers with copper-red florets and brown disks from early to late summer. Has sturdier stems than other sneezeweeds, so it usually doesn’t need staking. Grows 3 feet tall. Zones 4 to 8.

Garden notes

Though its common name is sneezeweed, it doesn’t cause hay fever.
Divide every three to four years for good flower production.
Good companions for sneezeweed include goldenrod, yarrow, sunflowers, and ‘Autumn Joy’ sedum.
Attracts honeybees and butterflies.

Pests and diseases

Powdery mildew, rust, and fungal spots occur occasionally.

Propagation

Sow seeds of the species in spring. Don’t sow seeds of cultivars, as the offspring won’t be the same as the parent plant.
Take cuttings of cultivars in spring for rooting in a cold frame.
Divide plants in spring or fall.

All in the family

The Asteraceae (once called Compositae) family is also called the daisy, sunflower, or aster family.
Many are excellent nectar producers for honeybees. Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and some goldenrod (Solidago) plants are important “honey plants” for bee keepers.
Botanists describe most members of the Asteraceae family as having flower heads rather than flowers. They have one or both of these structures: ray florets (the petals) and disc florets (the centre disc that’s composed of tiny tubular flowers). Dandelions have just rays, and sneezeweeds have both ray and disc florets.