Grow a Stand of Swamp Sunflowers

by Fred Brennus


  I had no idea that my new perennial was a relative of the domestic sunflower.  I saw these plants in a catalog of native flowers and decided to try them out.  I got a vigorous plant that fills all of my problem areas with little trouble.  This plant has couple of values to the home owner and naturalist but they come with a bit of trouble.

The swamp sunflower (Helianthus augustifolius) grows to a height of 6 feet, sometimes better when water is always available.  In the fall it blooms and will continue blooming well into October.  It won't stop all of its activity until a hard killing frost finally gets it.  I have read that some people have trouble keeping the tall branches standing up but all of my plants have been strong and upright.  In fact, they form a nearly impenetrable thicket in my corner flower beds.

The thick growth has made a good screen for the areas of my yard that need to be filled and to keep the neighbors from seeing my every move.  But thick growth means that these plants can become unmanageable.  One of the reasons this plant can give you trouble is because of its ability to send roots out for quite a few feet.  It would be best to plant these in a bucket sunk into the soil in order to keep tabs on their spread, unless you want them to fill an area up.  I have seen the offspring of my mature plants push their way through Black-Eyed Susan, also known to choke out its neighbors.  Talk about tough.  Invasive is a word that could be used to describe the swamp sunflower.

If you decide to use them in your landscape, you will be treated to zillions of blossoms about 2 to 3 inches across through the part of Fall when most other plants are dying off.  When planted in mass, the effect of so many blossoms is unbelievable.

Once the blossoms die off, they leave behind seed heads that are irresistible to the birds in our area.  I always leave the stems up for a couple of months into winter so that the birds can feed until the branches are stripped.  These are great plants to add to your list of food sources if you're turning your yard into a habitat.

The other reason that these can be hard plant to have around is the dead branches.  These are thick and when they die turn into brittle rods almost an inch thick in places.  They should be cut back before warm weather starts but I wait until May many times.  It's a lot of work gathering all the pulled branches into bundles, but when I'm done I have good tinder material to start fires with.

You can find these plants in specialty garden shops.  Sometimes they are listed under the common name of Mountain Sunflower.  They are native to North Carolina and other states in the South as far as the Florida panhandle so they will make a fine addition to you native collection.  I found two varieties at Niche Gardens.  They have a good online catalog and they will send you a paper one too.  If you fell like visiting their green houses, it's not too far a drive here in Carolina.

Give these plants a try if you would like to see guaranteed success in your garden.

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