Heliopsis Helianthoides – How to Grow False Sunflower

False (Early) Sunflower, Heliopsis Helianthoides

How to grow Heliopsis, the cliff notes version

This is a tough, native perennial that will bloom for over two months.  At the most basic level, all you need to do to successfully grow Fales/Early Sunflower is the following;

  • Is hardy in USDA garden zones 3-9, find your zone here
  • Plan in an area with full sun, at least six hours per day.  The more sun, the more blooms you will receive.
  • Any kind of soil, as long as it is well drained
  • It may need staking, can blow over in high storms/wind, but will recover somewhat
  • False Sunflower may need water in times of drought, but is overall very drought tolerant

Don’t forget to see our reference table at the end of this article for more fast facts.

False (Early) Sunflower, Heliopsis Helianthoides Facts and General Description

Ahhhh, the Heliopsis False Sunflower – what can I say?  Also known as Oxe-eye Sunflower, Early Sunflower, this is one of the best native perennials I have ever grown for providing long lasting color throughout the summer!  Another attractive feature is that Heliposis is a true CLAY BUSTER.  The fibrous roots on this plant have no problems penetrating tough clay soil.  One year after planting in hard, horrible clay soil the plants were 5′ tall!  Although this plant isn’t a ‘true’ sunflower, it looks just like a smaller version of common sunflower, Helianthus Annuus.  I have a thick grove of these planted near the back of my ‘meadow’ garden, and they provide so much color! They also are fun to examine because of all the insect activity – bees, butterflies all visit due to the ample supply of nectar from the many blooms.  Heliopsis Helianthoidess isn’t a true sunflower, but visually looks just like a regular sunflower hence the common name, False or Early Sunflower.

False Sunflower, Heliopsis Helianthoides in twilight

In addition to looking nice in the garden, Heliopsis Sunflower plant makes an excellent cut flower for your home that you can harvest for a very long time.  And by harvesting them, you will also stimulate it to make more blooms, thus keeping more color longer! I’ve had this plant bloom for three months in my garden!  For a perennial (even a short lived one) that is amazing!

As far as pests, I’ve yet to see any damage from deer or rabbits – so I would say that this plant is definitely deer resistant.  I’ve also not noticed any damage from insects eating the leaves – so from my experience this flower needs minimal maintenance.

Now, although this article mainly discusses the native False Sunflower, there are different variations available for purchase throughout the USA.  I’ll discuss some of those at the end of this article.

Growing False (Early) Sunflower, Heliopsis Helianthoides from seed

False Sunflower (Heliopsis Helianthoides) is very easy to grow from seed.  I recommend planting it 1/4″-1/2” deep (6-12 mm) in early spring (before plants begin emerging).  Or you can winter sow this plant, as it generally benefits from cold/moist stratification.  This can be done directly in the garden, or in starter pots. Nurture the seedlings, and then transplant out into your garden where it will have some space.  Since it can grow up to five feet tall (1.5 m), make sure it isn’t blocking other flowers.  This is by far the most economical way to grow Heliopsis, and save money in doing so.  

You can expect blooms the following year after germinating/transplanting Heliopsis.  The blooming period begins around early June in zone 6, and goes until late August/September.  I really can’t recommend this plant enough for your garden.

Heliopsis Helianthoides, False Sunflower with butterflies
Heliopsis Helianthoides, False Sunflower with butterflies

How to Save Seed from False Sunflower

Saving seed from any Heliopsis flower is very easy.  After the flowers are done blooming, wait about 3-4 weeks until the seed heads turn black and dry out.  Once this happens, snip off the seed heads and store them in a paper bag (or something breathable), keeping them in a cool dry place for about a week.  Then, you can place them into a decent sized plastic container with lid and shake it up.  That will knock most of the seeds off the seed head.  So, you will get plenty of seed with minimal chaff.  The video below describes the process well.  But I’ve gotten hundreds of seeds from just a dozen seed heads.

False (Early) Sunflower, Heliopsis Helianthoides Growing RequirementsHeliopsis Helianthoides, False Sunflower bloom

Sun Sun Sun!  Give this plant space and sun and watch it flourish.  Another amazing fact about this flower is how well it does in poor clay soil!  I was quite late the first year planting this, not setting them out until late July / early August, but the second year I was treated to a wall of yellow for 3 months!  Tough plants that can bust through hard clay soil that bloom for 3 months are rare – so all the more reason to grow this flower.  

This is only my second year with this plant, so I need to wait for a time to see how much this plant self-seeds.  But, since it has a reputation for being a short lived perennial.  Either way, I’ve saved seeds from my plants – so I have a ready supply of Heliopsis to plant in other areas of my yard regardless of how well this self-seeds!

Like most plants, this can be susceptible to powdery mildew.  Although this shouldn’t be an issue if you’ve planted it in full sun, as that way the leaves should dry out and stop the fungus from growing further.  It may damage the plant, but shouldn’t kill it.

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Heliopsis Helianthoides, False Sunflower Pintrest
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Do I need to deadhead Heliopsis?

Deadheading this plant should prolong the blooming period.  Doing so will also help keep it upright, and reduce the need for staking.  This flower can get top heavy if you have fertile soil with an abundance of nutrients.

How and when should you divide Heliopsis?

After several years of growth, the center of the plant may die while the outer ring still produces stalks.  If you notice that there are no stalks emerging from the center, or if it is just a few years old and very full, you can divide this plant.  Just dig it up in late fall after it has gone dormant, or in early spring right as the new shoots are emerging and split the plant using a knife or pitchfork.  Replant one part where you dug it up, and then plant the other section somewhere else or share it with a friend.

Typical garden uses for Heliopsis Helianthoides

Overall, I would recommend this plant to anyone who needs a tall plant for the back of a flowerbed, or border that loves the color yellow, and lots of pollinator action.  My wife loves the amount of cut-flowers she gets all summer long.  This is by far the longest blooming perennial flower I’ve ever grown, at 3 months!

If this flower seems a bit large for your flower beds, there are a number of other varieties available.  One in particular only gets about 2′ tall and is compact, called “Tuscan Sun”.  But don’t let the name fool you, this cultivar didn’t come from Italy.  It was from a random, but unique seedling found in a rose garden in Wisconsin in 1997.

Companion Plants for Heliopsis

A few other species I would recommend for planting with Heliopsis…. Echinacea/Purple Coneflower will bloom at the same time as False Sunflower, but the pink/purple flowers make for a lovely contrast.  Echinacea can also provide some support to this plant.  New England Aster can also work well with Heliopsis, being that it will start blooming around the same time Heliopsis stops blooming, providing more color for longer in this area of your garden.  Another perennial that can provide good support is Blue Vervain, as the stalks are quite rigid and strong.  It also favors the same conditions, and can provide a wonderful contrast.

So, I hope you have enjoyed this article on how to grow Heliopsis.  Check out our other native plant articles for similar information on other flower species.

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Heliopsis Helianthoides, False Sunflower Heliopsis Helianthoides, False Sunflower with bug on bloom

 

Heliopsis Helianthoides / False Sunflower Reference Table

Common Name False Sunflower, Oxeye Sunflower
Scientific name Heliopsis Helianthoides
USDA Zone 3-9
Bloom Time June-August
Bloom Duration 2-3 months
Color Yellow
Bloom Size 2” diameter (5 cm)
Characteristics Tall branching plant with multiple blooms
Height 3-6’ (1-2 m)
Spacing/Spread 2-3’
Light Requirements Full sun
Soil Types Any – tends to do great in clay
Moisture Medium / Dry
Maintenance Might need staking if not in a meadow setting.  High winds or storms can cause them to lean after the blooms open up
Typical Use Back of a flower bed, meadow
Fauna Associations Lots of pollinators.  I’ve not seen these browsed by my deer/rabbits.  Birds will eat the seeds
Larval Host Unknown
Sowing Depth ¼”-1/2” (6-12 mm)
Stratification 30 days cold/moist stratification
Native Range USA East of the Rocky Mountains
Notes This is an excellent cut flower

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