Heleniums are among the bright stars of the late summer and fall garden: their flashy, cheerful daisy-like flowers stand on stems up to about three feet tall, where you can’t miss them.
Perennial heleniums are known as sneezeweed, but the flowers are nothing to sneeze at. These tough plants thrive in sunny gardens, tolerate moist sites, and bloom for weeks. They are prolific enough to fill in sweeping areas of naturalistic meadow gardens, but pretty enough to earn a place in the carefully orchestrated display of a classic perennial bed.
Bright yellow is the most common color of helenium flowers, but you’ll also find orange, fiery red, and bicolor blooms. The colors look terrific together, and also with black-eyed Susans, ornamental grasses, yarrow, and Russian sage, or around the base of tall Joe-Pye weed. To promote branching and encourage lots of flowers, and to keep them from sprawling, cut the plants back with hedge shears, just as you would asters, in early summer. Clip the flowers off as they fade in early fall, and they’re likely to continue to bloom for up to 10 weeks, or until frost.
Heleniums are hardy perennials, tough enough for bitter-cold winters and scorching summers. They’re also a good choice for the margins of a rain garden, where they will benefit from the occasional soaking.
There are also annual heleniums. ‘Dakota Gold’ has earned a reputation as an exceptionally easy, drought-tolerant plant that does not flag in extreme heat. ‘Dakota Gold’ is “an improved version of one of the toughest Texas native wildflowers I know,” says Jimmy Turner, director of the Dallas Arboretum, where ‘Dakota Gold’ blooms from mid April until frost. The plants grow 12-14 inches tall and flourish at the fronts of flower beds or in pots. Deer and rabbits do not bother it. “I’ve always thought this plant had a certain charm,” Turner says, “but now I’m absolutely in love with it.”