Most gardeners are familiar with the annual sunflower, with the dinner-plate sized flower on a single stalk. While those are great fun to grow, most of us don't have the room for them.
The vast majority of the sunflower genus are annuals. However, it is the perennial varieties that coexist most happily with other garden plants, and once planted, require little more attention than an annual cutting to the ground when they go dormant in winter, but bounce back to life and burst into dramatic display every August.
Perennial sunflowers can either be grown in rows at the back of the border or to make summer screens, as features in cottage gardens or for their cut flowers. They also work well when grown as repetitive clumps alongside ornamental grasses in naturalistic or prairie style gardens. Clumped together in a large colony, their simultaneous blooms look like a huge summer bouquet.
Helianthus mollis is an attractive plant, whether in or out of bloom. This pretty perennial sunflower grows to about 120cm (4ft) tall at maturity. It blooms with lovely 7 to 10cm (3 to 4in) wide, butter-yellow flowers from July to September and is in its full glory throughout August. The ray petals provide a beautiful contrast with the grey-green leaves. The central disk, 2.5cm (1in) in diameter, composed of the florets is initially green and as the flower matures the disk gradually turns yellow beginning with the outermost florets.
The flowers are highly attractive to butterflies and bees and later in the season, the strong stems serve as perches for the goldfinches and other seed-eating birds that flock to the maturing flowers in late September and October.
This rarely seen sunflower, commonly called the Downy or Ashy Sunflower, is easy to distinguish from its relatives by noting the grey-green foliage covered with a profusion of fine hair. The early spring growth is particularly beautiful as the young leaves look like they’ve been frosted with snow.
Easy to grow and low maintenance, they are great for beginner gardeners and those that like gardens that don't need much overseeing.
Sowing: Sow in Spring or in Autumn.
Sow 3mm (1/8in) deep in trays or pots containing good free draining seed compost, Make sure that the compost is moist but not wet. The seeds germinate best afer a period of cold so place the container in a cool position. Germination usually takes 21 to 30 days at 16 to 20°C (60 to 70°F).
Transplant when large enough to handle into 7.5cm (3in) pots or boxes and grow on in a cold frame outdoors. Acclimatise young plants to outdoor conditions before planting out into ordinary garden soil in full sun 40 to 60cm (16 to 24in) apart.
Helianthus mollis thrives in areas with mesic (normal) to xeric (dry) soils, often in poor soils. Does not grow well in permanently hydric (wet) or clay soils. Its preference is for poor, drier soils, those with gravel, rock or clay, where it will form dense stands. But it will do well and actually grow taller in nutrient-rich medium soils, too. Although it grows in dry sites, in hot areas it may not bloom during years of severe drought. The plant also grows readily in rich, loamy soil, in which case it may become taller.
Plant in full sun, although some late afternoon shade is fine if you are in one of the hotter parts of the world.
In sheltered sites the plants do not need staking, but it is best not to water or fertilise the plants, even during a drought, as it will become top heavy while blooming and may fall over.
Also beware of snails and slugs when they are still young plants. Other than that, they are delightfully uncomplaining and easy to grow.
Harvesting Cut Flowers:
For the vase, cut the fresh flowers in the morning just after they open, but wait until the sun has dried the dew. Remove leaves that are low on the stem, leaving just two or three higher up, near the flower's face. Place the flowers in a bucket filled with water, and leave them to stand for several hours in a cool room before placing in a vase.
Use a clean knife, a clean vase and a few drops of bleach in the water to keep it fresh. Change the water every few days. Blooms can last up to a fortnight when kept in water.
Naturalistic or Prairie style gardens, Cottage & Informal Garden, Wildlife Gardens, Flower Arranging, Children.
If you want to collect your own seed you many need to bag the heads with a paper bag to ensure you get there before the finches as they love these seeds. To dry seeds, cut the flower heads off when they begin to yellow at the back. Hang them upside down in a dry location away from rodents and birds. Store in a cool dry place until you are ready to sow.
Native to North America, it is found throughout the eastern half the United States, as far west as Nebraska and northward into Canada. It will tolerates harsh winter conditions growing as far north as Maine, Wisconsin, and Michigan. Historically it is a species of the prairies and open grasslands. It may also occur on dry, sandy soils along roadsides, savannas, glades, woodland edges and openings, and old fields
Helianthus mollis is on the threatened list in Ohio and is legally protected in Michigan, where it also appears on the state threatened list.
The genus name Helianthus is taken from the Greek helios, meaning sun, and anthos, meaning flower. Together they give the plant its common name of Sunflower.
The origin of its species name mollis is from the Latin meaning 'soft', referring to the leaves.
Commonly called the Ashy or Downy Sunflower due to the grey-green foliage covered with a profusion of fine hair.
- Additional Information
Packet Size 100mg Average Seed Count 30 Seeds Family Asteraceae Genus Helianthus Species mollis Common Name Downy or Ashy Sunflower, Perennial Sunflower Other Common Names Wooly Sunflower Other Language Names FR: Tournesol, Girassol Hardiness Hardy Perennial Height 120cm (4ft) Spacing 30cm (12in) Position Full sun for best flowering Germination 5 to 21 days