Helenium, commonly known as Sneezeweed, is a genus of flowering plants belonging to the family Asteraceae. Approximately 40 species of Helenium are found across North and South America, with the majority being native to Mexico and the United States. This perennial gem possesses a distinct stature, ranging from 2 to 5 feet in height, depending on the cultivar and growing conditions. The common name “Sneezeweed” comes from the old belief that these plants could cause people to sneeze if the leaves were crushed and inhaled.
Growing and Caring for Helenium
Helenium thrives when its growing conditions mirror its native habitat – sunny meadows and stream banks of North and Central America. Plant Helenium in spring after the danger of frost has passed. Prepare the planting area by loosening the soil and mixing in compost. Space the plants 2-3 feet apart, depending on the species’ growth habit. Ensure proper spacing to allow air circulation and prevent overcrowding.
Providing ample sunlight is paramount to its success; plant helenium in a location that receives full sun to light shade. Soil quality plays a pivotal role in nurturing healthy helenium. Aim for well-draining soil that retains some moisture without becoming waterlogged. A pH level slightly on the acidic to neutral side (between 6.0 and 7.0) suits helenium’s needs best.
Regular watering during the establishment phase is crucial. Once the plant develops a strong root system, helenium is relatively drought-tolerant, but occasional deep watering during extended dry periods will support its overall health and flowering performance.
To encourage continuous blooming, remove spent flowers – a practice known as deadheading. This extends the flowering period and maintains the plant’s neat appearance. As the blooming season draws to a close, consider leaving some spent flowers on the plant to develop seeds. These seeds can serve as a food source for birds during the colder months.
Leaves and Flowers
The foliage of helenium is typically lance-shaped and alternately arranged along the stems. The leaves have a deep green hue + serrated edges and provide a handsome foil for the main attraction: the captivating blossoms. Some helenium varieties exhibit a slightly fuzzy or hairy texture on the leaves, enhancing their visual interest.
Helenium’s flowers are a burst of energy, showcasing a delightful spectrum of colors ranging from sunny yellows and burnt oranges to deep reds and russet tones. The flowers also produce large amounts of nectar, making them a valuable food source for many species of butterflies, bees, and other insects. In addition to being a source of food, Helenium also provides habitat and shelter for many beneficial insects, including ladybugs.
Uses in the Garden
Helenium is often used to create colorful borders and flower beds in garden landscapes. With its striking and daisy-like flowers in shades of yellow, orange, and red, Helenium adds vibrant color to garden spaces. Planted in groups or mixed with other perennials, it creates a visually appealing display that attracts attention and contributes to the overall aesthetics of the garden.
Helenium’s native-like appearance and attractive blooms also make it a popular choice for wildflower gardens. When incorporated into naturalistic or pollinator-friendly garden designs, Helenium provides nectar and pollen for bees, butterflies, and other beneficial pollinators. Its long bloom period, which typically extends from late summer into fall, ensures a continuous food source for pollinators during the later part of the growing season.
The sturdy stems and long-lasting blooms of Helenium make it an excellent choice for cut flower gardens. Gardeners often include Helenium in their cutting gardens to harvest the vibrant flowers for floral arrangements. The striking colors and contrasting patterns of Helenium blooms add interest to bouquets, making them a valuable addition for those who enjoy bringing the beauty of their gardens indoors.
Our Selection of Helenium
We rarely see Helenium at Martin Garden Center because it is not commonly grown by our vendors. But, we think Helenium is amazing and not just because it is a native. It flowers from spring till first frost and makes a great cut flower. It requires little care. Frankly, we don’t understand why customers don’t love Helenium … Maybe it is because some idiot gave it a common name of Sneezeweed.
We have grown it ourselves in 4″ containers but it tends to grow so quickly that if it does not sell, we have to pot it up to a 1-gallon size and cut it back regularly. We may again try to grow small quantities because the plant is a profuse flowering plant and very attractive. However, we can’t guarantee that you will see Helenium here when you visit. We have one vendor offering one variety of Helenium in 2024, but it will be offered as in 1-gallon containers. With any luck, we will be able to offer it in a 1-gallon container versus the 4″ containers we offered. Maybe that was our problem … we thought too small. Get it?
Are Heleniums Perennial?
Yes, Heleniums are perennial plants that return year after year, growing, blooming, and often increasing in size over time. Heleniums have a dormancy period during winter, and their foliage may die back. However, the plants remain alive underground, and when spring arrives, new shoots emerge from the roots, giving rise to fresh growth.
Do Deer Eat Helenium?
Heleniums are less appealing to deer due to the texture and thickness of their leaves. However, if you are in an area with a high deer population and want to protect your Heleniums, you may still consider additional deer deterrent measures, such as using deer repellents or installing fencing.