Plant of the Month
Sunflower, Willow Leaf (Helianthus salicifolius)
Sunflowers are certainly a gift of summer. They remind me of sultry afternoons with the promise of autumn yet to come. Common sunflowers are the ones we are most familiar with. They stand tall and proud on long, straight stems with their magnificent faces lifted towards their namesake and beautiful blue summer skies. There are numerous varieties of sunflower and each is worthy of a spot in your garden; however, one particular sunflower could easily become your favorite.
The willow leaf sunflower is a late blooming perennial that performs well in a wild, native plant garden, sharing the spotlight with ornamental grasses or as an excellent backdrop in a border. Preferring a sunny spot in your garden, it is happiest in moist, well- drained soil but will tolerate some shade and drought. The willow leaf sunflower can grow to a height of 8 to 10 feet tall and spreads by underground rhizomes. One plant can produce 6 to 15 flower heads. Leaves are long and narrow, similar to willow, thus the name. Flowers are cheery golden yellow florets surrounding a brown disk. The plant blooms from late summer well into fall and may last until the first frost. Two popular cultivars include ‘First Light’ which only grows 3 feet tall and blooms in September. ‘Low Down’ tends to be smaller and more compact with smaller leaves and flowers. It’s great in cut flower arrangements.
The graceful willow leaf sunflower requires very little maintenance, is deer-resistant, has no serious disease or insect problems, but can be susceptible to rust or powdery mildew as most sunflowers are. These showy flowers attract butterflies and if the seed heads remain on the
plant, they will add a rich source of food for birds in winter. If you are looking to add a “pop of color” to your end-of-summer fall garden, you won’t be disappointed with willow leaf sunflower. - by D. Talbot
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