The name strawflower (Xerochrysum bracteatum) doesn’t do much to excite the flower gardener—it might elicit images of a plant that's withered and tan—but the real strawflower blossom will bring vivid colors to your landscape and craft projects alike. Strawflowers resemble daisies in form, but unlike daisies, the petals are stiff and papery. In fact, they aren’t true petals at all, but modified leaves called bracts.
Strawflowers were previously classified as a member of the genus Bracteantha but now are in the Xerochrysum genus. This Australian native is a part of the Asteraceae family, which includes many daisy-type flowers.
|Botanical Name||Xerochrysum bracteatum|
|Common Name||Strawflower, golden everlasting|
|Plant Type||Annual flowering plant|
|Mature Size||2 to 3 feet tall, 6 to 18 inches wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full sun, partial shade|
|Soil Type||Any well-drained soil|
|Soil pH||5.5 to 6.5|
|Bloom Time||Spring, summer, fall|
|Flower Color||Yellow, orange, red, white, pink|
|Hardiness Zone||8 to 10|
How to Grow Strawflowers
The strawflower can behave as a short-lived perennial in zones 8 to 11, returning reliably for two to three years. In most regions, however, gardeners start strawflowers from seed each year. The annual plants grow best in regions with hot summers, so if you have cool summers try growing the similar looking calendula instead. Varieties of sunflower over 3 feet tall may need staking, but the newest cultivars are bred to be stocky and early blooming and need no support.
Strawflowers are generally pest and disease-free, but aster yellows virus can affect the plants. This disease is most problematic in areas with leafhopper infestations, where the insect acts as a vector. Affected plants will exhibit yellowing of leaves and stunted growth. Remove infected plants and treat for leafhoppers with carbaryl or permethrin, if desired.
Strawflowers thrive in full sun, although they can tolerate part shade. In the latter case, they won't bloom quite as much. Growing strawflowers in full sun will help prevent flopping and weak stems.
Sandy and rocky soils are preferred over rich and heavy soils, but any soil is fine as long as excellent drainage is present. Add mulch to retain soil moisture and even soil temperatures. When planting in the garden, dig the soil to a depth of 10 to 12 inches and add 3 inches of compost.
The drought-tolerant flowers will still be shining brightly in the garden after a week of summer vacation, but don’t let them wither in an extended period of drought. A weekly drink will keep the flowers pert and fresh. Give them about 1 inch of water a week during the growing season if the rain hasn't already kept the soil moist. Don't let the roots of the plant get overly soggy.
Temperature and Humidity
Sunflowers do best in temperatures of 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 60 degrees at night. Strawflowers are not frost-tolerant, so they grow best in warm weather, and they prefer low humidity.
Although not heavy feeders, a monthly application of balanced flower fertilizer will keep your strawflowers blooming steadily. Strawflowers grown in containers need more fertilizing than those planted in the garden.
Varieties of Strawflowers
- Bright Bikini series: Topping out at 1 foot tall, this is a good choice for containers or the front of the border.
- Monstrosum series: Fully double flowers in orange, pink, red, and white are a crafter’s favorite.
- Sundaze series: A Proven Winners introduction in yellow and orange hues, it won awards in Cornell University and Penn State plant trials.
- Tom Thumb Mix: In contrast to the standard height of 40 inches, this mix won't surpass about 15 inches, making it an ideal companion for a sunny container garden or window box.
Strawflowers don't need to be pruned regularly. However, deadheading the plant will keep the flowers blossoming.
Harvest flowers for drying when partially opened, as they will continue to open after picking. Collect the flowers in the evening, when they are free of dew. Strawflower stems are hollow and become brittle and shatter-prone after drying. The best way to use strawflowers in crafts is to remove the stems at harvest and use wires in their place. Strawflowers also look attractive as potpourri additions. The flowers feature excellent shape and color retention, even without a glycerin preservative.
Growing From Seeds
When starting strawflowers from seed, time your seed starting about six to eight weeks prior to the last frost. Press seeds lightly into the soil, but don’t cover them, as light hastens germination. The seedling should begin to appear in seven to 10 days.
Give the seedlings plenty of light from a window or grow them beneath fluorescent plant lights that are on for 16 hours of the day. Harden your transplants and place them in the garden after night temperatures reach about 60 degrees Fahrenheit.