The name strawflower doesn’t do much to excite the flower gardener, eliciting images of something withered and tan, but the real strawflower blossom will bring vivid colors to your landscape and craft projects alike.
Get to Know This Sun-Loving Flower
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. You may hear strawflower referenced by its other common names, including the everlasting daisy, golden everlasting, and paper daisy. Blooming from summer to fall, the plants will thrive in full sun and grow from one to four feet in the flower garden.
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, in hues ranging from warm yellow, orange, and creams to cool pink, white, and purple tones. Foliage is green and lance-shaped.
The strawflower can behave as a short-lived perennial in zones 8-11, 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.
How to Plant Strawflowers
When starting strawflowers from seed, time your seed starting about eight weeks prior to the last frost. Press seeds lightly into the soil, but don’t cover them, as light hastens germination. Harden your transplants and place them in the garden after night temperatures reach about 60 degrees F. Alternatively, sow the seeds directly in the garden. Mother Nature will tell the seeds when to germinate.
Sandy and rocky soils are preferred over rich and heavy soils, but any soil is fine as long as excellent drainage is present. Varieties over three feet tall may need staking, but the newest cultivars are bred to be stocky and early blooming, and need no support.
Although not heavy feeders, a monthly application of balanced flower fertilizer will keep your strawflowers blooming steadily. 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.
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.
Insect and Disease Management
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 permethin, if desired.
Garden Design With Strawflowers
Include this cutting garden favorite with other easy to dry flowers in the landscape, like statice and globe amaranth, which share similar growing requirements. Combine with a tall ornamental grass and a low-growing sweet potato vine for a lush patio container. Strawflower is a valuable addition to naturalized meadow and wildflower areas. It attracts butterflies and bees, and also self-seeds freely for the following season. Plant strawflower in rural gardens, where the stiff bracts will deter most deer and rabbits. Add strawflowers to your mailbox garden. They thrive from the heat that radiates off concrete and asphalt.
Best Strawflower Varieties
- Bright Bikini series: Topping out at one 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.