Heliopsis helianthoides is a mouthful, but it basically means sunflower-like (Helios was the Greek sun god). Although similar in looks, Heliopsis (pronounced hee-lee-OP-sis) is not the same as the perennial sunflower in the genus and has been given the common name of False Sunflower. However false they may be, they are no less lovely.
False sunflowers—also known as oxeye sunflowers or sweet smooth oxeyes—are easy growing herbaceous perennial plants that naturalize in grasslands and at the edge of woodlands. Heliopsis is a native wildflower in a large portion of North America, (everywhere except the western third of the continent), but new cultivars can be grown just about anywhere.
- Leaves: Triangular-shaped leaves are opposite and toothed. The stems branch naturally, allowing the plants to grow in a bush habit.
- Flowers: Double or single daisy-like orange-yellow flowers surround a cone-shaped, golden-brown center disk.
Heliopsis is very adaptable and can grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9. You will get the most blooms in full sun, but the plants can handle partial shade. They will get a bit leggy if they don't get at least 4-5 hours of sun a day.
- Soil: Heliopsis need well-drained soil. Overly rich soil can cause a lot of leggy stem growth, so go easy on the organic matter and fertilizer. But they are fine in all textures of soil, from rocky, to clay to sand, once they are established. They can handle a range of soil pH, but prefer something in the neutral range.
- Planting: You can start Helopsis by seed in either the spring or fall. For spring, start seeds indoors, 4-6 weeks before your last frost date. In the fall, you can start seeds in flats or direct sow, in mid- to late August. As perennials, they tend to begin blooming in their second year, so a spring seeding may not flower the year they are planted. Seeds started in the fall should provide blooms the following summer. Not all varieties are open-pollinated so that you won't have the seed option with some of the newer cultivars. Dividing every 2-3 years will keep the clumps from dying out in the center. You can divide in either spring or fall.
- Maintenance: Although Helopsis is drought tolerant, regular water will keep them healthier and stockier, which means fewer pests and problems.
Many varieties can get top-heavy and require staking. If you plant them behind lower growers, they should be fine. You could also prune or pinch them back in mid-spring, for a shorter, but sturdier, plant. Doing this will delay blooming for a couple of weeks.
Most varieties will self sow, although they don't all grow true to type. You may get some interesting variety, though.
Different varieties will reach between 2 - 6 ft. (h) x 2 - 4 (w). They are clump-forming and tend to stay in one place. This is a reliable repeat bloomer, and you should have flowers from mid-summer into fall. Deadheading will help keep new buds forming and give the plant a tidier appearance.
Fall bloomers seem to have sent out a memo about what to wear because they all seem to work together effortlessly. The golden yellows of Heliopsis perfectly complement the purples of coneflowers, Joe Pye weed, Veronica, Salvia, and Liatris. They also work with the hotter colors of Gaillardia and daylilies.
False sunflowers make lovely cut flowers and are very attractive to hummingbirds, bees, and to butterflies, who like to perch on the flat blossoms and sip nectar.
You will be hard-pressed to find a bad Heliopsis. Most varieties are easy growing and bloom reliably.
- Asahi: Mid-sized plant with fluffy double flowers
- Loraine Sunshine: Early bloomer with oddly variegated leaves
- Prairie Sunset: Tall plant with dark purple stems
- Summer Nights: Dark red stems and red-tinged foliage. Gold flowers have mahogany centers
- Summer Sun: Tall, with semi-double, golden-yellow flowers and lots of them