10 Types of Perennial Sunflowers to Grow Year After Year

Bright yellow perennial sunflowers

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The vibrant colors and association with summer make annual sunflowers a favorite around the world. Although the annual sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is easy to grow from seed, they must be replanted each year.

The genus Helianthus also includes a number of perennial species. These are fairly long-blooming, late-season flowers, blooming in late summer through mid autumn. Though the flowers tend to be smaller than annual sunflowers, they make up for it with weeks of showy color.

Perennial sunflowers range in height from 2 to 10 feet tall. They tend to grow either as clumps, or from rhizomes, which tend to spread quite aggressively in the garden. They are generally heat and drought tolerant, and, as many are native to bogs and prairies, are not too fussy about soil. Their dark green leaves create a striking contrast with the bright yellow flowers, and they attract a variety of pollinators.

Perennial Sunflower Growing Tips

Perennial sunflowers are tolerant of many soil conditions, but do best in soil with organic matter and good drainage. Clay soils may cause problems with perennial sunflower varieties that tend to be invasive (like Jerusalem artichokes).

Growing from seed is not always practical as many of the varieties are hybrids. Divisions from existing plants are the best way to propagate. This may be done in spring or fall. The rhizomes spread relatively fast: leave 2 to 3 feet of space around divisions to give them room to spread.

Although they are relatively low maintenance plants, some taller varieties may need staking, or can be planted alongside a garage or wall behind other tall perennials for support. Cut them back in the spring and clear away debris.

Perennial sunflowers are resistant to most pests. Their only real issue can be powdery mildew, partly because they increase quickly and create a crowded flower bed space. Dividing them every other year to manage size and increase air flow is helpful.

  • 01 of 10

    Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus augustifolius)

    bright yellow flower with golden yellow centers against green outdoor background

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    Despite its drab-sounding name, the swamp sunflower is an eye-catching flower with bright yellow petals and perky gold-tipped stamens. This tall perennial sunflower is tolerant of salt air and salty soil. Birds enjoy the seeds after frost kills the foliage, so wait until spring to cut back.

    • Native Area: Southeast US, Florida, Alabama
    • USDA Growing Zones: 6-9
    • Height: 6-9 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 02 of 10

    Giant Sunflower (Helianthus giganteus)

    Large sunflower with bee on center

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    With its large seed-filled centers this perennial sunflower grows on a tall central stem, resembling the familiar annual sunflowers. Its tubers and seeds are edible and it's an important food source for wildlife. It is cold hardy and prefers moist, marshy habitats.

    • Native Area: Eastern Canada and US
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3-9
    • Height: up to 9 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 03 of 10

    Western Sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis)

    Western sunflower, in foreground of field

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    Also known as fewleaf sunflower, due to the stalks being mostly bare of leaves. Well-loved by birds and butterflies, this cheery perennial is a good choice for the border as the clumps don't spread too aggressively.

    • Native Area: Eastern and central US
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3-9
    • Height: 2-4 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 04 of 10

    Ashy Sunflower (Helianthus mollis)

    Sunflower with large center and rounded petal edges in a meadow

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    Blooming from July through September, this compact perennial sunflower with rounded petal edges does well in thin but well-drained soils including sand, chalk and gravel. Birds, especially goldfinches. love its nutritious seeds,

    • Native Area: Mostly Central and Southeast US, has naturalized in Northwest US
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-10
    • Height: 2-3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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  • 05 of 10

    Showy Sunflower (Helianthus x laetiflorus)

    bright yellow sunflower

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    This variety is also known as "cheerful sunflower" and its sunny yellow petals and perky stamens make it a favorite of the perennial Helianthus. It is very heat tolerant and long-blooming. The roots and tubers are edible.

    • Native Area: US and Canada
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 6-7 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 06 of 10

    Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximiliani)

    pale yellow petalled sunflowers with wasp

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    These tall, prolific bloomers are also known as prairie sunflowers, and attract many beneficial pollinators. The showy petals are a slightly paler yellow than most perennial sunflowers. They are easy to grow from seed and they reseed freely, with a tendency to become somewhat invasive in the garden.

    • Native Area: US and Canada
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 3-10 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 07 of 10

    Willowleaf Sunflower (Helianthus salicifolius)

    Sunflowers with large dark brown centers

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    The frost-tolerant willowleaf sunflower will grow up to ten feet tall and sometimes taller. Native to limestone prairies, once established It tends to spread somewhat aggressively. There are shorter cultivars called 'First Light' and 'Autumn Gold' that are worth seeking out.

    • Native Area: Central US
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-9
    • Height: 10 feet or taller
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 08 of 10

    Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

    Bright yellow flowers with brown center stamens and dark green leaves

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    This showy plant with huge dark green leathery leaves and 2-3 inch yellow flowers has a nutritious root that is cooked as a vegetable and considered an important food crop to permaculture enthusiasts. However the plants can be quite invasive.

    • Native Area: Naturalized throughout Eastern and Central US
    • USDA Growing Zones: 3-9
    • Height: 6-10 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
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  • 09 of 10

    Beach sunflower (Helianthus debilis)

    many small sunflowers growing together

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    This clumping perennial is tolerant of poor soils, including salty soil (hence its common name of "beach sunflower"), but is also not cold-tolerant. Also called cucumberleaf sunflower and east coast dune sunflower. Its shorter stature and growing habit make it an attractive sun-loving ground cover for coastal gardens.

    • Native Area: Eastern US and coastal areas
    • USDA Growing Zones: 8-11
    • Height: 1-3 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun
  • 10 of 10

    Thin-Leafed Sunflower (Helianthus x multiflorus)

    Bright yellow sunflower with daisy like petals and yellow center

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    Thought to be a cross between annual sunflowers and Helianthus decapetalus (aka Thinleaf Sunflower), this hybrid has attractive full double petals. It has several cultivars including 'Loddon Gold', 'Sunshine Daydream' and 'Capenoch Star' with butterscotch yellow petals and centers. It favors woodland edges and meadows.

    • Native Area: Central and Eastern US, Canada
    • USDA Growing Zones: 4-8
    • Height: 4-6 feet
    • Sun Exposure: Full sun