by High Country Gardens

maximiliana sunflower
The stunning Maximiliana Sunflower.

Mention sunflowers to your gardening friends and everyone thinks "annuals". There has been so much breeding work focused on the annual sunflowers, improving their range of flower colors and making them smaller in height to better fit smaller gardens.

But let's not forget the perennial side of the Helianthus (Sunflower) family when planting our landscapes. These rugged beauties are:

  • An excellent choice for heavy clay soils,
  • Thrive in tough growing conditions
  • An excellent choice for covering unsightly fences and big, empty walls.
  • A mainstay of the habitat garden.

Their flowers attract a wide range of native bees and their nutritious seeds are a favorite of the seed-eating songbirds. And the tall flower stems are a favorite perch of visiting songbirds, especially in windswept prairie regions where there are few trees.

 

Waterwise Perennial Sunflowers

While many of the perennial sunflowers currently in cultivation, like Helianthus angustifolius, do best in moist soil and along the edges of ponds and bogs, High Country Gardens has introduced selections of Maximilian's Sunflower that are more suitable for drier planting sites.

maximiliana santa fe
Helianthus maximiliana 'Santa Fe.'

Helianthus maximiliana 'Santa Fe'

A High Country Gardens introduction, 'Santa Fe' was originally discovered growing in a neglected Santa Fe, NM yard. There, its strong vertical habit and amazing display of big golden flowers stacked tightly onto the tall flower spikes, caught my eye. I took some cuttings and 'Santa Fe' was brought into cultivation. The foliage is as ornamental as the September flowers, making this selection especially useful along fences, south sides of the garage and other tough spots where lesser perennials can't make it.

dakota sunshine sunflower

Helianthus maximiliana 'Dakota Sunshine'

For gardeners living in short season, early frost areas of the Great Plains and intermountain West, 'Dakota Sunshine' is the best choice when a big, dramatic sunflower is desirable. Blooming in August, the flowers come in advance of the early fall frosts. A superior individual selected from a hedge of plants grown from South Dakota collected seed, 'Dakota Sunshine' is super cold hardy and begins to go dormant before many other perennials reflecting its northern origins. Like 'Santa Fe', the foliage is handsome and very ornamental.

lemon max sunflower

Helianthus 'Lemon Max' (Lemon Max hybrid Sunflower)

After many years in the test garden, this big beauty is ready for prime time. A garden hybrid, this new cultivar has the inherited the big, bright flowers and bushy shape of 'Lemon Queen' and the tough, super cold hardy constitution of 'Dakota Sunshine' (see below). Topping out at 5 ft. tall by 5 ft. wide, and blooming for several weeks in August, 'Lemon Max' is a great choice to brighten the late summer garden. This cultivar may re-seed itself in moister, more fertile soils, so it's best used in meadow plantings or low care areas of the yard where it pretty much takes care of itself. Discovered in the Ft. Collins, CO yard of author and landscape designer Lauren Springer Ogden.

Recommended Companion Plants

Plant this big sunflowers with other large robust growers like:

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