Saturday, October 12, 2013

September Plant of the Month - Narrow Leaf Sunflower, Helianthus angustifolius

The name Sunflower conjours up images of tall plants with huge flowers as big as one's head which with all their bright yellow petals, resemble the sun. Sunflowers are a familiar sight to almost anyone, from small children to elders. The annual Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is what usually comes to mind. But did you know that there are top species of Sunflowers that grow here in South Jersey and in the Pinelands? One is Woodland sunflower ( Heliathus divaricatus) and the other which I will talk about today is Narrow Leaf Sunflower ( Helianthus angustifolius).

Narrow Leaf Sunflower is not as tall and showy as its annual cousin, but the trade off is that this plant is perennial and while having much smaller flowers, have many flowers, making it an attention getter in the garden. The plant begins blooming in early September and should continue through most of the month and even into October. 

Thick populations make an impressive roadside display
In the wild, this plant is found in moist to wet areas, usually in full sun, and sometimes part shade. The ones in full sun tend to have a lot more blooms. For best results, I recommend planting in the same conditions which makes them great for those wet spots in the yard that don't drain well, or even a bog or rain garden. The do tend to naturalize quite well, so consider this when doing a bog garden as you don't want it to over take your other plants.

Wildlife that utilize this plant include bees, butterflies and birds as it provides both nectar and seed. The seed heads are not ripe until November so leaving them on through winter makes a great treat for songbirds when food is getting scarce.

Growing this plant will require cold, moist stratification and is best sown outdoors in fall. Occasionally some plants will bloom the first year from seed. It can also be grown in a container.

For a nice alternative to Chrysanthemums, pot one up and trim it back in July to make it bushier. It will bloom in the Fall and look great among your pumpkins, gourds and Fall decorations.

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