Have you ever wondered what those charming yellow wildflowers are that brighten up the side of the road in late summer and early fall? These daisy-like flowers might be Heliopsis helianthoides, commonly called false sunflowers, perennial sunflowers or ox eye. These sunny yellow flowers are native to much of the eastern part of the U.S. and Canada, are 2 to 3 inches in diameter and will brighten up any country road or garden. They are known to be on the tall side, with some of them being upright and stately, while others are more loose and floppy.
Perennial sunflowers (Heliopsis) are clump-forming perennials with a shrubby habit that produce flowers on sturdy stems above nice green foliage. The blooms are smaller than annual sunflowers, but the quantity and beauty of blooms make up for the size. These are some of the finest late summer bloomers.
They grow in a range of soils and form thick clumps with branching stems. They will take drought once they are established and are typically 3 to 4 feet tall. They do best in full sun but can handle some shade. You will have less flowering though the more shade they get. All heliopsis attract honeybees and many other pollinators.
Not everyone can handle plants that grow as tall as some of these. Luckily today there are many different varieties that are much more compact, fitting nicely into a smaller space. At your garden center, you can find tall ones, medium–sized ones and some with compact habits. There is one that will fit into about any situation. They have become so popular that with so many different choices you might have a hard time choosing which one you want to purchase.
“Sunstruck” and “Sunburst” both have variegated foliage, which is laced with green veining. The stunning foliage contrasts nicely with the bright yellow flowers. “Sunstruck” has a compact habit and a deep flower color. This compact variety, at just over a foot tall, blooms nearly a month earlier than other varieties. “Sunburst” is quite similar but is not a compact plant. The fabulous cream and green variegated foliage is topped with 2 to 2 1/2-inch golden yellow flowers. It will rise up to about 30 to 36 inches at maturity.
“Lemon Queen,” my favorite, is big, beautiful and free flowering. It will light up the late summer garden covering itself with 3-inch yellow flowers. This one is tall and looks fantastic in the back of my perennial border. I hope to always have one somewhere growing and providing me with pretty flowers in the garden and adorning my table when I bring them inside.
One of the newest ones is “Bleeding Hearts,” which was introduced in 2018. This plant has vibrant orange–red flowers, the first Heliopsis that is not yellow. These flowers emerge scarlet red and develop to a bright orange–red when they open up completely. In the spring, the foliage is deep mahogany and lightens up some as the season progresses. They typically grow to about 4 feet tall. “Bleeding Hearts” will bloom in its first year and blooms from June to mid-October.
While the heliopsis are drought tolerant, you will need to water them well to get them established. If you plant them this fall, you must make sure to water well to get the roots established so they can make it through the winter. Remember, if there is a dry fall, other plants might help themselves to the water you are giving to the heliopsis since they will be thirsty too. Once these plants are established they will give you pleasure for a long time to come.
Betty Montgomery is a master gardener and author of “Hydrangeas: How To Grow, Cultivate & Enjoy,” and “A Four-Season Southern Garden.” She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.