How to grow Helenium: Easy care hot border perennial

Helenium

Helenium, commonly known as sneezeweed, is a herbaceous perennial that brings vibrant colour to late summer and autumn gardens.

With daisy-like flowers in warm shades of yellow, orange, and red, these easy-care plants create a dazzling display attracting butterflies and pollinators.

Helenium can be grown in borders, cottage gardens, or even in containers. They pair beautifully with ornamental grasses, Rudbeckias (eg Rudbeckia Goldsturm), Echinaceas and asters, creating a coherent late-season display, inspired by the perennial planting styles of designers like Piet Oudorf.

Helenium’s upright growth habit and sturdy stems make it an ideal choice for adding height and structure to garden designs.

Most images here are Helenium Chelsey (the burnt orange ones) and a mixed variety I grew from root cuttings. I have multiplied my stock several times by dividing the plants, which is easy to do. There are some pictures of the dividing process below.

Helenium
Helenium in border with Bronze Fennel, Rudbeckia Goldsturm and ornamental grasses

All about Helenium

Helenium is named after Helen of Troy, reflecting its beauty and allure. Despite its common name, sneezeweed doesn’t actually cause sneezing; this misconception arose from its historical use as snuff.

Key Helenium facts

  • Scientific name and any synonyms: Helenium (no common synonyms)
  • Meaning of scientific plant name: Named after Helen of Troy
  • Common names: Sneezeweed, Helen’s flower
  • Plant family: Asteraceae
  • Place of origin of the plant: North and Central America
  • Type of plant: Herbaceous perennial
  • Size: Typically 60-150 cm tall, depending on variety
  • Foliage: Lance-shaped, dark green leaves
  • Flowers: Red, yellow and orange daisy-like flowers with raised centres, blooming from late summer to autumn.
  • Seeds: Small, dry achenes produced after flowering
  • Toxicity: Helenium is toxic to both humans and animals if ingested in large quantities. According to the Royal Horticultural Society, all parts of the plant contain sesquiterpene lactones, which can cause gastric upset and skin irritation.
Helenium

Helenium care requirements

RequirementDetails
Light requirements:Full sun
Water and humidity requirements:Medium moisture, well-drained soil
Temperature requirements:Hardy from -20°F to 100°F (-29°C to 38°C); UK hardiness zone H6, US zones 3-8
Soil requirements:Well-drained, fertile soil
Feeding requirements:Apply balanced fertiliser in spring
Propagation:Division, basal cuttings, or seed
Pruning:Cut back in late autumn or early spring
Helenium Moorheim Beauty
Helenium Moorheim Beauty by HerryLawford is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Best Helenium Cultivars

  1. ‘Moerheim Beauty’: Deep copper-red flowers, 90-120 cm tall, long-blooming
  2. ‘Sahin’s Early Flowerer’: Orange and red bicolour flowers, 90-120 cm tall, early bloomer
  3. ‘Waltraut’: Golden-orange flowers with darker centres, 75-90 cm tall, compact habit
  4. ‘Ruby Tuesday’: Deep red flowers, 50-60 cm tall, ideal for smaller gardens
  5. ‘Mardi Gras’: Yellow, orange, and red flowers on the same plant, 90-120 cm tall, unique colour mix
  6. ‘Butterpat’: Bright yellow flowers, 120-150 cm tall, excellent for back of borders
  7. ‘Chipperfield Orange’: Bright orange flowers, 90-120 cm tall, vigorous grower
Helenium

How to grow Helenium

Soil and Feeding

Helenium thrives in well-drained, fertile soil. They prefer slightly acidic to neutral pH (6.0-7.0). Improve heavy clay soils by adding organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure.

Feed plants with a balanced, slow-release fertiliser in early spring as new growth emerges. Avoid over-fertilising, as this can lead to weak, floppy stems.

Helenium

Watering

While Helenium prefers consistently moist soil, it can tolerate brief periods of drought once established. Water deeply and regularly during the first growing season to encourage deep root growth.

In subsequent years, provide about 2.5 cm of water per week during dry spells. Avoid overwatering, as this can lead to root rot. Mulching around the plants helps retain moisture and suppress weeds.

Helenium

Pruning

Pruning Helenium serves multiple purposes: to maintain plant shape, encourage bushier growth, and extend the blooming period. In late autumn or early spring, cut back the dead foliage to about 10 cm above ground level.

During the growing season, deadhead spent flowers regularly to promote continued blooming. For taller varieties, you may want to cut back the stems by about one-third in late spring (the Chelsea chop) to encourage branching and prevent flopping.

Helenium

Propagation

The easiest method to propagate Helenium is through division. Here’s a step-by-step guide:

  1. In early spring, just as new growth begins to emerge, dig up the entire plant.
  2. Carefully separate the root ball into smaller sections, ensuring each division has several healthy shoots and roots.
  3. Replant the divisions immediately at the same depth as the original plant, spacing them about 45-60 cm apart.
  4. Water thoroughly and keep the soil consistently moist until new growth is established.

Alternatively, you can take basal cuttings in spring or sow seeds in autumn or early spring.

Common Helenium problems and solutions

  • Powdery mildew: White powdery coating on leaves. Improve air circulation and avoid overhead watering. Apply fungicide if severe.
  • Leaf spot: Brown or black spots on leaves. Remove affected foliage and improve air circulation. Use fungicide for severe cases.
  • Aphids: Tiny insects that cluster on new growth. Spray with a strong jet of water or use insecticidal soap.
  • Slugs and snails: These pests can damage young shoots. Use organic slug pellets or beer traps.
  • Stem rot: Stems collapse at the base. Ensure good drainage and avoid overwatering. Remove affected plants to prevent spread.
  • Leafhoppers: Small, wedge-shaped insects that cause stippling on leaves. Use insecticidal soap or neem oil.
  • Eriophyid mites: Cause distorted growth and discolouration. Prune affected parts and apply miticide if necessary.
Helenium
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