How to grow and care for Helenium
Bearing bold flowers in orange, red and yellow, Heleniums are a bright and cheerful addition to the garden border. This plant thrives in full sun and looks great mixed with other hot coloured flowers and ornamental grasses. They are also brilliant late summer plants for pollinators.
Types of Helenium to grow
Heleniums are related to sunflowers, and it’s easy to see the resemblance. Erect stems, and a showy disk-shaped flower with flattened petals, make this a similarly impressive plant.
There are many varieties of Helenium plants to choose from, but we particularly like:
- Helenium 'Moerheim Beauty’. A perennial with crimson red flowers and one of the most widely grown varieties.
- Helenium amarum, also known as yellowdicks. An annual yellow-flowered variety, the bushy, short size of this one makes it great towards the front of a border.
- Helenium autumnale. Very popular in British gardens, this perennial produces a thicket of bright yellow flowers. This variety likes a lot of moisture, so water more frequently than other Helenium.
- Helenium ‘Coppelia’. A perennial with large, 8cm (3”) wide, dark orange flowers.
- Helenium ‘Mardi gras’. A perennial with multi-coloured flowers which combine shades of brown, orange, red and yellow.
- Helenium ‘Peach sundae’. A short perennial variety reaching just 50cm (20") tall. The marigold type flowers are great for attracting bees and butterflies.
- Helenium ‘Pipsqueak’. A dwarf perennial with loose dark yellow petals and a large brown centre.
- Helenium ‘Red jewel’. A perennial variety which produces thick clumps of green foliage. Brown-red flowers with flecks of orange and yellow.
- Helenium ‘Riverton beauty’. A perennial variety with yellow petals that are reddish on the undersides.
- Helenium ‘Wyndley’. A variety which grows to just 90cm (3’). This perennial has yellow petals with a slightly darker centre.
What you’ll need to grow Helenium
Most Heleniums are easy to grow perennials, coming back year after year. They are best planted out in May or June, when you will need:
- A sharp spade.
- A garden fork.
- Pots and containers, if using peat free multi purpose compost.
How to plant Heleniums
- Plant in the border using a sharp spade to dig a hole the same depth but wider than the pot.
- Break up any compacted soil at the bottom of the hole with a fork.
- Place the plant in the hole making sure the depth is the same as it was in the nursery pot.
- Backfill with soil and firm in with your hands.
- Add a continous release feed and and water in well.
- Add a layer of mulch being careful not to pile it close to the stem to keep in moisture and help suppress weeds.
Perennial Heleniums can be bought from most garden retailers as plug plants or as more mature specimens. They can also be divided easily from existing plants.
How to divide Heleniums
- Use a garden fork to dig out a clump of Helenium, and then a sharp spade to split it into smaller pieces. Do this dividing in March, April or October.
- Either plant straight out, following steps 3-4 below, or place in a pot temporarily to grow on, until you are ready to plant it out the following year.
- Use the spade to dig a hole twice the diameter of the Helenium root ball, and slightly deeper.
- Add a generous amount of good quality compost to the bottom of the hole.
- Place the rootball in the hole so that the top of it is just below the soil surface. Backfill the hole and add some continuous release feed. Water well until established.
Growing Heleniums from seed
Annual Heleniums are also easy to grow from seed. Either purchase seeds or collect them from older flowers at the end of the growing season:
- Sow on the surface of a pot of Levington® John Innes Seed Compost, uncovered, and water lightly until they germinate, which will take about two weeks.
- Transplant seedlings to a pot of compost and allow to grow on, before planting out as above, in May or June.
Annuals can also self-seed, so don’t be surprised to see little seedlings popping up nearby the next year!
Where to plant and place your Helenium
Heleniums come from the hotter areas of the Americas and need the same warm and dry conditions. Protect from wind by planting in a sheltered position and add stakes to taller varieties.
Some species can grow to 2m (6') tall, so are great at the back of an informal border. They look good with other warmly coloured plants, such as Echinacea and Kniphofia. They are also fantastic for attracting pollinators, so try to choose other plants which will complement them in creating a wildlife paradise.
Heleniums need well drained soil, and will not enjoy heavy, clay soil. If this is the type of soil you have, add a soil improver to make conditions more suitable.
Caring and nurturing your Helenium
Heleniums prefer full sun, but will tolerate a small amount of shade. They like warmth but are hardy and will tolerate frost.
Water new bulbs until they are well established, but mature plants will tolerate drought well. Make sure they have access to moisture retentive but well drained soil, adding mulch to improve conditions.
Feed annually in the spring, by sprinkling Levington® Growmore Multi Purpose Plant Food around the base of the plant.
Deadhead Heleniums by cutting the Helenium flower stalks as far down as the foliage, from July through to September. Cut the entire plant back to ground level in November.
Key features of Helenium
|Botanical Name||Helenium spp.|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial or annual|
|Light Exposure||Full sun|
|Soil pH||Neutral to slightly acidic|
|Flowering Time||July to September|
|Flower Colour||Orange, red or yellow|
|Native Area||The Americas|
Frequently asked questions about Helenium
The leaves of Helenium were once used to make snuff, which was inhaled to cause sneezing and allegedly rid the body of evil spirits! The nickname has stuck even if the practice has not.
How long does it take Heleniums to bloom?
Heleniums will flower in the same year that they are planted. They are quick growers and will soon provide a flush of colour to your border.
How tall do Heleniums get?
Depending on the variety, some can reach up to 2m tall (6').
What is the difference between Echinacea and Helenium?
They are distantly related, being in the same family of plants, and have lots in common. Echinacea tends to be slightly shorter and sturdier. Echinaceas are also available in a wider variety of colours, including pink and white.
Common pests and diseases with Helenium
Helenium are largely trouble free, just occasionally suffering from leaf spot and powdery mildew.
This looks unattractive and can limit the vigour of a plant. To get rid of any leaf spot on your Heleniums, simply remove and destroy any affected material.