By Julie McConnell, UF/IFAS Extension
Bales of hay, pumpkins, college football, and sunflowers are all iconic signs of fall. It is hard to not be awed by rows of giant sunflowers, but few yards have the space for that type of showstopping display. Luckily, we have more native sunflower options that are great for low maintenance Florida landscapes with limited space!
Two of my favorite native plants are in the same genus as the Annual Sunflower (their showy cousin mentioned above) and will fit tough conditions in your garden. The first is beach sunflower and the second one is swamp sunflower – already sounding pretty Florida, right?
Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis)
As the name implies, beach sunflower is perfectly suited to landscapes that are on or close to the Gulf of Mexico or saltwater bays. They love well-drained sandy soil and are tolerant of salt spray and wind. This plant’s growth habit is a little hard to define; most publications list it as a groundcover, but it does have some upright growth, so don’t let that category fool you. In Northwest Florida, beach sunflower grows to a height of 3-4 feet and spreads the same distance. This informal sprawling habit is great on slopes or in an informal landscape bed. Beach sunflower will spread by underground runners and seed but is easy to thin out if it outgrows the intended area. Plant in full sun for the most prolific flowering which occurs throughout the spring and summer.
Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)
Swamp sunflower is one of those plants that you might forget you have because most of the year it is comprised of simple green foliage. Suddenly in late summer it sends up tall branching stalks full of 2- to 3-inch-wide bright yellow flowers. Found naturally along streambanks and in areas prone to flooding, swamp sunflower can tolerate wet soil that alternates with dry conditions. Although it tolerates some shade, for best flowering locate in full sun. In full bloom, this perennial reaches 6 feet tall, making it perfect for adding a punch of color to the back of flower beds or along fences lines when little else is blooming. Swamp sunflower forms clumps that can be easily divided and shared with friends and family or you can let it fill in a bare area.
To learn more about sunflowers in Florida gardens visit https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/ornamentals/sunflowers.html
An Equal Opportunity Institution. UF/IFAS Extension, University of Florida, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, Andra Johnson, Dean. Single copies of UF/IFAS Extension publications (excluding 4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county UF/IFAS Extension offices.