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The sunflower for Lilliputians – the beach sunflower

By Ralph E. Mitchell

Beach sunflower

At home at the coast, the beach sunflower thrives.

Most of us recognize sunflowers for their height and massive flowers. Take that image of a sunflower, miniaturize it and turn it into a groundcover, and you have something  special! One of the best groundcovers available in our area that I would recommend is the  beach sunflower. Groundcovers are always in demand as we attempt to cover certain landscape space with something other than turfgrass. Groundcovers reduce labor (mowing) and inputs such as fertilizer and supplemental water that some grass requires. Bottom-line, the beach sunflower is a premier groundcover able to fill in landscape areas with low-maintenance color and texture.

The beach (or dune) sunflower is a wonderful groundcover that offers both quick coverage and abundant flowering. Picture a carpet of perfect tiny sunflowers with three-inch wide flower heads combined with eighteen inch tall, four to eight foot wide, green foliage. Well adapted to coastal full-sun areas, the perennial beach sunflower spreads by above-ground runners and seeds. Both salt-tolerant and drought-tolerant, over irrigation will cause this plant to suffer, so water infrequently. The beach sunflower propagates easily from seed or cuttings. In addition to planting in mass as a groundcover, use beach sunflowers so that they cascade down a wall. Space plants from three to four feet apart – they will grow together quickly!

You should get at least two good years of flowering and luxuriant foliage from your initial plantings. After that point you will notice that these sunflowers will decline and need to be replanted. Seedlings may have already begun to repopulate the open areas and taken care of the rejuvenation for you. Besides the classic yellow colored petals, there are varieties with shades of copper-red, pinkish, orange and purple-colored flower heads. Beach sunflowers will produce most of their flowering in the fall, winter and spring. In addition to the attractive flowers, the blossoms  are also very attractive to  butterflies and other pollinators. And, as you would guess, the beach sunflower is a Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ approved plant!

Beyond what you can obtain as propagation material from neighbors or friends, the beach sunflower is often encountered for sale at local garden centers or at specialized native nurseries. This native is truly a treasured plant – both useful and attractive!  For more information on all types of groundcovers, or to ask a question, please visit https://www.facebook.com/CharlotteMGLifeline/. Ralph E. Mitchell is the Director/Horticulture Agent for the UF/IFAS Charlotte County Extension Service. He can be reached at 941-764-4344 or ralph.mitchell@charlottecountyfl.gov.

Don’t forget that Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ is a program that our office encourages as it promotes planting the “right plant in the right place”, water conservation, common sense pest management, sensible use of fertilizers, composting, etc. that help develop a sustainable landscape. For more information on this important, over-arching program, please contact Sara Weber, FFL Education-Training Specialist, at  Sara.Weber@charlottecountyfl.gov .

Resources:
Gilman, E. F. & Park-Brown, S. (2014) Helianthus debilis. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
Brown, S. H. & Cooprider, K. ( 2016) Beach Sunflower. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS – Lee County.
UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions (2020) Beach Sunflower.  The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.
The Florida-Friendly Landscaping™ Guide to Plant Selection & Landscape Design (2010) The University of Florida Extension Services, IFAS.
Landre, C. (2020) Beach Sunflower Helianthus debilis. South-Florida-Plant-Guide.com.

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