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COLUMN: Try sneezeweed for the fall garden

Rosanne LoParco
Sentinel columnist
Posted 9/30/22

For those who want to support pollinators and other wildlife in the garden, having something blooming all season long is crucial.

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COLUMN: Try sneezeweed for the fall garden


For those who want to support pollinators and other wildlife in the garden, having something blooming all season long is crucial. One underused and sometimes forgotten fall blooming perennial is sneezeweed.

No, your allergies won’t act up with this plant! (Please note this plant’s leaves, flowers, and seeds are poisonous if consumed to humans, pets and livestock). Sneezeweed is the common name for ‘Helenium autumnale’. The common name sneezeweed comes from the Native American use of the dried leaves to create snuff that made the user sneeze. Historically, a good sneeze was thought to expel evil spirits from the head.

Sneezing aside, helenium is a great fall bloomer; an added benefit is it’s a native plant. The true native variety is tall yellow daisy-like flowers. There are many cultivars now that offer different sizes and colors. Sneezeweed is a very valuable butterfly and pollinator plant with a long blooming period that starts in late summer and carries on through the fall.

Growing conditions

Helenium does best in full sun in rich, moist soil. The native helenium is even tolerant of standing water. Many newer hybrids will tolerate more dry soil. Plants will need to be watered during dry spells.

Avoid fertilizing too much or you’ll see more foliage instead of flowers. Apply a garden fertilizer in the spring when plants emerge and that will be enough for the season. If looking at different varieties, be sure to check hardiness zone information.

The native ‘Helenium autumnale’ is very cold hardy down to Zone 3. Even though generally speaking these plants don’t need staking, taller varieties may need to be staked so they won’t flop during heavy rains. Another plus for this plant is that deer do not like it!

More about sneezeweed

Even the foliage is impressive; heleniums produce clumps of attractive foliage from a crown. If foliage yellows, chances are the plant is too dry. Flowers are almost velvety in texture; they come in dense clusters over a long period of time. Blooms are almost daisy-like and colors can vary from the native yellow to orange, red, and/or a combination of colors.

Consistent deadheading will promote more flowers. Plants can be sheared down to the ground after blooming; but consider leaving them for winter interest. Butterflies, bees, and other beneficial insects attracted to this plant.

More fall perennials

Sneezeweed is just one fall perennial for your fall garden. There are a few other perennials that are often overlooked for fall.

Late season varieties of Geum provide anemone-like flowers which are showy and colorful. Be sure to read the plant tags since not all Geum are fall-blooming. The single flowered versus the double flowered varieties are more attractive to pollinators.

Anise hyssop, or Agastache is a great perennial. The spiky flowers work nicely with other plants with round flowers. Even though this plant is related to mint, it is not aggressive. The foliage smells a little like licorice! The leaves of this plant are often used in floral-herbal teas. The foliage smell will also keep deer away!

Smooth Blue Aster (‘Symphyotrichum laeve’) is another native plant selection that is invaluable for fall flowers. Along with New England asters of different colors, they look great for the fall garden. Their late season bloom time, all of these perennial plants will provide pollen for the final pollinators to energize them for the off season.

Home and garden questions can be emailed to Cornell Cooperative Extension Oneida County’s or call 315-736-3394, press 1 and then Ext 333. Questions are answered weekdays, 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.


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