Connecticut Garden Journal: Sneezeweed | Connecticut Public Radio
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Connecticut Garden Journal: Sneezeweed

Aug 22, 2019

Some plants have unfortunate common names. Take sneezeweed for example. Sneezeweed, or helenium, is a native perennial that's blooming now with colorful flowers on 3 to 5 foot tall plants. It's great to grow in your garden because it flowers as the summer perennials, such as bee balm, are finishing but before the fall perennials, such as sedum and asters, begin.

It's called sneezeweed because it flowers at the same time as ragweed. Sneezeweed doesn't cause allergies but the dried leaves were used in old days in snuff to cause sneezing that would supposedly drive evil spirits from the body. While the ragweed is doing most of the allergy-causing dirty work, sneezeweed is blooming, so gets the blame.

That's too bad because sneezeweed is a hardy, native, aster-family perennial with few pests. It grows in the wild in damp, meadow areas. Native forms are tall with small clusters of gold, orange and burgundy flowers that look like Mexican hats. Some newer varieties, such as 'Short N Sassy' only grow 12 to 18 inches tall, fitting nicely in small spaces.

Sneezeweed grows best in full sun on moist, well-drained soil. Apply compost in spring, but don't over fertilize or you'll get lots of foliage and fewer flowers. Sneezeweed is tolerant of seasonal flooding so makes a good rain garden plant. Flowering starts in mid-summer and lasts until frost, especially if you deadhead. Deer, rabbits and woodchucks seem to avoid this perennial because of the bitter tasting foliage. But sneezeweed flowers are favorites of bees and butterflies.