I'm not much of a flower lover, so it took years for me to try growing strawflower myself. Usually, I like to harvest and use what I grow, so my attention tends to wander over to the herb and vegetable sections of any seed catalog.
My flower fascinations generally involve edible plants and, usually, petal producers that make a hearty tea or a tested and safe medicinal preparation. Strawflower was late to my garden, but that's my loss. Even though I'd seen these curious dried flowers in stores, and even purchased arrangements before, I was still surprised at how perfectly they transitioned from fresh-cut garden bounty to preserved plant life. You will be, too. You'll also love their tendency to woo butterflies to your landscape.
Why they call Strawflower "Everlasting"
Strawflower is easy to grow, and even after last year's boggy summer rain-athon, all my specimens came through just fine. At season's end, this plant created the stuff of truly beautiful dried arrangements, good sized, colorful flowers that were easy to work with and remarkably durable. What you see on the stem is basically what you get when the plant dries -- there's hardly any difference in the blossoms, although the leaves shrivel and darken somewhat. If you like crafting fall and holiday gifts from your garden, the money you'll save on decorative geegaws will make this plant a bargain.
How To Grow Strawflower
Strawflower (Xerochrysum bracteatum also known as Helichrysum bracteatum), is a sun loving, drought tolerant Australian native. It is available in both annual and perennial varieties, and there are lots of cultivars to choose from. Perennials have a plant hardiness zone range of 8 to 11, but the plant is most often grown as an annual. Strawflower belongs to the daisy family, and depending on the variety and prevailing conditions, can grow anywhere from 20 to around 55 inches high. Prefer taller varieties for flower production as they tend to have thicker, longer and more stable stems.
You can direct seed strawflower after the last frost date in your area, or start seedlings indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date. Install young plants 12 to 15 inches apart in slightly acidic soil that drains well. If you have clay soil, add plenty of lighteners to a deep planting hole. Strawflower likes heat and bright light, so choose the sunniest spot in your garden, too. This one is also well suited for a pot on your deck or patio.
Strawflower in the Garden
Most core gardens have at least a few go-to flowers. I've indulged in begonias and petunias for spring and summer color, and reliable year round inhabitants like roses, azaleas and peonies. It's easy to incorporate low or bushy flowering plants into a comfy flowerbed, but a little harder to strategize varieties like sunflowers, hollyhocks -- and some of the taller strawflower varieties. Buffeting by strong winds can topple them, with their abundant leaves clustered around a lanky stalk. I support my plants with spikes, brace a few against the spindles on my deck and outfit the rest with leftover tomato cages. In spring, it looks like a ragtag assemblage of leftovers, but after some leafing out (bless camouflage), those tall plants draw the eye upward and make the garden look more lavish and verdant.
Most strawflower seeds are available as a mixture, with colors from white to russet to butter yellow to blush pink ranging into purple. Check the specs for the plants you have in mind for height and color details. Over the last few years, I've gotten my strawflower seeds from Sample Seed, and these cultivars grow tall, but healthy and strong, too.
You can see from the wreath in the photo, the flowers stay vibrant, and look great with dried herbs like rosemary, lemon balm, mint, sage and thyme. The flowers in question were harvested about four months before the photo was taken. Pretty amazing. If you've tried drying herbs for presentation and they lacked something, add interest with strawflowers. They may be rather expensive at the craft store, but fresh from the garden, they're nature's everlasting bargain blooms.
Strawflowers make a nice green backdrop, and harvesting encourages new flower growth, so start snipping blooms when the lower two rows of bracts (quasi petals) are just beginning to flatten out. About six to eight plants provide for all my decorating needs. Drying takes about 10 days. Harvest stems in the morning, tie them together loosely and hang them upside down in a dark, warm, dry location for about 10 days. That's all there is to it.
Although you may not find strawflower starts at your local nursery, seeds are easy to come by and are pretty reliable producers, germinating in 5 to 18 days after planting. You still have time to grab some for spring.
Herb and Strawflower Wreath - Courtesy of the Author
Strawflower field - flickr User: 305 Seahill
Strawflower Pink - Flickr User: CGWF https://www.flickr.com/photos/cgwf/4929330945/in/photolist
Strawflower Yellow - Flickr User: Philip Bouchard