First Light offers brilliant late summer sun for the garden | lifestyle


The willow-leaved sunflower variety First Light offers some unique qualities among late summer sunflowers.

Willow-leaved sunflower, Helianthus salicifolius, and its cultivar (cultivated variety) First Light are tall, vigorous, beautiful natives that grow well here. They brighten up your late summer garden with bright golden yellow flowers and provide valuable nectar for pollinators.

First Light is smaller than most of the late summer sunflower family – it grows to around 3 to 4 feet tall and is perfect for the back of the garden. She needs full sun and is not fussy about the soil and tolerates a wide variety of conditions. It prefers consistently moist soil, however, so give it something to drink when we find ourselves in a drought.

Pinching the plants once or twice in late spring and early summer will control height and encourage fuller plants. An interesting look for any late season bloomer is to hold back some and let others so that you end up with some larger and some shorter plants and the shorter ones bloom a little later, which extends the season.

Willow-leaved sunflowers are a beautiful plant even before they bloom. It has long, thin, dark leaves that glow in the sunlight. It’s a bushy plant, but not overwhelming – the slender leaves break up the texture. Clusters of 2 inch wide, medium yellow sunflowers with dark brown centers bloom on whitish-green stems. It is very profuse, with the showy masses of yellow, daisy-like flowers that almost hide the foliage late in the season.

If you are looking for a great cut flower, you have found your plant, because these look beautiful in a vase. The showy flowers attract butterflies and, if left on the plant, seed heads provide winter interest and a food source for birds. Maintenance is minimal during the growing season; however, after three years, the plants benefit from the division.

Plant this with a small blue stem, cardinal flower or swamp milkweed in a cottage garden or a meadow garden. You will not regret introducing these rays of sun into your life.