If You Love Sunflowers But Want Color In The Winter, Plant This Instead

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If You Love Sunflowers But Want Color In The Winter, Plant This Instead

If You Love Sunflowers But Want Color In The Winter, Plant This Instead

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Sunflowers become the star of the show every summer and fall when they display their bright colors — even the brown ones seem to light up the garden. There are so many sunflower species, yet none of them are capable of withstanding winter. What does a gardener have to do to get some winter color? Step out of your sunflower comfort zone and check out the Mexican marigold. With colors just as bright, you can have that sunflower joy in your garden all year long.

This plant is native to warm regions and blooms in the cooler months, giving otherwise lifeless terrain a gorgeous pop of color. Plus if you like the height of sunflowers, these marigolds can also give you that aesthetic — shrubs can grow upwards of 6 feet. If your garden looks bleak in winter and you live in a warm climate, try planting Mexican marigolds to brighten it up a bit.

Mexican marigolds thrive in mild winters

bush of Mexican marigolds

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You won’t be able to have happy Mexican marigolds if you live in an area with snow on the ground. They thrive where winter doesn’t dip below freezing too often, though they can be found in zone 8, which can get pretty cold. They’re drought-tolerant once they’re established and can go most of the winter season without being watered. They’ll only need a deep watering every one or two weeks in the summer.

The short days of fall and winter trigger the plants to bloom, and they’ll stop blooming once the spring days get longer. However, the plant may bloom longer if spring days are foggy or cloudy since those are technically shorter days in terms of sunlight. You can encourage the plant to continue blooming by deadheading flowers as soon as they start to wilt. It’s a perennial plant that will come back each year, so unless a hard frost kills the plant, you can expect it to bloom again the following fall.

Mexican marigolds have similar characteristics to sunflowers

Bee on Tagetes Lemmonii flower

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Though they’re two different types of plants, marigolds have similar characteristics to sunflowers, making the marigolds an enticing trade-off for winter color. For starters, both plants thrive in full sunlight, though the marigolds can tolerate some shade. Both flowers are drought tolerant, though you won’t need to water the marigolds nearly as much as sunflowers, which is convenient during what’s typically the off-season for gardeners.

Mexican marigolds aren’t like the typical annual sunflower you likely imagine, which grows tall on a long, single stem. They’re more like perennial sunflowers such as the swamp sunflower, which has more of a bush-like appearance. Since these flowers come back yearly, don’t plant them where you want your annual flowers because they will remain in the same space. You can cut back the plant in the spring to remove frost damage and keep the size of the plant small since they get bigger each year.

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Dr Heidi Parkes

By Dr Heidi Parkes

Senior Information Extension Officer QLD Dept of Agriculture & Fisheries.