The 6 Best Perennial Sunflowers That Come Back Every Year

Sunflowers stretch toward sunlight
© iStock.com/oleshkonti

Written by Jennifer Haase

Updated: April 24, 2023

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Sunflowers are a classic favorite for adding beauty and color to any outdoor space. They make great additions to gardens, patios, walkways, and more. While annual sunflowers provide stunning displays of color each season, perennial sunflowers offer something even better – they come back year after year! If you’re looking to create a beautiful and lasting garden, choosing from the best varieties of perennial sunflowers is a great way to get started. Read on for our list of the six best perennial sunflowers that will come back every year to bring beauty and color to your garden.

Sunflowers are available in both annual and perennial varieties but these are the top varieties that come back each year.

What Are The Benefits Of Growing Perennial Sunflowers?

Perennial sunflowers offer several benefits for gardeners. They are easy to grow and require minimal maintenance, meaning you can enjoy their beauty with little effort. Additionally, these flowers will come back year after year, providing long-lasting color and beauty in the garden or patio. Finally, they are usually drought tolerant, making them perfect for hot summer days.

The Difference Between Annual And Sunflowers

Most people think sunflowers are only annual plants that die at the end of the season and must be replanted yearly. However, there are actually both annual and perennial sunflower varieties available. Here’s a quick look at a few differences between these two types of sunflowers.

Annual sunflowers:

  • Grow quickly and bloom profusely for a brief time, usually one season in colder climates.
  • Require full sun.
  • Include giant varieties.

Perennial sunflowers:

  • Slower to mature but will come back each year in the right growing conditions.
  • They prefer full sun but will also usually do well in partial shade.
  • Typically smaller varieties, but some, like the Maximilian sunflower, grow very tall.

Now that we’ve learned a little more about sunflower types, let’s take a look at the six best perennial sunflowers for the garden.

1. Swamp Sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius)

swamp sunflower

Swamp sunflowers attract pollinators like butterflies.

©iStock.com/Faina Gurevich

Hardiness zones: 5 to 10

Bloom seasons: fall

Sunlight needs: full to partial sun

Plant size: 5-8 feet tall

Bloom size: 2-3 inches across

The late-blooming swamp sunflower is a pretty sight in fall gardens. Like most perennial sunflowers, a swamp sunflower looks like a golden wildflower gracing the garden with its cheery warmth. In addition, the foliage of this plant is light green and lance-shaped. The blooms appear in yellow and orange shades, with a single flower reaching up to three inches across.

Swamp sunflowers are tolerant of wetter (but not soggy) soils, which makes them perfect for planting around water features. In addition, swamp sunflowers attract pollinators like butterflies, and they’re loved by many songbirds.

As this perennial sunflower grows 5-8 feet tall (or more!), this plant will need staking as it matures to keep it upright.

2. Beach Sunflower (Helianthus debilis)

beach sunflower

Beach sunflowers are perfect for coastal gardens.

©iStock.com/MarieTDebs

Hardiness zones: 8 to 10

Bloom seasons: spring through fall

Sunlight needs: full sun

Plant size: 1-3 feet tall

Bloom size: 2-4 inches across

Beach sunflowers are perfect for coastal gardens, thanks to their salt tolerance. These perennial sunflowers are also drought-tolerant and bloom from spring through fall. Beach sunflowers look lovely when planted in mass along pathways and borders and make great container plants.

This sunflower’s foliage is a light green color and spreads via runners that trail along the ground. However, it doesn’t grow anywhere near as tall as the swamp sunflower. So this 1-3 foot tall plant with bright yellow blooms is ideal for planting where it can cascade down a wall, trellis, or planter.

3. Maximilian Sunflower (Helianthus maximilian)

maximilian sunflower

Maximilian sunflowers don’t have the enormous flower heads of annual sunflowers.

©iStock.com/Steven Tsang

Hardiness zones: 4 to 9

Bloom seasons: summer through fall

Sunlight needs: full sun

Plant size: 5-10 feet tall

Bloom size: 2-4 inches across

If you’re looking to make a big garden statement, maximilian sunflowers are hard to beat. This tall plant can reach heights of eight feet or so, making it one of the largest perennial sunflowers available. The foliage is light green with hairy leaves and stems, while the flowers are bright yellow with brown centers.

Maximilian sunflowers bloom in late summer and can last until fall, providing weeks of bright color in the garden. In addition, they attract bees and butterflies, as well as birds who love to feed on the seeds.

Remember that though these perennial sunflowers grow very tall and can spread 2-4 feet, maximilian sunflowers don’t have the enormous flower heads of annual sunflowers. Instead, these plants will look like towering, beautiful wildflowers swaying in the breeze.

4. Ashy Sunflower (Helianthus mollis)

ashy sunflower

Ashy sunflowers bloom in late summer and can last until fall.

©iStock.com/Matthew Fowler

Hardiness zones: 4 to 9

Bloom seasons: summer to fall

Sunlight needs: full sun

Plant size: 2-4 feet tall

Bloom size: 2-4 inches across

Ashy sunflowers are an easy-to-grow perennial that’s perfect for smaller gardens. This little plant only grows 2-4 feet tall and is ideal for edging, mass plantings, or containers. The foliage is light green with hairy stems and leaves, and the 4-inch flowers are bright yellow with golden centers. The name ashy sunflower comes from the ashy-grey tint to their leaves, caused by the look of its tiny hairs.

Ashy sunflowers bloom in late summer and can last until fall. This hardy perennial is drought-tolerant and tolerates most soils, though it prefers a well-drained spot in full sun. In addition, ashy sunflowers attract pollinators like bees and butterflies, and they’re also a favorite with birds because of their edible seeds.

Though these plants are rather small, they still make a big impact with their cheery blooms. Plant them in sunny garden beds and enjoy their beautiful colors for weeks.

5. Western Sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis)

Western Sunflowers are native to the western United States and are drought-tolerant.

©DDennisM, CC BY 3.0 – Original / License

Hardiness zones: 3-9

Bloom seasons: mid-summer through fall

Sunlight needs: full sun

Plant size: 2-5 feet tall

Bloom size: 2-3 inches across

Western sunflowers are drought-tolerant and native to the western United States. So if you’ve got dry soil and climate, this perennial sunflower is for you! Western sunflower has bright yellow daisy-like blooms that appear in late summer and last until fall. In addition, the foliage is a medium green color on plants with most basal leaves. A basal leaf grows low to the ground, so the stems of western sunflowers only have leaves near the bottom.

Western sunflowers are low-maintenance plants that prefer a sunny spot with well-drained soil. They can reach heights of up to five feet and spread 2-3 feet, so make sure to give them plenty of room. And they will dazzle you and your neighbors with their sunny blooms mid-summer through fall.

6. Jerusalem Artichoke (Helianthus tuberosus)

Jerusalem artichoke tubers in a basket

Jerusalem artichokes are drought-tolerant perennials that thrive in a wide range of soils and full sun.

©iMarzi/Shutterstock.com

Hardiness zones: 3-9

Bloom seasons: late summer through fall

Sunlight needs: full sun to partial sun

Plant size: 6-10 feet tall

Bloom size: 2-4 inches across

Jerusalem artichokes or sunchokes are unique and interesting perennial sunflowers with edible tubers. The name Jerusalem artichoke comes from the artichoke-like taste of their non-starchy tubers. So gardeners often grow these lovely sunflowers as perennial vegetables too! And the birds love them for their seeds.

This tall plant can reach up to ten feet, and sports blooms like yellow daisies that measure 2-4 inches across. The foliage is a deep green with thick leaves and lots of branches, giving this sunflower plant a unique texture.

Jerusalem artichokes are drought-tolerant perennials that thrive in a wide range of soils and full sun. They bloom from mid-summer through fall, attract lots of pollinators, and make excellent-cut flowers.

When grown as vegetables, the tubers of Jerusalem artichokes can be harvested in late fall. So plant this attractive sunflower in your garden to have a beautiful display of blooms with an edible bonus!

The Perfect Space for Perennial Sunflowers Depends on Size and Season

Perennial sunflowers are a fantastic choice for gardens of differing sizes and seasons of interest. Some of these plants bloom only late in the growing season, while others bloom from spring through fall. And though many perennial sunflowers are small plants, some of them will grow taller than you!

Not only will they come back next year, but perennial sunflowers also provide a stunning display of color and beauty. And sometimes a crop of edible tubers, too!


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About the Author

Jennifer Haase is a writer at A-Z Animals where her primary focus is on plants, pets, and places of interest. Jennifer has been writing professionally about plants and animals for over 14 years. A resident of Nebraska, Jennifer enjoys gardening, floral design, nutrition studies, and being a cat mama.

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