Strawflower, Xerochrysum bracteatum, is an annual in the Gnaphalieae group, which is in the huge Asteraceae, or Compositae family.
You may also find this flower classified under the names Helichrysum bracteatum and Bracteantha bracteate, and referred to as paper daisy, golden everlasting, everlasting flower, and everlasting daisy.
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Read on to discover how easy it is to grow strawflower in your garden, enjoy cheerful blooms from summer to frost, and have a steady supply of long-lasting flowers for fresh and dry floral arrangements.
What You Will Learn
Cultivation and History
On average, strawflowers are between two and three feet tall. There are smaller dwarf varieties of about 15 inches, and giants over three feet. The taller the plant, the sturdier the stems.
The blossoms have crisp, petal-like bracts that are usually referred to as petals. In fact, they are dry, dead tissue. The true flowers are the tiny florets that make up a dense, center disc, that may match or contrast with the bracts.
The entire flower head may be as small as one inch, or as large as three inches, with a single or double set of “petals.”
Strawflower is a continuous bloomer. Deadheading and flower harvesting throughout the growing season prevent seed formation and prolong flowering.
Native to the grasslands of Australia, the strawflower made its way to Europe in the 1800s, where the nobility prized it for having anti-inflammatory properties when brewed into tea.
Today’s cultivars come in shades of orange, pink, purple, white, and yellow, with either matching or contrasting centers. They are tender perennials in USDA Hardiness Zones 8 to 10, and annuals in cooler temperate zones.
Optimal Growing Conditions
X. bracteatum does best in a location with full sun, where the soil is slightly acidic, nutrient-rich, and well-draining. With good soil, fertilizer is not needed.
Another way to increase the nutrients available to plants is to use a well-balanced, slow-release fertilizer. A weak dose during the seedling stage followed by a full dose at first bloom, and another applied mid-season, will help plants thrive optimally.
If you choose to fertilize without conducting a soil test, be sure to choose a product with the lowest amounts of potassium, nitrogen, and phosphorous (PNK) you can find, or you may actually inhibit the plant’s ability to absorb the food it needs by adding too much of a good thing.
To grow X. bracteatum in your garden, begin with seed or cuttings.
Hybrids, or crosses between two or more cultivars, do not reproduce true from seed, and are only available as cuttings. So, if you’re a seed saver, know that if you harvest seed from a hybrid, it may contain characteristics very different from the parent plant.
Start Seed Indoors
You may start seeds indoors up to two months before the last predicted frost date for your region. This how most folks start their:
- Fill the cells of an old egg carton with potting medium or use biodegradable seed starter soil blocks.
- Moisten the potting medium/soil.
- Place several seeds per cell/block.
- Place the cartons or blocks on a newspaper-lined tray in a sunny spot. Be sure to keep the soil moist, but not soggy. The paper will absorb watering overflow.
- Soon the seeds will germinate and grow cotyledons, or “seed leaves.” Next, they will get their first true set of leaves.
- Thin the seedlings out to one per cell/block.
- When the last frost date has passed, and you see at least two sets of leaves on all seedlings, it’s time to harden them off.
- This is a simple process of giving them a few hours a day outdoors, to acclimate to the weather in your yard. Do this for three or four days.
- Next, it’s time to transplant the seedlings to the garden or permanent pots.
- Choose a sunny garden location and work the soil down about 12 inches, adding compost if desired. Alternatively, fill a container with nutrient-rich potting medium.
- If you’re using egg carton cells, cut them apart with scissors.
- Settle each cell or seed starter block into the soil 10 to 12 inches of space around each. Tamp down gently.
- Set your garden hose nozzle to mist and moisten the soil around the seedlings to a depth of about three inches. Let the water soak in and repeat. Then tamp again.
Direct Sow Seed
It is possible to sow seeds directly into the planting bed:
- Prepare your garden soil as above, or fill containers with potting medium.
- Moisten the soil to a depth of about three inches, let the water soak in, and repeat.
- Once the water has soaked in, sprinkle seeds over the moist soil. Do not cover them.
- Proceed as above, thinning after true leaves appear, and allowing 10 to 12 inches between plants.
- Keep the soil moist, but not soggy, while plants mature.
Transplant a Nursery Pot
For a potted nursery plant, prepare your garden soil or fill your container with potting medium.
Unpot the plant and gently loosen any visible roots. Settle it into the soil at the same depth it was growing in the pot. Tamp the soil firmly around it. Water and tamp again.
Plant a Cutting
If you live where X. bracteatum grows as a perennial, and you have a hybrid plant that doesn’t produce true from seed, you may take a cutting in spring to root a new plant.
This is easy to do. With a clean pair of scissors or your favorite pruners, make a clean cut through a new shoot that has emerged from last season’s root crown. Dip it into rooting hormone powder and plant it in potting medium.
Keep the medium moist, but not water-logged.
When your new shoot has several sets of leaves, transplant it to the garden as we did above with germinated seedlings.
Tips for Success
When starting seeds indoors, be sure to water at the soil level, not over the seedlings themselves. The stems and leaves are very tender and may scorch in the sun.
During the germination, seedling, and transplant stages, do your best to keep the soil moist, but not over-saturated. Once a plant is established in the garden or a permanent pot, it has low water needs with excellent heat and drought tolerance.
Plants growing in the ground will tolerate hot, dry conditions better than those in pots, so be sure to water containers once they completely dry out.
Observe the recommended spacing to allow for optimal airflow, and prevent fungal growth.
Keep weeds to a minimum to prevent airflow obstruction, competition for water, and insect infestation.
For cutting flowers, choose taller varieties for the sturdiest stems.
Cut stems for arranging, or deadhead spent blossoms often, to encourage more flower formation.
Care and Maintenance
There is little to do once strawflower is established.
Watering needs are low when there is occasional rain in the forecast. However, don’t mistake heat and drought tolerant for “needs no watering.” If it doesn’t rain for a week or so, water lightly at the root level, but don’t overdo it. Drier is better than wetter.
If you are growing this flower as a tender perennial, prune away the old growth each spring to make way for new shoots. In addition, whether you grow as an annual or perennial, the frequent cutting of stems, either for arranging or the removal of spent flowers, is a great way to enjoy a long bloom season.
And finally, tall varieties can usually hold their own, but if they list to one side after a battering from stormy weather, use bamboo sticks and twine or some other form of staking to restore them to their upright positions.
- Water during periods of heat and drought.
- Avoid overwatering and keep weeds to a minimum.
- Prune or deadhead to encourage new growth and extended blooming.
- Stake tall stems as needed.
An artist’s palette of pinks and purples, oranges, yellows, and snowy whites in various sizes awaits the grower of X. bracteatum.
‘Copper Red’ is deep burgundy with a brilliantly contrasting yellow center.
A majestic height of up to four feet earns it a prominent place in the landscape.
‘Golden Yellow’ is a taller variety with orange tipped bright yellow blossums.
Plant in cobalt blue containers flanking the front door for instant curb appeal.
Dave’s Garden’s peach/apricot mix is the prefect cutting flower for both fresh and dried presentations.
The plants reach up to 40 inches in height and produce 2 1/2 inch flowers in the most amazing hues of old fashioned peach.
The jewel-like ‘Magenta Red’ has a dense yellow center and reaches a height of up to 40 inches for an eye-catching back-of-border anchor.
The ‘Swiss Giant’ has snowy white bracts surrounding a yellow ringed white center.
It also tops out at a towering 40 inches tall, and is reminiscent of the Alps in twilight.
And yes, you can get mixes for the perfect cottage garden look.
Pest and Disease Control
X. bracteatum is not prone to pests or disease, especially when you start with quality seed or healthy nursery plants.
However, if you don’t provide for adequate air circulation, you may increase the humidity between plants and create a breeding ground for fungus, like powdery mildew.
Similarly, if you overwater, you may invite fungal growth, or rot the roots of your plants.
And the flip side, underwatering, may inhibit the uptake of essential nutrients and cause plants to fail to thrive. Chlorosis is a prime example. It’s the result of a failure to absorb iron that results in yellow leaves.
Various insects, such as leafhoppers or grasshoppers, may nibble occasionally. But you can deter them by keeping weeds down, and applying diatomaceous earth.
Role in the Garden Scheme
If you’re looking for a hardworking annual, strawflower fits the bill. Place shorter varieties in the front of beds and borders, in patio containers, window boxes, and hanging planters. Let taller types anchor beds and make dramatic linear statements in large containers.
Use monochromatic or multi-colored schemes for drifts of color that sweep through your landscape with continuous blooms that just beg to be cut and arranged.
As a floral designer, I appreciate the versatility I have with strawflower. And as a gardener, I love that it attracts birds, bees, butterflies, and a host of beneficial pollinators, helping to make my yard a real habitat for wildlife.
When planning a garden scheme, it’s helpful to know what plants “play well” together, or share a common growing culture. Some good companions for X. bracteatum are black-eyed Susan (Rudbeckia), balloon flower (Platycodon grandifloras), bee balm (Monarda didyma), yarrow (Achillea millefolium), and zinnia (Zinnia).
And, these flowers have something else in common. Because of their low water and care needs, they are suitable for xeriscaping, an environmentally sound type of gardening that requires minimal resources to maintain.
Best Uses: Cutting and Drying
To cut strawflower for fresh arrangements, choose sturdy stems with blossoms that have begun to open, but have not yet revealed their centers. Use sanitized scissors or pruners to make a clean cut at a 45-degree angle across each stem just above its base. Use in vases or soaked floral foam as desired.
With a change of water and a daily snip to the bottom of each, the stems should stay firm for up to 10 days in a vase. You may wire them for added support.
To harvest strawflower for dry arranging, cut stems in the same manner and bunch them together. Suspend the flowers upside-down in a dry location until the stems dry out. Use as desired for everlasting arrangements and craft projects.
Strawflower Quick Reference Growing Guide
What’s Not to Love?
Strawflower is one of my favorite annuals for two reasons:
First, its everlasting blooms are a floral designer’s delight.
Second, the kids in the family love to grow it, because they like the funky feel of the dry bracts.
Bring this year’s gardens and containers to life with the vivid hues of strawflower, a unique annual that asks little, and rewards with continuous cut-and-come-again flowers from spring until frost. I know you’re going to love having it in your landscape as much as I do.
If you liked this article, you’re sure to enjoy:
- 15 of the Best Annuals for Vivid Fall Color
- Globe Amaranth: Cut it, Dry it, Love it!
- Plant China Aster for Annual Color in the Late Summer Garden
- Pot Marigold: A Medieval Herb for Modern Times
© Ask the Experts, LLC. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. See our TOS for more details. Product photos via Nature Hills Nursery and Dogwooderitternet. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock. With additional writing and editing by Allison Sidhu.
About Nan Schiller
Nan Schiller is a writer with deep roots in the soil of southeastern Pennsylvania. Her background includes landscape and floral design, a BS in business from Villanova University, and a Certificate of Merit in floral design from Longwood Gardens. An advocate of organic gardening with native plants, she’s always got dirt under her nails and freckles on her nose. With wit and hopefully some wisdom, she shares what she’s learned and is always ready to dig into a new project!