I have always loved tall flowers.
I grew up on a farm. Some years we couldn’t keep up with plowing chores because of heavy spring rains. Sunflowers would overtake sorghum fields and produce acres and acres of tall flowers that were wonderful places to encounter birds, and rabbits, and bugs.
Chances are that you don’t have neglected sorghum fields that spontaneously produce eight-foot tall flowers as far as you can see. You probably favor tall flowers for aesthetic purposes. You will use tall flowers in those paces in your landscape where you want to increase vertical features, such as along fences.
Or you will use tall flowers as a backdrop for shorter plants, or as a focal point to draw attention away from construction or, if you were like my family on the farm, even as a shelter for wildlife. This article will help you get started.
Table of Contents
- An Important Consideration for Growing Any Kind of Tall Flower
- Ageratum houstonianum
- Castor Bean
- Chimney Bellflower
- Desert Candle
- Globe Thistle
- Joe-Pye Weed
- Meadow Rue
- Native Goldenrod
- Perennial Sunflower
- Plume Poppy
- Red Hot Poker
- Rose Mallow
- Russian Sage
- Sunflower (annual)
- Tree Senna
An Important Consideration for Growing Any Kind of Tall Flower
Most kinds of tall flowers are easy to grow. After all, they grow tall. But be careful in your choices of tall flowers if you are planting in a windy location, especially if you water frequently and you have loose soil. A gust of wind can undo a season’s work with tall flowers.
Now let’s take a closer look at the 30 prettiest and most reliable tall flowers.
Ageratum houstonianum has beautifully bluish floss flowers and is a great choice for a relatively tall flower in a planting of short flowers. It grows to about 30 inches (75 cm) tall. It starts blooming in the middle of summer (although I have had them bloom in May) and it will continue blooming until late fall.
Shelter this plant from hot summer sun. It can be grown in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 11, but it requires some shade in hot summer climates.
Do you like poinsettias?
Here is a plant that maintains a poinsettia-like appearance from the middle of summer, when it has reached its maximum height, until first frost. The upper third of the plant is covered in foliage of red and sometimes yellow that stands out in the flower bed. The actual blossom is small and white.
This annual is a good choice for drought-prone gardens in climates that are prone to summer drought. But it’s not a huge, towering plant. Amaranthus reaches a maximum height of 3 to 8 feet (75 to 200 cm). Plant amaranthus in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 11.
Also known as false aster and false chamomile, boltonia grows 5 to 6 feet (125 to 150 cm) tall and is covered with tiny daisy-like blooms that have white petals with yellow centers. It’s native to well-watered areas such as the Florida Panhandle, so it won’t hold well to drought without generous supplemental watering. The little flowers appear from late summer until the middle of fall. It’s a great backdrop for border gardens that need some additional color in the late growing season. Grow this plant in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10 in locations that get full sun.
Fans of herbal medicine know the bugbanes as a genus of plants that includes black cohosh. Fans of sustainable landscaping may know this plant as black beauties.
Bugbane bears a dainty array of small, creamy white, intensely fragrant blooms in late summer. The foliage ranges from deep purple to bronze. You will need to grow bugbane in partial to deep shade for it to reach its full height of 3 to 4 feet (75 to 100 cm). Grow in well-watered locations in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8.
Don’t use this plant in locations where it might be consumed by pets or children. Some species contain cardioactive compounds. Others change hormonal balance.
Castor beans bear colorful spikes of yellow flowers over dark red and purple foliage. They would be a much more popular garden plant except for the fact that their beans are the source of the deadly poison ricin. However, gardeners have not always shied away from using castor bean plants as background and framing plants in their flower beds. In the 1950’s, my own mother simply told me “Don’t eat those. They can kill you.” I didn’t.
Castor beans grow as long as the weather is warm and they get enough sun, up to a height of 15 feet (3.8 meters). They are killed by frost, but grow well in locations with longer growing seasons, USDA hardiness zones 7 through 10.
Chimney bellflower grows bell-shaped light purple blooms that grow on a chimney-shaped stalk rising from rich green foliage. It grows up to 5 feet (125 cm) tall in sunny or lightly shaded locations in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 8.
These colorful flowers in the sunflower family sport pink, bright orange, or white petals in a daisy-like configuration around yellow centers. Deadheading spent blooms will encourage additional flowering. Some species of cosmos reach a height of 4 feet (100 cm). The flowers attract butterflies and the seeds attract birds. Grow in USDA hardiness zones 6 through 10.
Cleome are also known as spider flowers, spider plants, spider weeds, and bee plants. Does that give you a hint of their role in your flower planting?
Cleome are great for attracting six- and eight-legged beneficial visitors to your garden. They bloom for six to eight weeks from early summer until early fall if they get full sun.
Height depends on variety, but many kinds of cleome grow to 5 feet (125 cm). The blossoms have a musky odor. Grow in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 11.
Dahlias are ruffled relatives of zinnias and sunflowers. They come in dozens of varieties that grow from 1 to 5 feet (25 to 125 cm) tall, with blooms that can be as small as boutonnieres to as big as dinner plates.
All dahlias require full sun and all dahlias are sensitive to cold and killed by frost. Grow in USDA hardiness zones 8 through 10.
Desert candles are drought-hardy plants in the cabbage family that grow cylindrical stalks up to 30 inches (75 cm) tall that look a lot like a giant candle. These flowers are drought-hardy but cold-sensitive and should only be attempted in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 8. They look best as a background plant near shrubs and need protection from wind. Unlike other “cabbages,” they have a pleasing fragrance that permeates the air on warm summer nights.
About 25 years ago I had a role in popularizing the scientific standards of the Bundesgesundheitsamt, the German national health office, for the rational use of herbal medicines. I spent several weeks of my life translating a document on the use of an herb known as horse heal or elfdock, or elecampane to gardeners.
There is a lot of scientific evidence that elecampane is useful for breaking up phlegm and easing asthma. But there is also a lot of landscaping evidence that these “not quite sunflowers” are great for cottage gardens, herb gardens, and wildflower gardens. They grow up to 6 feet (150 cm) tall in moist locations, preferring USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7.
Here is an exceptional flower with a bundle of thistle petals that come together in whimsical shape with a texture reminiscent of a hedgehog. The genus name of this plant, Echinops, comes from the Greek word for hedgehog. This plant grows 2 to 4 feet (50 to 100 cm) tall when grown in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 8.
I’m a fan of hibiscus tea. It’s tangy. It’s loaded with vitamin C. And it even makes a great sorbet.
But you may be content with this 15-foot giant in all kinds of tropical settings, as a privacy plant around the pool or as a hedge to protect other plants form wind. The flowers (the part of the plant you can dry and use for tea) are up 6 inches (15 cm) wide and come in red, pink, white, and purple. If you don’t live in the tropics, you can grow hibiscus as an annual in full sun with regular watering.
My dad was a Marine in combat in the Pacific in World War II. Whenever the subject of the war would come up, he would retreat to his flower garden, where he had an amazing stand of hollyhocks.
Hollyhocks grow 5 to 8 feet (125 to 200 cm) tall with delicate, heart-shaped blooms that come in reds, pinks, whites, and pale yellow. Hollyhocks require a lot of attention, but they reward their care not just with blooms but also with flocks of butterflies and hummingbirds. Grow hollyhocks in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 10.
Joe-pye weed grows anywhere from 4 to 7 feet (100 to 175 cm) tall just about anywhere in North America east of the Rockies. Each of its many flowers contains 5-7 florets of purplish-pink blossoms that release an appealing scent something like vanilla. This is a low-maintenance plant that attracts butterflies and hummingbirds — sometimes escaping the garden — in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9.
Meadow rue is a group of plants in the buttercup family. Most meadow rues sport purple or lavender blossoms that afford a spectacular focal point with they are grown in a cluster. Meadow rue grows to 4 to 6 feet (100 to 150 cm) tall in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 7.
The fictional Medieval monk and crime detective Cadfael solved many murders with monkshood. This hooded, purplish, showy flower grows 2 to 4 feet (50 to 100 cm) tall. Every part of the plant is poisonous, although in proper doses it can be used in herbal medicines prepared by experts. Grow this plant in rich soil in a semi-shaded location in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 7. This showy flower has hooded, purplish-blue flowers that grow 2-4’ tall.
Allergy potential aside, native goldenrod is a wonderful background plant for fall gardens. Hybridized from the familiar weed, native goldenrod is blissfully easy to grow in full sun and on well-drained soil. Expect mature height of 4 to 7 feet (100 to 175 cm). This plant is adapted to USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10.
Flowering tobacco is an annual plant that emits a jasmine-like scent in the evening, although its flowers take a few hours to “wake up” and open in the morning. It grows up to 6 feet (150 cm) tall if it is given partial shade and moist but not waterlogged soil. Grow flowering tobacco in USDA hardiness zones 10 and 11.
You’re probably familiar with annual sunflowers. There is also a perennial sunflower that also produces huge blossoms in a slightly creamier golden tin. Grow perennial sunflower, which can also reach 6 to 8 feet (150 to 200 cm) in well-watered loamy soil for late-summer and fall bloom. Perennial sunflowers grow well in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9.
I like perilla in my flower beds, but I also like it for tempura and sushi and as a side dish for Korean food. Perilla is both a Japanese vegetable and nice purplish background plant. It grows so quickly in warm, moist conditions that it can become a four-foot tall (100-cm tall) invader of other planting beds. Grow in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10 as an annual.
Plume poppy is an impressive background plant bearing large, scalloped leaves and huge numbers of tiny, dainty, creamy-white flowers that contain about two dozen yellow stamens each. Its 5- to 8-foot (125 to 200 cm) habit makes it a great plant for fences and walls. It’s invasive through both its suckers and roots, so don’t try it if you don’t have a lot of room. You probably should put down a root barrier around plume poppies at time of planting. Plume poppy thrives in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10.
Red Hot Poker
Here is a beautiful annual plant from South Africa that doesn’t grow in a pot. Red hot poker grows in huge fields in the grassy high slopes of South Africa’s Drakensberg Mountains. It’s also a great addition to high-altitude gardens in the United States. Grow red hot poker in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 10 and expect a height of 32 to 36 inches (80 to 90 cm). Red hot poker requires full sun.
Butterflies love this bushy plant with angelic-white blossoms with a red or purple center. Each plant can produce up to 200 blossoms all summer long, making it a favorite in well-watered, sunny locations in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9.
You have to have a black thumb to kill Russian sage. It’s easy enough to grow that you can just sit back and enjoy its fragrant blue flowers and its silvery foliage. Russian sage thrives in full sun and in well-drained soil in USDA hardiness zones 5 through 9. Despite its name, Russian sage is native to and adapted to gardens in North America.
I mentioned my dad was a fan of hollyhocks. My mom would put out a few hundred snapdragons “here and there” every year for late winter and early spring bloom.
The snapdragon gets its name from the fact that you can pinch its flower from the sides, and you’ll see something like the mouth of a dragon if you use a little imagination. Snapdragons are a great choice for planting that you need to be seen from a distance, growing up to 3 feet (75 cm) tall. Snapdragons can be adapted to USDA hardiness zones 4 through 10, although you may need to treat them as a summer plant in colder climates.
This towering flowering plant has multiple flowering heads with daisy-like petals that end in three delicate teeth. Each flower has an eye of amber or dark yellow that is shaped like half of a protruding ball. The plant gets its name from its nineteenth-century use in sneezing powders used to relieve congestion. Sneeze weed grows 3 to 5 feet (75 to 125 cm) tall and grows in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9.
Annual sunflowers are American plants that can grow up to 12 feet (300 cm) tall in well-watered, loamy soils. Even in less than ideal conditions sunflowers will achieve heights of 3 to 7 feet (75 to 175 cm). any of them turn their heads to follow the sun throughout the day and some have flowers that droop at night. Grow in sunny locations in USDA hardiness zones 2 through 11.
Here’s a flowering shrub that grows to a height of about 3 feet (about a meter). It tolerates light frosts and is a perennial in USDA hardiness zones 9 through 11 but may need to be treated as a container plant in colder climates.
The ancient Greek word for valerian was “phu.” To modern English-speakers, the name is appropriate because, although valerian is pretty and useful as an herbal medicine, it’s not the nicest smelling plant for your garden. The flower is a halo of lacy, dainty white blossoms that look like (but don’t smell like) the flower baby’s breath. Valerian stands up well to cold weather. Grow in USDA hardiness zones 4 through 9.
Living on the farm as an adult, I had an ongoing battle with my niece and nephew’s goats and my zinnia bed. I eventually fortified my flowers with an electric fence, but mere proximity to live current made their leaves curl and their flowers shrivel. So, my advice to zinnia growers is either don’t let your family members keep goats in your pasture without really great fencing or don’t grow zinnias.
Zinnia flowers make a nice edging plant of a nice mass planting, reaching a height of about 30 inches (75 cm). They are a great choice for hot, dry climates and for butterfly gardens everywhere. Zinnias germinate with a day or two of planting in warm soil. Use as a summer annual in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10.