Photo by Sabina Rüber
Tithonia is a wonderful, vigorous plant with velvety-orange flowers to brighten up late summer and autumn. Hailing from Mexico, it is a perennial in its home environment, but in the UK we grow it as an annual. It needs a good, hot summer to do its best, but if you’re lucky with the weather it can form a huge, bushy plant with branching stems, up to 2m tall. In most UK gardens you’ll be extremely lucky to reach this lofty height but at even half the height, it should produce a good number of daisy-like flowers that are good for cutting.
Tithonia rotundifolia is widely grown in the US, but in the UK, a cultivar called ‘Torch’ is more widely grown. This is a shorter version of the species, more suitable to the British climate, able to produce flowers before the plant reaches triffid-like proportions of the species. ‘Torch’ has large, dark orange flowers with golden centres. ‘Yellow Torch’ is also available, with pure yellow flowers, somehow not as special as the orange version. ‘Arcadian Blend’ is a seed mix with golden yellow and orange flowers.
The trick with tithonia is to give it enough warmth as it germinates and grows on. Sow the seed under cover in mid spring when the weather has warmed up a little. Sow into modular trays, two or three seeds to a module. Germinate in warm temperatures of 18-21C and grow on in a greenhouse or cold frame. Pot on into 7cm pots when the seedlings get too big for the modules, and plant out in late spring or early summer when all danger of frost has passed. Give them a sheltered spot in full sun, and ensure that the soil is well-drained. Don’t over-fertilise as the plant will produce too much foliage at the expense of flower. In a very hot summer, the plant may get very tall and need some kind of support.
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