Perennial Solutions: Helenium ‘Mariachi Salsa’ By Paul Pilon

Compact Helen’s flower produces spicy, deep red flowers with dark chocolate buttons in mid to late summer.

Helenium is a genera of perennials that has been increasing in popularity in recent years. Some of the recent demand likely stems from its mid- to late-summer bloom time; Helen’s flower peaks when most summer flowering perennials are on the decline. Additionally, breeding efforts have improved the commercial production and landscape performance of this great perennial.

‘Mariachi Salsa’ is a great example of the breeding improvements helenium has recently undergone. Bred by Arie Blom of AB-cultivars in the Netherlands, ‘Mariachi Salsa’ has a compact growing habit and produces spicy, deep red flowers with dark chocolate buttons in the mid to late summer. The plants do not fall over, have good disease resistance and are very floriferous.

Helenium performs well in locations with full to part sun across USDA Hardiness Zones 4 to 8. ‘Mariachi Salsa’ forms attractive, spreading clumps reaching 18 to 21 inches tall and produces countless, small daisy-like flowers on strong stems that bloom for a long time. This is a great summer perennial for brightening perennial borders or can be utilized as accent plants, in mass plantings, in containers or as cut flowers. If you haven’t grown helenium in recent years, give ‘Mariachi Salsa’ a try.


Helenium ‘Mariachi Salsa’ is vegetatively propagated by means of tissue culture and tip cuttings by a limited number of licensed propagators; self-propagation is strictly prohibited.

Stick the unrooted cuttings directly into trays containing pre-moistened, well-drained propagation substrate. Place the trays under a moderate misting regimen for the first few of days of propagation. After the cuttings are acclimated to the propagation environment, slightly reduce the amount of mist being provided for the next five to seven days. Gradually decrease the mist further as the cuttings develop callus and roots. Apply 100-ppm nitrogen beginning seven to 10 days after they have been stuck. The cuttings will be rooted in two to three weeks after sticking. Liners take approximately five to seven weeks from sticking to become fully rooted and ready for transplanting.


With its compact growing habit, it is best to grow helenium ‘Mariachi Salsa’ in 1-gallon or smaller sized containers. For best performance, they should be planted so the original soil line of the liner is even with the surface of the growing medium of the new container. Helenium prefers to be grown in a well-drained medium with the pH maintained between 5.6 and 6.4.

They are moderate feeders. Nutrients can be delivered using water-soluble or controlled-release fertilizers. Helen’s flower performs best when either 75 to 150 ppm is applied with every irrigation or using higher rates of 200 to 250 ppm as needed. Controlled-release fertilizers can be incorporated into the growing mix prior to planting at a rate equivalent to 1.0 to 1.25 pounds of elemental nitrogen per yard of growing medium or topdressed on the media surface using the medium rate listed on the product’s label.

Helenium requires an average amount of water. They will require more irrigation as the plants develop and begin to flower. When irrigation is required, water them thoroughly then allow the soil to dry slightly between irrigations.

With its compact growing habit, it is not usually necessary to use plant growth regulators to reduce plant height when growing ‘Mariachi Salsa’. If necessary, the plants can be toned using spray applications of daminozide (B-Nine or Dazide) at ,2500 ppm (higher application rates may be necessary in southern locations). Making one to two spray applications at seven-day intervals should adequately tone the plants.

Insects and Diseases

Helenium can generally be produced relatively free of insects and diseases. Occasionally, aphids, leafhoppers and spider mites appear causing only a minimal amount of crop injury. Fungal leaf spots, powdery mildew, root rots and rust are the primary diseases growers observe. Helen’s flower is susceptible to poty viruses, which are vectored by aphids; therefore growers should have stricter management strategies for controlling aphids. Otherwise, the majority of these insect pests and diseases can be detected with routine scouting programs and any necessary management strategies can be implemented upon early detection.

Temperature and Scheduling

Helenium naturally blooms outside in mid to late summer. However, flowering plants can be produced out of season when using the guideline provided below.

‘Mariachi Salsa’ does not have an obligate cold requirement for flowering and can be easily produced for sales the same year it was started. It is not necessary to bulk them up in the fall and overwinter them. Many growers find it beneficial to pinch the plants after transplanting in the spring to promote branching, obtain fuller plants and to produce more flowers.

Some cultivars of helenium have been shown to be cold-beneficial plants and tend to have more vigor and produce more blooms following vernalization. I am not aware of specific research regarding the vernalization requirements of ‘Mariachi Salsa’ but suspect that it will react similarly. Consider fall bulking and overwintering them to increase the quality and appearance if spring flowering is required. Overwintered helenium will generally have more shoots per container and may not need to be pinched.

Helenium has an obligate long day requirement for flowering and does not bloom when the day lengths are naturally short (less than 14 hours). If early flowering in desired, it is necessary to provide photoperiodic lighting to create long day lengths. When spring planting liners, it is recommended to bulk them up under natural day lengths for four to six weeks prior to providing long day lengths. Growers can use day extension (providing at least 14-hour day lengths) or night interruption lighting to create long days when the natural day lengths are less than 14 hours.

After the onset of long day lengths, the amount of time to produce flowering plants is a function of temperature. ‘Mariachi Salsa’ takes nine to 10 weeks to flower when it is grown at 66 to 72° F.


Helenium ‘Mariachi Salsa’ was introduced by Plants Nouveau ( in the United States and Canada. Rooted liners are available from several licensed propagators including Creek Hill Nursery (, Emerald Coast Growers (, North Creek Nurseries (, Pacific Plug and Liner (, Pioneer Gardens (, Skagit Gardens ( and Stonehouse Nursery (

Paul Pilon

Paul Pilon is a horticultural consultant, owner of Perennial Solutions Consulting (, and author of Perennial Solutions: A Grower’s Guide to Perennial Production. He can be reached at 616.366.8588 or