Plant Profile: Sunflowers

sunflower tinyNothing says August in the garden quite like sunflowers. Whether the annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) that dot cutting gardens or the perennial sunflowers that stand tall in  meadows and native plant gardens, sunflowers are a cheery, bird-friendly addition to any garden.  (It’s worth noting that many meadow “sunflowers” are actually of the genus Heliopsis helianthus. They look like sunflowers, but do not lose there petals in the fall.)

Growing sunflowers could not be easier. They like a sunny spot (no surprise there!) and do well under most conditions. They do not like to be water-logged and prefer a soil with neutral pH, but tolerate both slightly acid and slightly alkaline soils well. For the very tall varieties, planting them near a fence or other support will guard against flopping.

maroon bandolier bouquetWhile sunflowers add old-fashioned charm to cut flower arrangements, leave a few heads standing in the garden for the birds. It’s great fun to watch a bird perched on the seed head, swinging down to grab a seed from time to time.

Because they are so easy to grow and popular, breeders have been coming up with many new varieties of sunflowers. ‘Lemon Queen’ is a favorite, with its pale yellow flowers and dark center. ‘Teddy Bear’ is a double sunflower with lots of petals but not much of a center. This year, I’m growing ‘Bright Bandolier’, a seed mix from Renee’s Garden Seed that combines yellow and deep maroon sunflowers. It’s a great mix for the cutting garden.

 

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