Photo by Ralph Lee Anderson
It's the ultimate happy flower. You can't look at the radiant petals of a sunflower without smiling. These summer favorites are ideal in the garden or bouquets. While yellow is the classic color, you can buy selections with peach, orange, lemon, red, chocolate, or even multicolored blooms. Another plus is their varied height—purchase small selections for containers or the front of your garden beds, and use taller ones as a backdrop. Large selections can also light up any vegetable garden. Goldfinches and monarchs love the blooms, and you'll love roasting the seeds.
Every year, Gene and Jan Harlow of Laurel, Mississippi, plant plenty of sunflowers among the beans, peppers, squash, and tomatoes in their garden. The Harlows have a secret for keeping birds away from sown seeds. "We've had birds find our newly planted sunflower seeds as though they knew exactly where they lay under the dirt," Gene says. "Now, we always make sure to keep nearby bird feeders filled with sunflower seeds to lure the birds away until the seedlings emerge."
How to Grow Sunflowers
Sunflowers require very little. They are happy in any well-drained soil as long as they get six to eight hours of full sun a day. For best results, sow seeds directly into the garden. Thin seedlings as they sprout. (Just follow planting and thinning instructions on the seed packet.) As plants grow, mulch and water regularly. If taller selections need support, stake with bamboo and twine.
Sunflowers to Try
Try selections such as 'Junior,' 'Teddy Bear,' or 'Elf' for small gardens and pots. If you have a little more room, try multibranching 'Lemon Queen' or two of the Harlows' favorites, 'Buttercream' and 'Coconut Ice.' Pollenless selections such as 'Moulin Rouge' and 'Pro Cut BiColor' are great for cutting and won't drop pollen on your table. Use sharp snips to cut flowers early in the morning. Look for blooms that are almost fully open because they'll last longer. Cut stems at an angle, and place in a bucket with floral preservative or lemon-lime soft drink to condition and feed. Just drop the conditioned stems in your favorite vase for instant indoor color. You'll get the best of both worlds—summery sunshine with air-conditioning!