Sunflowers 101

Tips for planting flowers that are guaranteed to brighten your day.
Gene B. Bussell

There’s a reason Vincent van Gogh painted sunflowers—they are simply joyful. Surround yourself with these happy blooms and you’ll smile every time you see them.

Sunflowers make great, long-lasting bouquets for your table, but don’t cut them all. Leave enough flowers in your garden to enjoy the big show all summer. As you might have guessed, they love sunshine and need at least six hours of it a day. They’re also tolerant of imperfect soil conditions. Once the flowers mature, beautiful birds will come in flocks in early morning and late afternoon. Goldfinches like to perch on the tops of large sunflowers and eat the seeds one by one—sort of like a bird buffet.

Jones Valley Urban Farm (jvuf.org) in Birmingham grows thousands of sunflowers each year for the local Whole Foods Market. “Sunflowers are what I think of when I want guaranteed success and instant beauty,” says Jones Valley Executive Director Edwin Marty. “They’re very forgiving, especially for the novice gardener.”

You’ll find sunflower selections in many colors and sizes. Blooms aren’t all yellow but can be red, chocolate, peach, lemon, or burgundy. You can even buy multicolored selections. For wow factor—and big bang for your buck—try giant sunflowers such as the newer ‘Sunzilla’ (up to 16 feet tall) or the classic big boy ‘Mammoth Russian’ (10 to 12 feet tall), a favorite among goldfinches and other birds. If you don’t have much space, try dwarf types such as ‘Big Smile,’ ‘Junior,’ and ‘Firecracker’ (all around 2 feet tall). These take up so little room that you can even grow them in pots. Large or small, indoors or out, sunflowers just say summertime. So go ahead and sow a little summer in your garden today.

Edwin’s Clip Tips

Use sharp clippers or snips to cut stems early in the morning, before it’s too hot. Be sure to cut flowers that are almost fully open. They’ll last longer in a vase. Clip (don’t pull) to remove any leaves that would be in water once you make your arrangement. Pollenless types such as the Pro Cut selections have a longer vase life (and don’t shed).

Sunflower Sources