Joyce Friels, Local Gardening

Starting your sunflower garden

Remember grandma’s summer garden with annuals blooming in all colors and gold sunflowers standing tall in the back of the flower bed? These gold flowers with big brown centers were always used as background flowers, usually planted along a fence with tall hollyhocks growing next to them. Sunflowers could also be seen blooming along country roads. Now sunflowers are used anywhere you want bright color, food for the birds, and a long lasting flower for cutting. A container filled with sunflowers can brighten up any room and you can’t help but smile when you see them.
The last few years have seen an explosion of sunflowers in all the seed catalogs and seed racks at your favorite garden center. There are many varieties to choose from with a wide range of color, from warm yellow petals with chartreuse centers to the deep wine red petals with chocolate brown centers. Sunflowers come in dozens of shapes and sizes making them mix well with other annuals and perennials. They make your favorite antique pitcher, from your grandma, the perfect receptacle for displaying on your dining room table. The new varieties are cleaner and are longer lasting, up to a couple weeks in the vase.
The great thing about sunflowers is that all you have to do is plant the seed and they just about do everything else. They are not picky about the soil they are in, but if your soil has been amended, they can surprise you by growing bigger and taller than the description stated on the seed packet. To keep the blooms smaller and the plant more compact, plant them closer together than suggested. Sunflowers are a perfect fit for any size garden. Sensational sunflowers for cutting are Sunbeam, Sunbright, and Moonbright. These varieties shoot up single stalks six feet tall topped with five-inch blooms. Another group that is great for the vase is the branching type–each plant produces multiple stems so you can cut off a few flowers for the table display while having lots left in the garden to enjoy.
Choose tall, bush varieties like Lemon Queen to create a fast-growing hedge or screen to hide a compost pile or a neighbor’s garage. Bush varieties are just the thing to hide scruffy, lower leaves of taller single stemmed sunflowers. Some varieties, like Chianti, bloom over the whole season giving you color all summer and into fall. Some other rubyhued sunflowers that are multi-stemmed, branching include Evening Sun, Velvet Queen, and Prado Red. Want both yellow and red in your garden? Look for seeds of Sunset, Floristan and Indian Blanket. These have deep, rich, burgundy petals tipped with gold. Indian Blanket produces pollen-less flowers that are four inches across and semi-double. If you are looking for a mix that will give you a variety of shapes and colors to add some pizzazz to your garden – try one of the combo mixes: Van Gogh Mix, Fun ‘n Sun, and Discovery Mix. Also available is the Gloriosa Mix that will grow into vibrant colored sunflowers that look like gloriosa daisies. Sunflowers even come in miniature size--pretty little plants with tiny tops developed for small garden or patio containers and for combining with other low growing annuals. Elf, an extra short and dainty sunflower, grows 16 inches tall and branches. It puts out lots of four-inch wide flowers with feathery yellow petals with yellow centers.
Of all the flowers you grow, sunflowers are the least care. The seeds can be planted in a straight row, scattered throughout the flower bed, or placed carefully to give you a certain look for your landscape. They are fast growing and they don’t seem to mind the cold so you can plant them a couple weeks before the last frost date. Don’t over-fertilize sunflowers as too much nitrogen delays flowering. Sunflowers give you lots of new landscape opportunities.
Sunflowers are a magnet for wildlife. Beneficial insects, especially lady-bugs, will drop by to feed on the pollen. Of course, birds love sunflowers too! Sunflowers are the favorite of most seed eating birds. If you are having a problem with too many unwanted birds such as grackles, brown headed cowbirds, starlings, or pigeons, stop putting out the popular variety of all-purpose songbird seed. Make a change by putting only black oil sunflower seeds in your hanging feeders. You will see a significant reduction in ‘trash birds’ visiting your yard.
Have fun, experiment! Grow sunflowers in your garden. Give yourself some nostalgia – grow a garden like the one you remember when you were growing up. And children love to have their own garden. Make a small flower bed in full sun and let your children, or your grandchildren, plant sunflower seeds. Watch the smiles as their sunflower bed begins to bloom. Their little faces will shine and they will be so proud of themselves. It is a sight not to be forgotten – and it will always make you smile.

Copperas Cove Leader Press

2210 U.S. 190
Copperas Cove, TX 76522
Phone:(254) 547-4207