7 Sunflowers We Love
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A sunflower for every garden
There's no easier place to find sunflowers than the Midwest. Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota grow more than 85 percent of the U.S. crop. Starting in late July, vast stretches of sunflowers unfold their yellow blossoms, turning Midwest fields into swaying seas of gold.
More than 100 sunflower annual varieties stretch from 2-foot dwarves to 16-foot mammoths. Flowers range in size from a couple of inches in diameter to a foot and bloom in a wide spectrum of hues including white, cream, golden yellow, fiery orange and burgundy red. Shapes include single, double and fluffy semidouble flower heads.
Click ahead to find out about 7 sunflowers we especially love, along with tips on growing and cutting sunflowers.
Pictured: 'ProCut Yellow Lite'
This 'Teddy Bear' type features fluffy 10-inch flowers atop 6- to 7-foot-tall branching plants. The dense double blooms look great paired with single-bloomers.
'Lyng's California Greystripe'
For edible seeds, plant this 7-foot-tall mammoth variety. A single, 6-inch yellow flower produces tasty seeds perfect for drying and roasting. Birds love it, too.
'Starburst Lemon Aura'
This 4-foot beauty features multibranching stems with pollenless starburst-type blooms. The pale yellow flowers are perfect in pastel bouquets.
Deep burgundy petals surround an ebony center, creating a velvety look. Side stems on this 4- to 6-foot-tall sunflower are stronger than most multibranching varieties.
These knee-high dwarves bloom in yellow, gold, cream and mahogany bicolors. The bushy plants are prolific bloomers and jazz up beds, borders and window boxes.
Popular among professional growers, the series is day-length neutral (day length doesn't affect blooming period), making them early bloomers (50 days to mature). Their 3- to 4-inch-diameter pollenless flowers bloom in vivid hues -- lemon, orange, peach and red/lemon bicolor -- atop strong 5- to 6-foot plants.
Pictured: 'ProCut Peach'
This is the first sunflower to win an All-America Selections award. Sturdy stems support lots -- up to 25 flowers per plant -- of 4- to 6-inch-diameter bright orange blooms for summer-long bouquets.
Can't find the seeds you're looking for? Some mail-order options:
Johnny's Selected Seeds (877/564-6697; johnnyseeds.com)
Pinetree Garden Seeds (207/926-3400; superseeds.com)
Renee's Garden (888/880-7228; reneesgarden.com)
Sunflower growing tips
• Plant in full sun. The sunflower name refers to more than appearance. The genus name, Helianthus, comes from the Greek helios (sun) and anthos (flower). Appropriately, sunflowers give the best show with six to eight hours of direct sunlight every day.
• Give tall varieties space. Plant five to six seeds 1 inch deep and water the soil. Seedlings will appear in five to 10 days. When they get to be about 3 inches tall, thin them down to the three healthiest. After they reach 2 feet, thin them down to one.
• Keep them fed. Sunflowers deplete soil rapidly, so replenish nutrients each season with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer or organic matter.
• Set the scene. Plant sunflowers with other fast-growing, sun-loving annuals and biannuals such as castor bean (with coordinating big foliage), hollyhocks (complementary heights) and zinnias (in a matching color). Plant morning glories that scramble up the stems. Or plant a single row along a tall fence and wait for their faces to peek over, watching for another summer sunrise.
A no-fuss personality and long vase life make sunflowers a favorite among cut-flower growers.
To get the most from your sunflowers, try these tips from Karen Pendleton, who sells at the Lawrence, Kansas, Farmer's Market:
• Time your planting. Karen plants in spring when day and night temperatures stay above 50 degrees. The flowers hit their stride in hot, humid weather. To ensure fresh blooms for market every week, Karen staggers plantings a couple of weeks apart.
• Cut early in the day. For long-lasting blooms, Karen cuts sunflowers in early morning when petals unfurl.
• Keep water fresh. With fresh water every other day, arrangements can last 10 days.
Pictured: Clockwise, from top: 'Solita', 'Sole d'Oro', 'Starburst Panache', 'Ebony & Gold', 'Lemon Queen' and 'Velvet Queen'.