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Garden Full Of Sunflowers

By Linda Wiggen Kraft

A very sunny garden needs sunflowers. There are many choices of sizes, shapes and even colors. Sunflowers bring the inspiring face of the sun into our gardens with their radiant petals and center geometry of infinity. Yet we seldom see sunflowers in our garden beds. It’s time to plant more.

We often think of the annual sunflowers (helianthus annuus) as the tall single stemmed plant with one large flower. These plants have names like Russian Mammoth, Mammoth Grey Stripe or Titan. Sunflowers are actually native to North America and have been cultivated by Native Americans since 3000 BC. Native sunflowers are multi-stemmed with many flowers. In the 1500s, seeds from these plants were taken back to Europe by Spanish explorers. They ended up in Russia and were breed to be the tall single flowered plants we now think of as sunflowers. And no wonder, these kinds of sunflowers are grown on millions of acres around the world.

The varieties of annual sunflowers are vast. They range from tall single flowered plants to multi stemmed with many flowers. The center disk can be black or yellow green ranging from a few inches to over two feet across. Flower petals come in yellow, orange, white, pink, purple and dark maroon. Of the multi-flowered plants, favorites are: Teddy with 6 inch flower head and hundreds of petals giving it a shaggy dog look; Autumn Beauty and Evening Sun have bicolor yellow petals with radiating pink, orange or burgundy; Valentine has a dark black center and pale soft yellow petals; Strawberry Blonde has purple and pink petals around a dark center. There are many other sunflowers with variations on colors, size and petal count.

Sunflowers of course like full sun. They grow best when the seeds are put directly into the soil after it has warmed. They can grow in pots and containers although knowing in advance how big the plant will get is important in choosing container size and location. Those grown in pots will be much shorter than those grown in the ground. Examples are Teddy, which will only grow to about 12 inches in a smaller container but will grow to about 36 inches in the ground. Sunny Smiles grows 6 inches tall in a smaller container and up to 12 inches in a large pot or in the ground.

One of the best children’s garden treats is a sunflower house, created when an outline of a room, say 8 by 8 feet is planted with tall sunflowers. An opening into the “house” is left with no plants growing. Morning glory seed are planted with the sunflower seeds to grow up the stalks. As the sunflowers reach their tallest, string is strung across the open area for morning glories to grow across.

There are also perennial sunflowers. Helianthus salicifolius is a Missouri native with long, thin, willow tree like leaves. It grows 3 to 4 feet tall with many flowers. Late summer blooming helianthus maximiliani, also a Missouri native, grows 3 to 10 feet tall.
One of the easiest ways to grow sunflowers is to scatter bird seed sunflower seeds in your garden during the winter and early spring. Some will germinate and grow into 6 feet or taller multi stemmed and yellow flowered bird and bee attractions.

Plant more sunflowers in your garden. They will bring joy to you, the pollinators and seed eaters that are part of your garden’s life.

Linda Wiggen Kraft is a landscape designer who creates holistic and organic gardens. She is also a mandala artist and creativity workshop leader. Her blog and website are: www.CreativityForTheSoul.com. Her phone number is (314) 504-4266.

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