Sunflower symphonies

'Van Gogh' sunflower. I got the seeds from Renee's Seeds. She sent them to me to try.
‘Van Gogh’ sunflower. I got the seeds from Renee’s Seeds. She sent them to me to try.

Last summer, in my vast garden full of flowering plants, there were none I enjoyed more than sunflowers. I wrote about them as easy seeds and as garden prejudices. I also took more photos of sunflowers than anything else. Perhaps, it’s their majestic stature, but no–that can’t be–‘Teddy Bear’ is only two feet tall–and even smaller in my garden. Maybe it’s their standard coloration of yellow, gray, almost black and green. No, not that either. Sunflowers come in nearly every hue on the warm side of the color wheel.

Helianthus 'Teddy Bear' sunflower is very small. Mine were shorter than the two feet on the package.
Helianthus ‘Teddy Bear’ sunflower is very small. Mine were shorter than the two feet on the package.

I think it was how they anchored the new vegetable plot up against the split-rail fence. I loved how the pollinators flocked to their nectar filled blooms. I’m fascinated by the Fibonacci number geometry of their spiraling centers. I adore their warm and welcoming ways. Louise Riotte once wrote a book called Sleeping with a Sunflower: A Treasury of Old-Time Gardening Lore, and although I don’t want to lie down in the southern sandburs that get going about the same time sunflowers nod their heavy heads, I acknowledge and honor her sentiments.

Bees gathering pollen and nourishment from one of the sunflowers I planted in the vegetable garden.
Bees gathering pollen and nourishment from one of the sunflowers I planted in the vegetable garden.

I also found this quote by Henry Ward Beecher, “As for marigolds, poppies, hollyhocks, and valorous sunflowers, we shall never have a garden without them, both for their own sake, and for the sake of old-fashioned folks, who used to love them.” I guess I am one of those old-fashioned folk. My mom always said I was like a little old woman. She didn’t mean it as a compliment.

Since the sunflowers were so exquisite last year, I’ll sow more in late spring after the frosts. Sunflower seeds are often given to children because they are so easy to plant. Simply start them outdoors, give them enough water and watch them grow. I laid a soaker hose at their base, in the vegetable garden. With a timer, it worked quite well. They grew in nearly pure, red sand with no amendments other than the grass clipping that had collected against the fence over time. The biggest chores were keeping the small plants weeded and watching for Silvery Checkerspot caterpillars. I love these little butterflies, but they have plenty of places in my garden to munch. After I killed a few of them, birds found the rest because they were gone the next morning. Those little black caterpillars will annihilate my sunflowers, so yes, I did squish a few. I never spray. Cutworms are other pests that cause problems just after the seeds emerge from the soil. Press a nail or stick in the soil against the tiny plant and stop cutworms in their tracks.

Helianthus annus, sunflower 'Strawberry Blonde' with a bee.
Helianthus annus, sunflower ‘Strawberry Blonde’ with a bee.

Here are the ones I’m trying this summer.

‘Teddy Bear’ I thought this diminutive sun worshipper was so cute around the fountain. I’m going to surround it with gaily colored red and pink lantana.

‘Red Sun’ It has maroon to red petals surrounding a chocolate center. Territorial Seed states it is less intense than Prado Red and later. I like the color.

Then there are the wild ones: ‘Solar Flare‘ and ‘Strawberry Blonde’ that offer contrast within their petals. ‘Strawberry Blonde’ was my hands-down favorite last summer, but there were very few seeds in the packet. I bought two this year. I planted them in the garden that faces the road. It’s my little contribution to the neighborhood. I hope they like it. ‘Solar Flare’ is new to the garden.

Sunflower, part of the Autumn Beauty mix.
Sunflower, part of the Autumn Beauty mix.

Three packets are from Renee’s Seeds and were given to me at the GWA symposium in Tucson. ‘Sunzilla’ is very large, listed on the packet as anywhere from ten to sixteen feet. Because we don’t get as much rain, and the soil is poor, I expect it to top out at six feet. The other two are collections of different seeds: ‘Royal Flush‘ and ‘Sun Samba.’

Everyone should grow sunflowers. They are easy food for the soul.

40 Replies to “Sunflower symphonies”

  1. I myself too love these beautiful flowers as this plant can grow from 3 feet to 18 feet tall, and requires only 90 to 100 days to mature. Also planting sunflower are a great choice to attract birds to your yard as well as bees and butterflies.

  2. I too, adore sunflowers. This year, I’m not going to grow a community garden plot, so I will be turning to your blog for my sunflower hit. Your pictures are gorgeous. And thanks for the tip on using a nail.

  3. I know it seems improbable but my sunflowers refused to come up last year, and it broke my heart. Not sure if birds ate the seeds or cutworms got the plants, but I’m going to have to be more vigilant this time. I need my sunflowers!

  4. Oh sunflowers! Have fun, have fun! I hope to put some in this year, moved into this farm last year just in time to throw a vegetable garden in the ground. It was a great garden, but here wasn’t much time for planning and I didn’t have enough blossoms! Your photos were lovely and made me eager for summer (sadly, spring hasn’t even arrived yet!)

  5. Hi Dee, been a long time since I visited. I love sunflowers too, at least up until a couple years ago. That’s when they began getting these little green bugs. They destroyed the flower. Couldn’t spray because of the bees so I decided to stop growing sunflowers for a while to see if the bugs would die off for lack of a host. Yours are lovely. Guess I’ll have to get my sunflower fix from blogger’s photos.

    1. Marnie, they were probably aphids. If you ever try sunflowers again, just give them a shot of water with the hose. Or spray them with sugar water and watch the lady beetles come feast. Aphids will destroy the flower turning it into an ugly black mess. Thank you for coming by. I’ve missed seeing you.

  6. I love Sunflowers! And the smaller ones are excellent cut flowers. I arrange bouquets for church, and whenever I can get my hands on Sunflowers for late summer arrangements, I incorporate them. It’s near impossible to be sad when Sunflowers are around.

  7. You’ve inspired me… I do love sunflowers and they most certainly feed the soul. I know just the place to plant them… gotta wait for the snow to melt first, then the soil to warm… patience. Love the Strawberry Blonde… how tall does she get?

    1. Oh good! Carolyn, when you grow those sunflowers, be sure to post them on your blog later. I want to see the pictures. If I remember correctly, ‘Strawberry Blonde’ grew to seven feet. She was a towering princess.

  8. Yes, sunflowers are like queens towering over my wild garden area. I’ve had the helianthus maxmilliani for a while – they grow wild all along the roads near our house and make such a statement! I just planted some other sunflower seeds this week — now you’ve made me want to try some other new varieties.

    1. Diana, I have that gorgeous Helianthus maxmilliani in two places. I love it’s silvery leaves. I’ll plant my annual sunflowers next month after the end of freezes. Hugs my friend.

  9. It did not dawn on me until this moment that as you were listing the flowers of summer I was thinking, well yes, I have those in my garden that those were the same flowers my grandmother grew in her country garden, the ones I had little respect for as a child. I’m going to have to think about that for a bit.

    1. Oh Charlie, our grandmothers were so wise. They planted such lovely and carefree plants didn’t they? Yes, rethink the beautiful sunflower. You won’t be disappointed.

    1. Donna, try putting grit on top of the seeds where you plant them. It seems to help. I’ve also covered them with netting a few times when the critters were especially bad.

  10. I agree, everyone should grow sunflowers, for their beauty, for the bees and for the birds. I’ve tried all kinds and like them all, the taller the better, though!

  11. Aahhhh. All of this talk about the sun… The sun in any form would be welcomed right now. Sunflowers are one of my favorite annuals. This post has lifted my spirits. Thanks Dee for giving me something to look forward to.

    1. Sure! When you see the seedling barely up from the soil, you can take a nail or stick and push it into the ground as closely to the seedling as possible without damaging. I’ll try to take a photo and post it when I do this with my tomato plants and other seedlings. Mr. Cutworm can’t wrap himself about the seedling and cut it off. Cutworms curl into a “C” shape in order to cut your precious seedlings to the ground. You can also take a coffee can or other can and place it around the seedling for protection. HTH!

  12. a) I know “of” Renee’s seeds… and the fact that “she” sent you seeds is just so cool. LOL
    b) I too love sunflowers, as well as all of those old fashioned blooms… especially larkspur. They all remind me of my grandparents, who grew an Eden in their backyard when I was little. Planting more varieties this year here at the W. So
    thanks for the names!!
    c) I can’t imagine calling you a little old woman was not a compliment… xoxo
    d) do you KEEP bees? I can’t remember. Or does your garden attract them naturally? Our fuzzy little girls have been out foraging already this month, very very exciting! it’s going to be a beautiful gardening year. xoxo
    Excellent post, Dee! Thank you as always for the ideas and inspiration!

    1. Marie, don’t be all excited about Renee sending me seeds. She allows garden writers to take some home at the end of conventions. She’s nice like that to all of us. I’m not special. As for the bees, no I haven’t kept them yet. I’m rather allergic to stings so I’m afraid to keep them. However, I’ve definitely thought about it. I’m excited about yours and would love to come take some photos one day.

  13. I love sunflowers but have not had any for a couple of years. The goldfinches love the seed and they are fun to watch as they almost hang upside down to eat from the seed heads . I haven’t grow the shorter version, so I need to order some seed.

  14. Okay, that does it. Sunflowers are being added to the seeds list. Sometimes they struggle here, but the suggestion of more water might be the key to success. Thanks too about the nail and cutworms!

    1. Frances, I hope your sunflowers reach new heights my friend. You’ve taught me so much about gardening. Just a little more water and keeping the critters away for awhile.

  15. They are such happy plants. I just can’t help but smile when I see them. They are reminders of warm, sunny, summer days. What could be better than that? I love that you grow so many different ones. I think you just talked me into planting a few in my garden, too!

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