Sunflowers are the perfect garden plant: easy to grow and with masses of magnificent flowers that last for weeks on end. Their often huge and always sunny faces appeal to all ages, but there is far more to these spectacular plants than meets the eye.
All About Sunflowers
- Most sunflowers originate from the Americas.
- The most common types are called annuals as they grow, flower and set seed in the same year.
- The young, developing flowers actually track the daily movement of the sun (called heliotropism) so that the immature flowers face the sun, hence the name sunflower.
- As the flowers mature, their ability to follow the sun reduces and they tend to face the east to greet the morning sun.
- Sunflowers are great plants for gardens but they are also a valuable crop plant. The seeds are processed to produce sunflower oil or harvested for the food and wild bird industry.
- Sunflowers can be orange, pink, red, burgundy and even white in colour.
There are dozens of different varieties of sunflowers you can grow and several different types too. 2015 is the Year of the Sunflower, so look out for special sunflower plants and promotions at a garden centre near you.
- If it’s giant plants with dinner plate sized flowers that you want then choose ‘Mongolian Giant’, ‘Giraffe’, ‘American Giant’ or ‘Russian Giant’ which can all reach over 3m (about 10ft) tall.
- For multi-stemmed plants with dramatic rich yellow flowers choose ‘Prado Yellow’, ‘Choco Sun’ and ‘Hallo’.
- For pots and containers opt for multi-flowered and dwarf varieties with numerous mini-sunflowers such as ‘Waooh!’ ‘Music Box’, ‘Little Dorrit’ and ‘F1 Suntastic Yellow’
- Red flowered sunflowers have an exotic look. Choose varieties such as ‘Velvet Queen’, ‘Ruby Sunset’ and ‘Prado Red’.
- White sunflowers with chocolate brown centres are great for flower arranging. ‘Italian White’ and ‘Moonlight’ are a good choice. ‘Moonwalker’ is a good, creamy white alternative.
- Perennial sunflower plants last for several years and regrow every spring, flowering into late summer. Choose ‘Lemon Queen’ a prolific flowerer with a reputation for spreading, but a great back of border plant.
For dramatic cut flowers that will last around two weeks, grow fabulous sunflowers. Van Gogh knew what he was doing when he painted his vase of these glowing beauties. These days you can even choose to grow varieties free of pollen. Perfect for the flower arranger and hayfever sufferers and still rich in nectar for our friends the bees. Varieties with low or no pollen include ‘Prado Yellow’ and ‘Prado Red’ and ‘Sunrich Orange’.Insects and Birds
Sunflowers need insects to pollinate their flamboyant flowers.
That’s why their bright yellow petals resemble flags and are so prominent in the garden. It’s a visual message to butterflies and bees, inviting them to a rich banquet of pollen and nectar. In return the unsuspecting insects transfer pollen from flower to flower to facilitate pollination. It’s a marriage made in heaven and the result is a bountiful supply of sunflower seeds. In the garden, these seeds are vital and very nourishing food for wild birds, in agriculture they are revered for their nutritional content and transformed into foodstuffs. Even pollen free varieties will usually set seed.
Children love the friendly faces of sunflowers. The plants are a great way to get them growing and to introduce them to nature. Plant a seed and watch it grow, or buy a plant and nurture it to flower and set seed. Host a giant sunflower competition or change the rules and award the prize for the most flowers on one plant. Look out for Sunflower ‘Teddy Bear’ with fluffy yellow flowers on dwarf plants.
Take advantage of the tall and strong habit of sunflowers and use them as a natural boundary to separate part of your garden or to disguise a fence.
Grow dwarf sunflower plants in containers. These branching varieties have several smaller, mini-sunflower flower heads on shorter stems, with just as much impact as the taller, giant alternatives
Easy to grow, sunflowers are often flagged as a great plant for children, but that really means beginners can grow them too. If you want lots of plants, grow from seed for the best value for money, or for just a few, buy the plants from your local garden centre or nursery.
1 Fill a pot with compost and make two or three holes about 2-3 cm deep.
2 Drop two seeds into each hole.
3 Cover with compost and water gently.Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed. Sow from March indoors protected from frost, or after the last frost sow outside. Sow dwarf varieties into large pots of multi-purpose compost. Keep slightly moist. Remove the weakest seedling from each hole to allow the stronger one to mature.