Sunflowers are fun and functional in the garden

These Teddy Bear sunflowers aren’t just fuzzy fun, they serve an important function by attracting bees to the garden.

teddy-bear-sunflowers-blogLast summer my garden overflowed with a special kind of sunshine. Dozens of sunflowers greeted me each day and the variety of their cheerful sunny faces was dazzling.

There were the large single heads of ‘Skyscraper’ that soared on stalks almost 10 feet tall. These Frisbee-sized flowers were balanced by the shorter, multi-branched varieties that bloomed all summer long.

In October, long after the rest of the garden went into hibernation, the small yellow-gold blooms of ‘Maximillian’ steadily climbed upward on sturdy stems.

For centuries the Helianthus annuus has provided food, medicine and artistic inspiration. But even Vincent van Gogh would be surprised to see that sunflowers are no longer limited to the familiar golden palette. Gardeners now select from a large assortment of ornamentals with colorful names like ‘Ruby Eclipse’, ‘Lemon Queen’, ‘Sundown’, ‘Terracotta’ and ‘Italian White’.

There’s also a sunflower for every garden size. Tall sunflowers, like the ‘Mammoth Russian’, make a dramatic backdrop for large gardens; semi-tall varieties can be used as an attractive hedge.

For those who prefer to cut their sunflowers for bouquets, breeders have perfected many, pollenless ornamentals. Dwarf types, like the fuzzy ‘Teddy Bear’, grow only 1 or 2 feet tall and can be used in small spaces or container plantings.

Another ornamental for cutting is the All-America Selections winner ‘Ring of Fire.’ Its dark red petals taper to golden yellow tips on a plant that grows 4 to 5 feet tall. The burgundy-hued ‘Claret,’ early-blooming ‘Eversun’ and ‘Giant Sun Gold’, the taller version of ‘Teddy Bear’, make beautiful bouquets.

Newer sunflower varieties include the ‘Junior’ sunflower, the first pollen-free, dwarf, branching variety. ‘Junior’ grows 2 feet tall and is covered with long-lasting four-inch blooms.

Other colorful varieties have delicious sounding names like ‘Premier Lemon’, ‘Peach Passion’ and ‘Sunrich Orange Summer.’ ‘Red & Lemon Bicolor’ combines two favorite colors into one bright bloom.

Sunflowers are so easy to grow that even birds can do it. Simply select a sunny garden spot with well-drained soil and place seeds in moistened soil about one-inch deep and several inches apart. For faster germination, soak the seeds in water overnight before planting.

Do you have any favorite sunflower stories? Please share them here!


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