I swear my August garden is smiling back at me! I attribute this to the presence of my sunflowers! There is nothing quite like the fresh, smiling bloom of sunflowers welcoming you at a garden entrance. Perhaps this “smiling face” plant characterization comes from my childhood. As a baby boomer, I recall the animated Walt Disney movies featuring dancing, singing flowers that looked a lot like my sunflowers. Whatever the point of origin for my delight in this plant, sunflowers are a most enjoyable visual in my late summer gardens here in the North Country.
As an annual, sunflowers display large daisy-like flower faces with bright yellow petals and brown centers that produce heavy heads loaded with seeds. There are additional varieties that boast red petals and varying shades of yellow, brown and cream. I love sunflowers as they are easy to grow in well drained soil, have a long bloom time, make excellent cut flowers and are especially fun for children. They are an extra bonus to my pollinator-friendly gardens, attracting both bees and butterflies. There are plenty of reasons to smile back at this sturdy garden flower.
Most gardeners like to grow their sunflowers from seed. This is a great kid-friendly activity as the seeds are large for little hands encouraging fine motor skills through their manipulation and planting. They are a great choice for indoor seed starting. Once the danger of spring frost is past, plant them in a sunny location about 1 inch below the surface. I like to plant them after I add my organic mulch dressing. Sunflowers will flourish with nutrient rich soil and regular watering to establish. Add some granular fertilizer when you plant to get good root growth. This will keep your sunflowers strong and upright all season. I tend to plant mine along entrance gates, fence lines and back garden borders. Just a design preference on my part.
Sunflower varieties will fit in just about every nook and cranny of your garden. The most familiar variety is the Mammoth, towering up to 12 feet tall with large flower heads and edible seeds. I like the bronze beauty. This variety can reach 7 feet, producing multiple 6 inch flowers with colors ranging in shades of yellow, bronze and mahogany. There is also a Teddy Bear variety that is just 2-3 feet high. This is a great choice for containers and small space gardens.
Now is a great time to purchase your seeds for next season planting. I just picked up a few Mammoth packets that were priced at 50% off. I store them in airtight containers in a cool dry place for the winter. Then I can seed start early, staggering the plantings so that my smiling sunflowers bloom continuously throughout my late summer and fall gardens. As always…keeping common sense and sustainability in all my garden practices.