The sunflower does a lot more than simply produce a tasty snack. It’s one of the most popular genera of flowers to grow in the garden. They have a bright, bold color that will pop in the landscape. In addition, they’re easy to grow, making them a great choice for the novice gardener.
Sunflowers originated in the Americas and domestic seeds dating back to 2100 BC have been found in Mexico. There are two types of sunflowers – single stem vs branching sunflowers.
Single stem sunflower varieties are a great choice for high-density plantings. They produce consistently beautiful flowers on tall stems, but require succession planting for continuous blooms throughout the season.
If the thought of continuous planting doesn’t appeal to you, consider branching sunflowers. This variety produces flowers on multiple, shorter stems throughout the growing season.
There’s another option for sunflowers, too, including pollen vs pollen-free varieties. Sunflowers that are pollen producers are a great option for gardeners who are focused on supporting pollinators. This variety also typically is less expensive. Many modern sunflower varieties are bred to be male sterile, or pollen-free, which helps foster extended vase life.
Fortunately, gardening enthusiasts have several varieties of pollen and pollen-free from which to choose. Pollen-free options include Moulin Rouge, ProCut Series, Sunbuzz, Sunrich Series and Vincent Series. Pollen choices include Soraya, Ring of Fire and Valentine.
Another distinguishing factor about sunflowers is their height and size. Some smaller, ornamental varieties grow only a few feet tall, while others can grow as tall as 15 or more feet. The flowers also change with height resulting in larger flowers on taller varieties.
Of course, many people are familiar with the variety of sunflowers that are bred to produce large, edible seeds. The seeds are ready to harvest once the petals have withered and the seeds are visible. A few varieties that produce edible seeds include Feed the Birds, Mongolian Giant, Skyscraper, Super Snack Mix and Titan.
Here are a few fun facts about sunflowers:
Sunflower seeds traveled to space in 2012 when astronaut Don Petti took them on board the International Space Station.
More sunflowers are grown in North Dakota than in any other state.
Sunflowers symbolize optimism, positivity, long life and happiness.
Sunflowers track the sun; the flower heads turn as the sun moves across the sky.
Sunflowers are one of the most recognizable flowers in the world.
Sunflowers can be started indoors, or they can be direct sown after the risk of frost has passed. Plant seeds about a quarter-inch to half-inch deep and keep moist. Taller, larger varieties have a big taproot to keep them rooted and don’t do well if transplanted, so they are best sown direct. Choose a site that’s in full sun with average soil fertility and good drainage.