In the Garden:
There are many different types of sunflowers other than the golden headed ones to grow in your summer garden.
This has been a great year for sunflowers. Despite the hot, dry summer, mine have grown exceptionally well. I'd like to think they're thriving because of the organic matter I add every year to my soil. When we go through summer stretches with no rain for weeks, my soil seems to still stay moist and the flowers really appreciate it.
Sunflowers from Mexico
This summer has been perfect for my Mexican sunflowers (Tithonia rotundifolia). I have a round bed where I grew 6 'Torch' Mexican sunflowers on the outside and 'Moulin Rouge'' sunflowers on the inside. I wanted the 4 foot tall Mexican sunflowers to form a circle, while the taller, burgundy-headed 'Moulin Rouge' sunflowers grew in the middle peaking out the top. It's worked well, except the Mexican sunflowers have grown taller than I expected and the 'Moulin Rouge' sunflowers are poking through the middle of the 'Torch' sunflowers.
They still look beautiful and I'm especially enjoying the orange, daisy-like Mexican sunflowers as cut flowers on the table mixed with colorful, red, yellow, and white zinnias.
Modern breeding practices have taken the common, tall, black-oil sunflower and created newer varieties that are shorter, more colorful, and multi-branching. The tall 10 to 15 foot large-headed sunflowers such as 'Paul Bunyan' are still fun to grow and even to enter into the local county fair for tallest sunflower.
However, for use as cut flowers, the newer, varieties are best. Some shorter (mostly 4 to 6 feet tall), more decorative varieties include the white-headed 'Italian White, 'Moulin Rouge', with burgundy red petals and a black center, 'Sonja', with orange-colored petals, and 'Sun Rich Lemon', with lemon yellow petals and a black center. Many of these, such as 'Sun Rich Lemon' are pollen-free, meaning that when cut and brought indoors, the pollen doesn't drop from the flower head onto your table.
If you like the Mexican sunflowers, grow 'Torch', or the new, 3 foot tall 'Fiesta del Sol'.
Sunflowers are one of the easiest and most rewarding flowers to grow. They grow best in warm soils, loaded with organic matter and adequate water. I like to sow seeds in blocks, rather than rows so the sunflowers hold each other up during summer thunderstorms. Thin seedlings so they stand 1 to 2 feet apart, side dress with manure tea, and keep weeded. They will quickly grow and their large leaves will shade out weeds while keeping the soil moist.
Harvest sunflower heads when in full bloom. I like to let some heads to go to seed, letting the birds feast on the bounty. You can also dry the heads when in full bloom for use later in the winter.
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