Helianthus: Radiant Halo of Gold …

Helianthus annuus ‘Double Quick Orange’ in the Kitchen

Sunflowers: welcome, radiant, golden beauty of the late summer garden! Is there anything quite so uplifting as a vase filled with their bright, nodding faces? I’m a big fan of annual sunflowers, and every year I grow a wide variety of Helianthus annuus in my potager; both for cutting and for simply enjoying while I work. Giant flowering types like ‘Double Quick Orange’ and long-stemmed cultivars like ‘Sonja’, ‘Sunrich Orange’ and ‘Autumn Beauty’ are some of my favorites for cutting. I also adore the darker sunflowers, such as ‘Moulin Rouge’, ‘Chocolate’, ‘Velvet Queen’, ‘Little Becka’. If you are short on space or gardening on a deck, terrace or balcony, dwarf varieties like ‘Sunny Smile’ and ‘Big Smile’ are great for even very small containers …

Helianthus annuus ‘Lemon Queen’ on the Dining Table

Provided full sun (8 hours a day is best) and good, compost-enriched soil, sunflowers are easy to grow, and a fun way to introduce children to gardening. When growing small numbers of sunflowers, some gardeners like to germinate seed indoors between damp paper towels. However starting sunflowers too early will often result in long, spindly, weak stems. I prefer to direct-sow sunflowers in my potager after the danger of frost has passed and the soil is thoroughly warmed (sunflowers require heat to germinate well). Wide spacing is important —particularly for large varieties like ‘Mammoth’— and providing a means of support —such as fence, wall or other structure— can help prevent toppling in high wind. When planted in May, I usually apply an organic fertilizer to my sunflowers —such as fish emulsion— mid-way through the gardening year.

Common sunflower pests include aphids, caterpillars and powdery mildew. Aphids can often be controlled with the blast of a hose or spot applications of insecticidal soap. It’s best to hand-pick caterpillars when possible, or target munched leaves with Btk (caution: Btk kills all caterpillars, including butterfly caterpillars, so use with discretion and in a targeted manner only). Powdery mildew can be treated with a homemade remedy (click here for previous post and scroll down for instructions on how to mix a home-made, anti-fungal treatment). Because fungal infections can be a problem for sunflowers, it’s a good idea to rotate their location in the garden each year. In addition to their stunning beauty as cut flowers, sunflowers also attract beneficial insects —such as bees and butterflies— to the potager. See a sunflower you like at the farmers market this year? Make a note of the variety and give it a try in the garden next year. I love growing a wide range of colors and sizes, planting early and late-maturing Helianthus annuus to span the entire growing year…

Helianthus annuus ‘Sunrich Orange’ Beside My Potager Seat

Helianthus annuus ‘Teddy Bear’ in the Cutting Garden

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2 Replies to “Helianthus: Radiant Halo of Gold …”

  1. Deb Weyrich-Cody

    Hi Michaela, Thanks for the sunshine on a rainy day! Planting sunflowers here was initiated by the chippies stealing seed from the bird feeder – “saving” it for winter – and suddenly I had them sprouting everywhere (particularly the year they stored them in my big ol’ bag of potting soil; )

    Call me frugal (cheap!), but ever since I’ve taken the black oil seed and done the same. They’re just the right size for cutting, pots or garden, never fall over and, best of all, “free”! xo D.

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