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Gardening from Southern California

by Gerald Burke
by Gerald Burke


Gerald Burke is a freelance travel and horticultural writer. He spent 35 years in the seed business, 30 of them with Burpee, and is a member of the Garden Writers Association and the North American Travel Journalists Association

June 20, 2004

Sunflowers didn’t used to be part of the flower garden, confined mostly to the vegetable garden, and usually a big one called mammoth Russian was the main variety, although you might find one or two more under the name helianthus. But a few years ago that all changed, and sunflowers became the darlings of the plant breeders. They made them shorter, with smaller flowers, and then short with large flowers, they added to the usual golden-yellow with a wide palette of colors that includes red, white, ivory, mahogany, bronze, chocolate, and several bicolors.

And they sell well—Burpee lists 14 varieties, Park Seed Co. lists about 25 and Thompson and Morgan has a full page of sunflowers. You can grow sunflowers that are only 15 inches tall with flowers ten inches across, or you can grow varieties that get five to ten feet tall with flowers as much as a foot across. And while most are single flowered, some have double flowers, some ruffled flowers, and there’s even one that has a greenish bloom called Jade Hybrid.

Some of the good attributes of sunflowers for the garden, especially where summers are really hot, is that they grow almost anywhere, in full sun, with a minimum of water and fertilizer, with no problems from insects or disease, and they never fail to bloom.

The new colors are especially interesting for gardeners who look for something new in the garden. A row of dwarf sunflowers, a foot or slightly more tall, in varying colors from golden orange to burgundy to soft reds makes an interesting spectacle in the flower garden.

Catalogs list enough varieties to satisfy any whim, and seed racks now have several different kinds from which to choose. Bedding plant growers even have a few kinds, mostly the dwarf types, that you may find in four inch pots or larger containers.

Sunflower seed can be planted any time from April through late July for good blooms through the summer. Most plants will continue to bloom well into late fall, but will begin the fade as the days shorten. Sunflowers grow best in good soil, and need adequate water to bloom well. In addition to the flower bed, the dwarf kinds do well in a container, and almost all of them make good cut flowers.



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