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Sensational Sunflowers
by Niki Jabbour
by Niki Jabbour

email: nikijabbour@hotmail.com

Niki Jabbour is an Ornamental Horticulturist and a writer from Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Fertilized by sea breezes, her gardens are comprised of a colourful mixture of perennials, annuals, herbs and flowering shrubs, with a few patches of clover and chickweed thrown in for good measure.

A member of the Garden Writers Association Niki is also the weekly gardening columnist for the Halifax Daily News and the Chester Clipper.


June 17, 2007

The friendly face of the sunflower has made it perhaps the most beloved annual flowering plant of all time. Easy to grow and with large brightly coloured flowerheads, the sunflower never fails to delight both adults and children, not to mention bees, birds, butterflies and even the occasional deer.

Traditionally when we think of sunflowers, we envision the tall, majestic Russian Giant with its bright yellow petals and large dark center. Although they remain a favourite, there are many other interesting types available in a spectrum of bold colours that can range in height from 15-inches to 15-feet.

Many of the new types of sunflowers are listed in seed catalogues as ‘pollen-free’. According to Renee Shepherd, the owner of Renee’s Garden ( www.reneesgarden.com ), “The blossoms of pollen-free hybrids last much longer in the vase because they are not triggered by pollination to drop their petals quickly and develop seeds.” If you’re looking for sunflowers to cut and arrange, then select pollen-free types for the longest lasting bouquets. ‘Angel’s Halo’, a starburst type sunflower is exclusive to Renee’s Garden and bears stunning semi-doubled lemon yellow flowers with lime green centers. The blooms resemble chrysanthemums and are borne on branching stems that grow about five-feet tall.

Another starburst sunflower, ‘Lemon Éclair Starburst’ is available from Veseys and produces pretty flowers with soft yellow outer petals and deep chocolate centers. Growing just four-feet tall, the unusual flowers make a striking and very long lived cut flower.

Sunflower varieties shorter than three-feet are a wonderful addition to the vegetable garden, flower border or patio. ‘Sunspot’, whose compact growth habit makes it ideal for containers or windowboxes will only grow about 24-inches tall, yet still produces large 10-inch wide bright yellow flowerheads.

‘Double Dandy’, a truly unique sunflower with dwarf double red blooms bears its dusty red flowers on sturdy two-foot stems. Plant the seeds directly in containers, windowboxes or as a border in the garden for an eye-catching display.

Tall varieties of sunflowers may be grown in the flower garden, along a fence, or as a windbreak in the vegetable garden. ‘Valentine’ is a superb variety whose pale butter-yellow blossoms contrast attractively with their rich chocolate centers. They reach a height of five-feet and are ideal for cutting.‘Prado Red Shades’ is a nice variety to interplant with the lighter coloured ‘Valentine’, due to its deep velvety crimson blossoms and comparable height.

‘Soraya’ is the first sunflower to ever win an All-American Selection Award. This outstanding beauty proudly displays its prize-winning vivid orange flowers on six-foot stalks. The centers are a rich chocolate brown, complimenting the brightly coloured outer petals. The plants branch heavily, producing a profusion of four to six-inch wide flowerheads.

If you want to grow giant sunflowers, then ‘Russian Giant’ and ‘Kong’ are the varieties for you. Commonly reaching heights of 10 to 12-feet they have even been known to occasionally top 15 feet! The flowerheads range from 12 to 15-inches wide and may be dried to make giant birdfeeders.

Plant sunflower seeds in a sunny spot in late May or early June, sowing them ¼ to ½ inch deep in the soil, depending upon the variety and size of seed. If the soil is poor, incorporate some compost and organic fertilizer into the hole prior to planting, especially if you’re aiming to break the record for giant sunflowers!

To ensure an abundance of large healthy flowers, water the seedlings frequently and deeply if there has been no rain. Avoid wetting the foliage to prevent the sunflowers from developing rust on their leaves.

Sources for Seed

Renee’s Garden – www.reneesgarden.com

Veseys Seeds – www.veseys.com

Halifax Seed – www.halifaxseed.com

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