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Sunflowers continue to be popular

August 4, 2011
By Stephanie Bethke-DeJaeghere , Marshall Independent

Each year, I set aside a part of the garden for the kids to have their own little garden.

Yes, it is true that I am still taking care of most of the labor but they do take an active part choosing the flowers, dill, pumpkins, gourds and the most important part, the sunflowers. This year we planted a big mix of sunflowers, including some that are meant only for a cutting garden. They are finally flowering now, slightly set back from the weather but are just a treat to look at.

We did not grow a sunflower house this year but instead you have to walk through their garden in order to get to the larger part of the garden where all of the other things are located. There are annual flowers of all kinds ranging from short marigolds to tall cosmos on one side and the sunflowers are all in a row on the other. It sort of looks like a corridor. Sunflowers are always first on their list of things to grow.

The Sunflower, or Helianthus, is a very popular flower according to a recent Yard and Garden article post, to include in an annual cutting garden. A native of North America, the sunflower comes in a variety of sizes, growing habits and colors, making it an ideal choice for the home gardener.

From the Giant sunflowers like "Kong" to the multi branching "Italian White" to the petite "Teddy Bear," an 18-inch tall puff-ball; there is a sunflower to match every gardener's taste and purpose.

One of my favorites from last year was a pollen-less variety called "Cherry Rose." This 6-foot tall, branching plant is covered with 5-inch lemon yellow blossoms with red overtones.

Grown in full sun, the lemon color abounds, in a more shaded site; the dark plum color is dominant. Another excellent choice, "Ring of Fire," is a mid-height plant (4 to 5 feet) with 5-inch blooms. This late bloomer boasts bi-colored petals with a dark red base and golden yellow tips surrounding a chocolate brown center. For the giant sunflower enthusiast, "Kong" is as big as it gets.

Reaching 12 feet tall, "Kong" is even more impressive because it's multi-branched and covered with 4-to 6-inch yellow blooms offset by large, dark green leaves. The most versatile sunflower in my garden last year was the "Music Box." "Music Box" grows into a stocky, 2-and-a-half-foot bush of abundant, multi-branching 4-to 5-inch golden, daisy like sunflowers. These petite, buttery flowers were ideal in mixed fall bouquets, and bloomed prolifically until frost. Keep in mind these cultural practices once you have selected your perfect sunflower variety. Select a site that receives at least six hours of sun a day. (More is preferable). Sunflowers prefer loose, well-drained, rich soil; so amend with compost if you have heavy clay or sandy soil.

Sow seeds directly into the garden once the soil has reached 50. (Cooler than this will slow development.) Plants seeds at a depth two times their width, and spaced close (6 inches) to promote tall plants; and small, bouquet sized heads. This close spacing will soon shade out weed competition and mature plants will protect and support each other. Sunflowers are heavy feeders, and should be fertilized. Side dress with a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) every 21 days during the growing season. Keep your sunflowers weed free. Weed competition reduces the quality of your sunflowers. Tall sunflower varieties will need support to protect them from wind damage. Stake them or grow them through horizontal support netting to ensure your plants remain standing after our typical summer "hazardous" weather.

Harvest your sunflowers during the coolest part of the day. The plants should be free of dew and moisture. Cut when petals begin to lift off the face, but are not completely open. Make sure your cutting tools and containers have been sterilized with a 5 percent bleach solution.

Cut stems at least 24 inches long and at an angle for best results. Sunflowers prefer clean water to floral preservative. (Floral preservative can actually over-hydrate your flowers, making them wilt.) Place your cut sunflowers in a cool place as soon as possible after cutting.

If wilting occurs, don't worry, leave them in water for 24 hours, and they should perk right up. Vase life for fresh cut sunflowers is seven to 10 days, with pollen-less flowers having the longest vase lives.

Sunflowers are a colorful choice for your garden, make long lasting cut flowers, and provide food and habitat for wildlife.

It's not too late to start them for this gardening season. Select your cheerful sunflower variety today, and get growing!

For more information regarding gardening, you can reach me at



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