Happy New Year, garden tribe! It’s early January which means I’m buried in seed catalogs and slightly overwhelmed. I want so much! Not because I need it but because I have this thing for plants. Animal shelters have the same effect. If I had the land, and the money, I’d bring everyone home with me.
All kidding aside, winter is a time of reflection as well as one of hope for all that’s possible in the garden. And as I thought about my garden and how very mediocre it was in 2022, one thing struck me. I really love sunflowers. Perhaps the saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” really is true. There wasn’t a single sunflower in my garden last year, the first time in over a decade, and I certainly don’t want to repeat that in 2023. Of course there were rudbeckia, coneflowers and daisies but the absence of towering sunnies in the flower beds and especially the vegetable garden was deeply missed.
There’s something about a sunflower that makes me smile, not to mention the Fibonacci sequence of its seeds that I’ve always found fascinating. If you’re not familiar with what I’m talking about, look at the center of a seeded sunflower and you’ll notice the swirling layout of the seeds which seem to spiral to or away from the center, depending how you want to look at it. The sunflower is a great example of Fibonacci, but it also appears in seashells, pinecones, hurricanes, galaxies and even Romanesco cauliflower.
And speaking of the center of sunflowers, they’re never without pollinators when they’re at their peak. I missed that too. As for color, there’s so much more than yellow. All shades of orange, creamy whites and reds that are nearly black barely scratch the surface of this family. The complex color combos are growing more unique by the minute, too. Just check out Sunflower Steve on Instagram to know what I’m talking about. So today I vow never to be without a sunflower or two from here on out.
Which brings me back to those seed catalogs. There are all kinds of sunflowers – tall ones, short ones, fuzzy ones, singles, branching, pollenless. I love that gardeners can tailor their sunflower choices to their growing conditions and their needs, which is why it’s helpful to know a little something about each variety.
Branching vs. Single-Stem Sunflowers
For my garden, I prefer branching varieties since they produce many flowers on a single plant over a longer period of time compared to their single-stem counterparts which only produce one flower per plant. If I had a larger garden, I could succession plant the singles to have a continuous supply of flowers but that’s not really important to me and it requires more work than I care to do.
Single-stems like those in the Procut series were bred for the cut-flower industry as their flowers tend to last up to two weeks in a vase and are pollenless which is a big deal if you’re into bouquets. Tabletops and furniture are spared a dusting of yellow pollen. So if you’re all about cut flower bouquets, the single-stems are the way to go. In comparison, flowers on branching varieties may last only five days, give or take, are often smaller in size and can be either pollen-producing or pollenless. They also take longer to flower and do so on weaker stems.
If bees are important to you, opt for pollen-producing sunflowers. They’re a one-stop shop offering both pollen and nectar to support the bee population. Pollenless varieties attract beneficial insects like butterflies who love the nectar that is produced by all sunflowers.
The beauty of the sunflower is that it’s not limited to vast gardens. If all you have is a container on a sunny patio, there’s a sunflower seed that can be direct sowed in it and be quite happy. Look for seed packets with a flower pot symbol on it to indicate that it’s great for container growing conditions.
Where to Plant Sunflowers
The short answer is anywhere, provided it has full sun. Sunflowers are as easy as it gets. If you have little kids, as I did not all that long ago, opt for some big guys to really knock their socks off. I like to weave smaller branching varieties through the center of my raised beds in the vegetable garden and drop a few in the back of my flower beds.
Photo courtesy of All-America Selections
So I guess the burning question after all this is what sunflower seeds I ordered from my growing pile of seed catalogs. Would it surprise you if I said just one? It’s true. I’m surprised too. There are several sunflower seed packets in my stash that will likely find homes in other parts of the garden. But Soraya will be a feature in my vegetable garden. And when her flowers fade and the Fibonacci sequence becomes obvious, I’ll watch the birds savor her nutritious seed.
I can’t wait for her arrival. It’s been far too long.
What sunflowers will you be growing this year? Tell me in the comments.