Sunflowers Have a Long History
The ancient Incas first cultivated splendid sunflowers and carved enormous golden images of their blooms into their temples. Seeds were carried back to Europe where they were received with wide enthusiasm and described by Spanish and English botanists as early as 1569.
Gardeners boasted of growing huge flowers on towering stalks and the plants were named Helianthus from the Greek words for sun and flower because these sun-worshipping New World flowers turned on their stalks to follow the sun on its daily journey across the summer sky. In this country, sunflowers were lovingly spread by western-bound settlers and naturalized widely across the great plains.
Recent Sunflower Innovations
Over the last several decades, smaller flowering, multi-branched ornamental sunflowers in a wide range of warm colors have captivated gardeners nationwide. Our affection for these enticing, carefree annuals is reflected in the introduction of many new cultivars, developed worldwide by breeders in Japan, Holland, Germany and the US. Sunflower lovers can choose from pale lemon yellow, rich gold, orange, mahogany, deep red hues, lovely bicolor combinations and single, semi-double and double forms.
Many of the new cultivars are pollen-less hybrids, were developed especially for long vase life and no messy pollen drop when displayed in bouquets. Whether you love tall exuberant sunflowers, midrange border plants or the latest dwarf cultivars for containers and patio gardens, there are varieties to fill every part of the garden and provide armfuls for display. Renee also carries Snack Seed sunflower,
bred for its big plump seed kernels to enjoy after harvest.
These lively flowers are easy and reliable to grow and their big seeds and cheerful blossoms make them good choices for gardening with children. Begin sowing sunflower seeds when spring weather has warmed up and settled, then plant directly into the garden in wide rows or big beds in full sun in ordinary garden soil. Plan to make several sowings about 3 weeks apart right up until mid-July for a long succession of bright blooms. Keep seedlings well weeded and watered and be sure to thin or transplant to 10 or 12 inches apart to give seedlings room enough to mature to full size.
Birds often find sunflower seedlings a tempting treat, so protect with netting or plastic berry baskets at planting time if necessary, removing when plants get crowded. Sunflowers germinate quickly, in a week to 10 days if conditions are warm enough, but if your initial sowing comes up unevenly, fill in with new seeds right away as seedlings catch up easily. Harvest the jaunty flowers for bouquets, but leave some blooms to go to seed, as spent flowers form tasty nutritious seed snacks to welcome and delight fall songbirds.
Want more sunflower tips? How to Grow the Biggest, Tallest Sunflowers: Tips from an Expert