Helianthus: sunflower

Height 60cm-3m (2-10ft)

Planting distance 30-45cm (12-18in)

Flowers late summer to early autumn

Well-drained garden soil

Sunny position

Hardy annual

Sunflowers usually conjure up the image of a solitary yellow flower gazing down to earth from the top of a 3m (10ft) high stem, sparsely clad with huge bristly leaves. Happily for owners of small gardens, not all sunflowers are this tall. A number of lower-growing varieties of Helianthus annuus, with more foliage, but equally spectacular blooms, are now available. They offer a large variety of flower forms – double as well as single – and come in varying shades of yellow, orange, red and cream.

Sunflowers look best grown at the back of a border. They also make extremely attractive temporary screens.

Popular varieties

The following is a selection of the most popular annual sunflower varieties. ‘Autumn Sunshine’ has medium-sized flowers in combinations of yellow, bronze and red. It reaches 1.2m (4ft) high. ‘Italian White’ has cream flowers with a black central disc and a gold zone. The plants reach 1.2m (4ft) high. ‘Lemon Queen’ has classic lemon-yellow, brown-centred flowers suitable for cutting. It grows 1.5m (5ft) tall. ‘Music Box Mixed’ is low-growing, to 70cm (28in) high, with medium-sized flowers that range from yellow and cream to mahogany-red, with black centres. ‘Orange Sun’, about 1m (3-1/2ft) high, bears fully double, apricot-orange flowers. ‘Russian Giant’ has large single yellow flowers (reaching 30cm/1ft across) and grows 3m (10ft) high. ‘Sunburst’ has crimson, gold, bronze and lemon flowers. A well-branching variety, it reaches 1.2m (4ft) high. ‘Sunspot’, almost a miniature sunflower at 60cm (2ft) high, has 25cm (10in) wide golden-yellow flowers with enormous yellow-green centres. ‘Teddy Bear’ is a dwarf variety 60cm (2ft) high, with double golden blooms.

Cultivation

Sow the seeds in a sunny position in well-drained garden soil in early to mid spring. Sunflowers are one of the few annuals that look effective grown as solitary plants. Sow two or three seeds in each flowering site and remove the weakest leaving just the strongest to grow on. Sunflowers growing in a group or row should be thinned to 30-45cm (12-18in) apart.

Support tall sunflowers with strong stakes. Remove dead flowers to prevent self-seeding.

Pests and diseases

Grey mould can cause flowers to rot in wet weather late in the season.

22. February 2012 by Dave Pinkney
Categories: Annuals, Biennials, Bulbous Plants, Featured Articles | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Helianthus: sunflower

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