Sunflowers are classic, heartwarming flowers that so many gardeners love to grow every year. Besides adding cheer to the garden, they are wonderful cut flowers, attract beneficial insects and can provide temporary privacy. Some have big seeds great for snacks and those with smaller seeds are favored by birds and squirrels.
Did you know sunflowers exhibit a characteristic called heliotropism? This means the flowers will move to face the sun through the course of a day. There are a few perennial types: Helianthus angustifolius ‘Gold Lace’, Helianthus ‘Flore Pleno’ and Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’. These varieties come back every year reaching lofty heights of 6-7’ tall with masses of 2-4” yellow flowers.
As the name might imply, sunflowers require full sun (at least 8 hours), fertile soil and deep infrequent water to thrive. If you allow your sunflowers to drop seeds where they grew, you are likely to get volunteers the following season!
Starting from seed: You can get a jump start on your sunflowers by starting them indoors, in 4” pots, under lights 2-3 weeks before planting outdoors (generally early April). Seeds can be directly planted mid to late April through May. Birds, cutworms or slugs may eat new seedlings so take precautions to protect them, or plant some extra seed. Thin seedlings 4-24” apart depending on the eventual size of the variety. If continuous bouquet harvest is your goal, we recommend planting seeds every 10-14 days, or selecting varieties with different maturity dates.
Starting with plants: We have a large selection of sunflower starts beginning in early May. Below are some highlights. Please call for current availability.
Dwarf varieties are short and cute, adding a great punch for the border or containers.
- Big Smile - An early flowering variety with 4-5” blooms with yellow petals and a brown center. Grows 12-18” tall. When in pots, plants produce one, long lasting flower per plant. In the ground they will branch and produce 4-5 flowers per plant.
- Choco Sun - 10-12” tall classic sunflowers. Perfect for 6-12” containers.
- Firecracker - Lovely red and gold, 4-5” flowers with a brown center. Well branched plants grow 2-3’ tall. Great for cut flowers, borders and containers.
- Paquito Colorado Mix - Bushy, floriferous plants grow 18-20” tall and wide. Flower petals range from lemon yellow to rusty bronze.
- Solita - Large 6” golden-yellow, pollenless flowers with pale centers on 14” tall plants.
- Sunsation - Pollenless, 12-15” tall classic yellow flowers with brown centers.
- Teddy Bear - Unique, fully double, cushion-like, 4-5” golden flowers. Plants grow 8-12” in containers, 35-42” in the ground.
Cut Flower Varieties
Cut flower varieties come in a wide array of colors and forms. These varieties tend to be multi-stemmed, 4-6” flowers, with multiple flowers per branch.
- Moulin Rouge - Velvety dark burgundy flowers shade nearly to black toward the dark cocoa centers. The big, pollenless 3-4" blooms flower freely on multi-branching plants, supplying an abundance of outstanding, dramatic dark flowers on long 30" stems, ideal for floral arrangements. Grows 5-7’ tall.
- Prado red - Gorgeous, rich red blooms with clear dark red petals around deep brown discs. Produced on sturdy multi-branching plants that are early- and long-flowering. Un-pinched, each plant will produce a single large 6" bloom; or pinch back the main stem to get 5-15 flower stems per plant. A favorite commercial cut flower in Europe. Grows 4-6’ tall.
- Florenza - A distinctive bicolor variety with bright russet-red petals tipped with light yellow around a dark mahogany center disc. Colorful, versatile variety is ideally suited to the annual border or a focal point of large patio containers. Strong branching trait and big 5" flowers make it an excellent cut flower as well. Grows 4’ tall.
- Ring of Fire - Very uniform variety. Dark-centered blooms are 4-5" across with petals that gradually fade from a dark red base to golden-yellow tips. Branching habit with long side stems, one of the best varieties for cut flowers. Plants grow 5-6' tall.
- Ruby Eclipse - This sunflower has ruby-red petals with pink and golden-yellow petal tips. More than one flower head grows on each stem, so they are great for encouraging birds into the garden. Grows 6-8’.
- Italian White - Creamy ivory petals have a hint of yellow striping towards the centers around the deep chocolate discs. This superb heirloom variety with a well-branched, bushy habit blooms profusely over a long season, and is ideal for the back of borders or as hedging. The ornamental 3-5" blooms last a long time in the garden or a vase. Grows 5-6’ tall
- Sunburst Lemon Aurora - This novel border plant produces numerous soft, lemony double and semi-double flowers with pale green centers on long 24" stems. Tall, well-branched plants provide a cheerful mass of color in the garden, and the pollenless, 6-7" starburst-type blooms make a handsome cut flower. Grows 6’ tall.
- China Cat Mix - A fantastic multi-headed sunflower with rings of orange on its yellow petals. Many heads are produced over a long season, making it ideal for cutting. Grows to 6’ tall.
- Double Quick Orange - Unique, light orange, fully double flowers with greenish centers make an unusual cut arrangement. Grows 4-5’ tall.
Edible seeded varieties
Edible seeded varieties have large tasty seeds great for snacking. Varieties generally have large, single stemmed flowers, grow very tall and are the classic golden yellow.
- Giganteus - This huge single flowered type produces golden yellow heads a foot or more across. You don’t need to stake this one – the extra strong stocks are massive with huge leaves that can withstand high winds. Grows 12-14’ tall!
- Mongolian Giant - Big, sunny yellow flowers with huge edible seeds that you can harvest for your own delicious, healthy, nutty snacks. When the green disc on the back of the 7-8" blooms begins to turn yellow, cut the heads off and leave to mature in a dry, well-ventilated place. After the disc turns dark brown, rub with your hands to remove the seeds. To roast, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and toast for about 10 minutes in a 350° oven. When seeds start to swell and the hulls crack, they’re ready – just cool and salt to taste. Plants grow 4’ tall.
How to harvest seeds: Cut flower heads when green bracts on the back of the flower begin to shrivel. Allow to dry in heads in a dry, well-ventilated area.