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Sunflowers, those gloriously radiant giants of the summer, can brighten up any garden. For many people, it's still amazing that just a few fairly small seeds can produce these breathtaking plants with the enormous heads, that are so tall you have to tilt your head back to look at them.
What isn't common knowledge though is that for those individuals who prefer a plant that doesn't make them feel like a Lilliputian, there are also small and dwarf varieties to choose from. The Dwarf Sunspot and Teddy Bear sunflowers are two excellent choices if smaller is better for you. Right now is an exciting time for sunflower lovers, as there are many new ornamental varieties available.
Sunflowers are rapidly growing, single-stemmed annuals that at their largest can reach a height of up to 10 or 12 feet, producing a gigantic flower in many brilliant colors: traditional yellow, gold, bronze, orange, and even red. They get their name—Helianthus—from the Greek word helios, which means sun, and anthos, which means flower. Quite literally: sunflower. There are 67 species within this genus, and their complete name is Helianthus annuus.
They have other assets besides their beauty too. Cultivation of sunflowers by the Native Americans for their edible seeds goes back so far that it may possibly predate that of many of the crops used by the pilgrims, such as corn, beans, and squash.
Today's commercial sunflower crops consist of two types: one for producing the big, grey-striped, edible seeds and the other for oilseed.
Sunflowers are easy to grow from seed and they can be started either indoors or outside depending on how anxious you are to begin. There are advantages to both ways. Just remember when planting outdoors that you should wait until the last frost is over and the air has turned warm.
One of the most important decisions you will make concerning your sunflowers is where exactly you want to grow them. Now, this may seem like a simple decision when only aesthetic considerations are weighed, however, there is more involved than just that.
With their golden warmth, sunflowers seem to have actually trapped a piece of the sun within themselves, so it's hardly surprising that they enjoy the sunlight and need a sunny area in which to thrive. Ideally, access to about six hours of sunlight daily is best.
If you will be growing one of the taller varieties of sunflowers, you need to give careful consideration to where you place them in relation to other plants in your garden. Once they have begun to grow, sunflowers can quickly become tall enough to serve as a wind block for other, more fragile flowers, sheltering them from strong gusts of wind. But they will also shield them and surrounding plants from the sun, so you must think about that aspect as well.
Sunflower seeds should be planted 1 inch deep and 6 inches apart. Any soil is likely to work just fine, but well-draining soil with a little peat added to it is the best choice. Lots of summer heat is necessary for these plants to bloom, grow, and thrive as they should, as is plenty of water, but do not overwater. If your plant is left sitting in water for long periods of time, it will become sickly.
Birds do find sunflower seeds to be a tasty treat, however, so that may become a problem. Also, you will have to find ways to keep slugs, squirrels, small rodents, and even rabbits away from the seeds and seedlings.
If you wish to share your seeds with the local wildlife once the plant has matured, Skyscraper is an excellent choice. It can withstand the heat and lack of water too. It is also known as a heavy seed yielder for your garden friends and you. If you are wondering when you should begin harvesting your sunflowers, just watch the birds. When the birds begin to eat the sunflower seeds, that's when you know they are ready for harvesting.
If you've never grown sunflowers before, now is the time to give it a try. You won't regret it. The ease and rapidness with which they are grown makes them perfect choices, plus their wide selection of gorgeous colors will enhance any garden.