I understand that some gardeners find sunflowers a divisive choice of bloom. It is a happy-go-lucky flower that may seem out of place in formal, simple, or highly structural (*ahem,* serious) gardens. I can respect the care, effort, and planning that is invested in formal garden design and have a deep appreciation for the many magnificent historical gardens of Europe. I, however, do not have a formal garden and I thoroughly love it that way. My beds change and evolve as I decide my plantings for the year or I decide that I like of dislike elements as my taste changes. One thing that I love to include is sunflowers, and here's why:
1) They're happy!
First of all, can you think of a happy bloom in a garden? Sunflowers are bold and bright. Their traditionally lemony yellow colour is like sunshine in flower form (hence the name). The enormous Large Russian sunflowers are comically huge. They're guaranteed to put a smile on the faces of passersby.
2) They're easy to grow.
Sunflowers are actually happiest when they're directly sown in the soil. You don't need to fuss with indoor sowing or frost protection. Actually, if you try to transplant larger varieties, they may flop and require staking. Simply push a seed into the soil and it's ready to go! Seeds are easy to come by and inexpensive. They're also pretty tolerant of a range of soil condition, but they're happiest in full sun. You don't need to fuss to much about watering either, they really like the dry heat!
3) Different sizes for different growing areas.
While you may think of most sunflowers as tall and imposing, they actually come in a variety of sizes. You can find ones that can work in the fronts of beds and borders, and some even work well in containers. The largest obviously need more space and can be obstructive if not placed properly. I like the large ones in the back of my beds or the farthest point in my yard to draw your gaze to the distance.
4) Easy to harvest seeds.
At the end of the season, you can collect your own seeds for planting more sunflowers next year! You will have an endless supply of sunflowers to keep and share if you collect your own seeds. Simply let the seed heads mature on the plant. You will be able to brush the "fluff" off the maturing seeds which will look like they're turning colour. Remove the head and let it dry completely before removing the seeds. I let mine seeds dry further after they've been removed by placing them on a tray in my warm laundry room.
5) Eat the seeds.
Depending on the variety that you choose to grow, you may have a tasty snack by the end of the season! Not only will you get to enjoy beautiful flowers in your yard during growing season, but you will get a tasty treat when they're all done (after you've saved some seed for growing next year, of course).
6) Eat the heads.
I bet you didn't know that you can eat the heads too! Yes, if you pick the buds before they bloom, you can cook them sort of like an artichoke. You can steam or sautee them, and trim them like an artichoke heart. I have yet to try this myself as I enjoy the flowers so much, I hate the idea of cutting them off before they bloom. However, I have planted enough sunflowers this year that I am hoping to finally give it a try.
7) Feed the birds and the bees.
This one should not be undervalued. Bees are perilously at risk right now and we should be putting more efforts into supporting their health. Sunflowers provide an excellent food source to native bee populations and there are few sights more heartening than a a few busy bumblebees on a large sunflower head. After summer has passed and the flowers start to put their energy into their seeds, the bird start to take notice of the fading plants. If you leave the seed heads in the garden, you will attract birds foraging for food in the fall. You can also remove the spent flower heads with the seed in place and hang it elsewhere in the garden to create a natural bird feeder.
And there you have it. I hope that I have convinced you to tuck a few sunflower seeds into your garden this spring; you might be thanking me when they bring a smile to your face this summer. Or, you might find that the birds and the bees are the ones thanking YOU.
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A zone 8a gardening enthusiast!