Sunflowers are the perfect garden plant: easy to grow and with masses of magnificent flowers that last for weeks on end. Their often huge and always sunny faces appeal to all ages, but there is far more to these spectacular plants than meets the eye. These summer beauties are great as cut flowers, a magnet for pollinating insects and also help feed the birds too.
Not all sunflowers are garden giants; many are compact and ideal for smaller gardens and for growing in containers. There’s a wonderful range of colours too, not just yellow, so ring the changes and grow sunflowers with red, orange or even white flowers for a dramatic garden statement.
All about sunflowers
- Most sunflowers originate from the Americas.
- The most common types are called annuals as they grow, flower and set seed in the same year.
- The young, developing flowers actually track the daily movement of the sun (called heliotropism) so that the immature flowers face the sun, hence the name sunflower.
- As the flowers mature, their ability to follow the sun reduces and they tend to face the east to greet the morning sun.
- Sunflowers are great plants for gardens but they are also a valuable crop plant. The seeds are processed to produce sunflower oil or harvested for the food and wild bird industry.
- Sunflowers can be orange, pink, red, burgundy and even white in colour.
There are dozens of different varieties of sunflowers you can grow and several different types too. 2015 is the Year of the Sunflower, so look out for special sunflower plants and promotions at a garden centre near you.
- If it’s giant plants with dinner plate sized flowers that you want then choose ‘Mongolian Giant’, ‘Giraffe’, ‘American Giant’ or ‘Russian Giant’ which can all reach over 3m (about 10ft) tall.
- For multi-stemmed plants with dramatic rich yellow flowers choose ‘Prado Yellow’, ‘Choco Sun’ and ‘Hallo’.
- For pots and containers opt for multi-flowered and dwarf varieties with numerous mini-sunflowers such as ‘Waooh!’ ‘Music Box’, ‘Little Dorrit’ and ‘F1 Suntastic Yellow’.
- Red flowered sunflowers have an exotic look. Choose varieties such as ‘Velvet Queen’, ‘Ruby Sunset’ and ‘Prado Red’.
- White sunflowers with chocolate brown centres are great for flower arranging. ‘Italian White’ and ‘Moonlight’ are a good choice. ‘Moonwalker’ is a good, creamy white alternative.
- Perennial sunflower plants last for several years and regrow every spring, flowering into late summer. Choose ‘Lemon Queen’ a prolific flowerer with a reputation for spreading, but a great back of border plant.