Sunflowers: plant now for summer cheer!
Sunflowers bring summer cheer, and there are loads to choose from, says ELIZABETH SWANE
Sunflowers are fun to grow, bringing happiness with their big bold flowers and joyful colours. Now is a great time to plant sunflowers from seed. Sown directly into sunny garden beds, they grow quickly and flower in just 8–10 weeks, which is perfect for cheery summer colour.
The popularity of sunflowers is on the up, so it’s not surprising to learn that seed sales have risen 50 per cent in the past four years. The most popular are traditional tall, large, single-head sunflowers, followed by dwarf varieties, which are an indication of the shift towards smaller gardens and growing plants in containers. Medium-sized, unusual coloured and multi-headed sunflowers are also a growing trend, adding interest, diversity and a point of difference to summer gardens.
Sunflowers make great cut flowers, and children love them. Their large seeds are easy to sow, plants are robust and quick to grow, and beautiful flowers are long lasting. As children increasingly get involved in gardening at school, they are often inspired to plant flowers among vegies or shrubs in their home garden, or to fill pots with colour. Sunflowers are ideal for this.
In addition to producing spectacular flowers in sunny colours, sunflowers also play an important role as pollinator-friendly plants, attracting a wide range of beneficial insects, butterflies and bees to the garden. If they are left to dry on the plant, seed heads are a magnet for birds, so you will need to cover them with a mesh bag if you want to save some to eat or to sow next season.
Sow sunflower seeds 2cm deep directly into garden beds or in pots in full sun. Enrich garden soil by adding compost or a few handfuls of pelletised manure, then rake the soil to a fine crumble. Use 30cm diameter pots to grow dwarf types or 45cm pots for tall varieties, filled with good quality potting mix.
Water the young seedlings regularly, then gradually reduce this to less frequent, deeper watering as plants mature. Grow in clumps or against a fence to protect from the wind.
Sow seeds in 2–3 batches, 2–3 weeks apart, to prolong your display.