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This familiar flower with its golden petals and dark brown interior seeds is the quintessential symbol of summertime. Although it is a native of North America and a recognized icon of the Midwestern United States it is also a popular flower in many countries of the world.
Sunflower Types and Varieties
When identifying a sunflower, look for these features:
- Petals that are typically golden, yellow, or orange in color (Note: there are exceptions to this)
- A large brown center filled with seeds (Note: there are exceptions to this)
- Long, thick, and green stems
- Flowers that turn to face the sun throughout the day
Popular Types & Varieties
Sunflowers are a part of the Helianthus genus either because the flowers look like the sun or they turn to look at the sun throughout the day. Whatever the reason for their name, it is a very appropriate term. Within this genus are seventy different varieties of sunflowers that have been bred selectively. These varieties are considered cultivars.
The Helianthus genus can be separated into three different categories that help organize sunflowers. These are Giant Sunflowers, Colored Sunflowers, and Dwarf Sunflowers. Let’s look at these in more detail.
This category of sunflowers is an outlier in that it holds a selection of sunflower varieties that have been bred to feature petals that are not the typical yellow color of most sunflowers. Included in this category are the following sunflower varieties:
This variety of sunflower grows up to four feet tall and features dark maroon petals. They are especially loved by pollinators and their dark petals are perfect for highlighting garden borders.
This variety of sunflower can grow up to six feet tall and features either red, yellow, or bronze-colored petals. They are ideally suited for use in cut flower bouquets.
This variety of sunflower grows up to five feet tall and features white petals.
Mexican Sunflower Bright Orange
This variety of sunflower can grow between 3 and 5 feet tall and features orange-colored petals. They are highly loved by hummingbirds and pollinating insects.
Mexican Sunflower Bright Red
This variety of sunflower can grow between 3 and 5 feet tall and features red-colored petals. They are highly loved by butterflies and pollinating insects.
Ms Mars Purple
This variety of sunflower can grow between 1 and 2 feet tall and features pinkish-purple-colored petals. They are very attractive flowers to bees and butterflies.
Pale Purple Berkheya
This variety of sunflower grows up to one foot tall and features pale purple-colored petals. They are stunning flowers that are perfect to set next to vibrantly colored sunflowers in a bouquet or floral arrangement.
This variety of sunflower can grow between 3 and 5 feet tall and features pink-colored petals.
This variety of sunflower can grow up to six feet tall and features dark red petals. They are loved by birds that eat their seed, and also by florists who use them in bouquets and flower arrangements.
This variety of sunflower can grow between 3 and 5 feet tall and features either red or orange-colored petals. These sunflowers nearly look like daisies so they look amazing in a flower bouquet.
This variety of sunflower can grow up to six feet tall and features either copper or bronze-colored petals.
This category includes sunflower varieties that don’t get very tall. Most of the varieties included in this category stay compact enough that they can grow in plant containers if necessary. Included in this category are the following sunflower varieties:
This variety grows between 12 and 16 inches tall and features yellowish-orange petals. This is a very compact and quaint flower.
This variety grows up to 2 feet tall and features a large supply of seeds that birds love to eat.
This variety grows up to 18 inches tall and features multiple branches on each stem.
This variety grows up to 3 feet tall and features petals that are either yellow or orange in color.
This variety grows up to 2 feet tall and was bred especially for growing in plant containers.
This variety grows between 3 and 5 feet tall. They are ideal for those gardeners who have pollen allergies because they don’t contain any pollen.
This variety grows up to 2 feet tall with flower heads that can get up to 10 inches in diameter.
This variety grows up to 1 foot tall and is ideal for growing in plant containers.
This variety grows up to 2 feet tall and features tiny yellow-orange petals that grow into fluffy pom-poms.
This variety grows up to 3 feet tall and features a pollen-free bloom.
This category includes many of the most commonly seen or popular varieties of sunflowers. They have the typical features expected of a sunflower, that is, the bright yellow petals and dark brown center filled with seeds. Included in this category are the following sunflower varieties:
This variety grows up to 5 feet tall. They are very attractive to butterflies and bees so they make great companion plants for other types of plants that need pollinators.
This variety grows up to 14 feet tall with flower heads that are approximately 12 inches in diameter.
This variety grows up to 6 feet tall. Their blooms can last for several weeks which means they are ideal to use as a floral arrangement of fresh-cut flowers.
This variety is possibly the tallest sunflower variety. It is able to grow up to 17 feet tall with flower heads that are approximately 17 inches in diameter.
This variety grows up to 4 feet tall. They are also more capable of growing in a pot than other varieties of giant sunflowers.
This variety grows up to 14 feet tall with many blooms on every stem.
This variety grows between 5 and 8 feet tall with multiple stems and blooms.
This variety grows up to 15 feet tall and produces an excellent crop of seeds that are great for use in many recipes.
This variety grows up to 6 feet tall. This is the most quintessential type of sunflower that is often featured in paintings, drawings, and floral décor.
This variety grows up to 10 feet tall with flower heads that are approximately 24 inches in diameter.
How to Grow Sunflowers from Seed
Sunflowers are an extremely easy plant to grow from seed; in fact, they are so easy that gardening these flowers are used as fun elementary school projects. The steps are simple but the timing is important: sunflowers should be planted outside only when the chance of frost has passed. Here’s how:
- Prepare a garden bed in soil that drains well and has access to plenty of sunlight
- Set the seeds in the soil 1 inch deep and 6 inches apart
- Once sprouts are noticeable, trim the number of plants so that the sprouts are 12 inches apart
- Blooms should appear between 80 to 120 days after the seeds have been planted
How to Propagate Sunflowers
Some types of sunflowers can also be grown from stem cuttings. This should be done in the spring before the flower has bloomed. Here are the steps for doing this:
- Choose a healthy perennial sunflower (usually a side shoot)
- Use a sterile cutting utensil to cut a 4 to 6-inch stem that has a few leaves but no flowers or buds on it
- Slice off the top ½ inch of the cutting
- Remove the lowest set of leaves with a cutting utensil
- Remove all the leaves but two terminal leaves
- Dust the bottom of the cutting with a rooting hormone, if desired
- Put sterile potting soil made from 50% sand and 50% peat moss in a plant container
- Place the cutting in the soil
- Place the plant container in a warm and slightly shaded spot
- Cover the plant with a plastic bag to conserve humidity
- New roots should grow between two and four weeks
- Once the plant is established, it can be transplanted to a permanent garden bed
When to Plant Sunflowers
Sunflowers can be planted outdoors only after the threat of frost has passed for the season.
How to Plant Sunflowers
Unless you have chosen to grow a variety of sunflowers that stays small, you will need to transplant any sunflowers that have been propagated in a plant container to a garden bed. Here’s how to do this:
- Select an area that has well-draining soil and receives plenty of sunlight throughout the day
- Acclimatize the sunflowers to sunlight before planting them in a garden bed (they should be able to handle six hours of direct sun)
- Gently transplant the sunflowers to the garden bed
- Care for as a mature plant
Best Sunflower Fertilizer
Sunflowers are heavy feeders so it is a good idea to provide them with some fertilizer during their growing season. A liquid fertilizer such as Hunt’s Harvest Plant Fertilizer is an excellent choice.
Sunflower Soil Requirements
Sunflowers require spacious amounts of loose soil for their long roots to grow. The soil should be able to drain off water easily and have a pH level that is slightly acidic.
Sunflower Light Requirements
Sunflowers should be set in an area that receives at least eight hours of full sun every day.
Sunflower Water Requirements
Sunflowers are drought tolerant and don’t take well to overwatering. This is why it is imperative that their soil be well-draining. Sunflowers should only be watered when the top layer of their soil is dry.
Best Sunflower Companion Plantings
Sunflowers could be called the fourth sister of the famous three sisters of companion crops. The traditional three sisters include squash, corn, and climbing beans. These three plants work together to support one another so they grow healthier. Sunflowers are a great addition to this grouping.
If you are looking for some more ideas for what to plant next to your crop of sunflowers, then consider some of the following options:
Sunflowers will shade the lettuce to prevent its delicate leaves from burning in the hot sun.
Setting onions next to sunflowers will help to deter pests from consuming the sunflowers.
An aromatic flower such as lavender attracts more pollinators.
These flowers attract ladybugs, which in turn, will handle pests such as aphids and black flies. There are a lot of options for companion plants for sunflowers, but it should be remembered that there are other plants that should never be placed close to sunflowers. These are:
Since potatoes grow underground, it is likely that their roots will entangle the long roots of sunflowers and cause some unfriendly competition for space and soil nutrients. Also, potatoes are prone to blight that can easily spread from one plant to another.
This type of plant deters pollinators which are essential for the health of sunflowers.
Sunflower Treatments and Maintenance
A few of the common problems faced by sunflowers are:
This infestation is a fungal disease that usually appears during hot and humid weather. Symptoms of this type of infestation are dark brown or black lesions and broken stems. To deal with this problem, apply a fungicide to the infected plants.
Banded Sunflower Moth
Signs of this type of infestation are webbing and empty seeds from where larvae have been feeding. To deal with this problem, apply an insecticide to the infected plants.
This infestation appears on leaves as yellow spots and gray fuzz. The best way to prevent this problem is to provide the plant with plenty of space, air circulation, and sunlight. Fungicides may be used to slow down its spread, but since it isn’t a true fungal infection, fungicides do not prevent or completely eradicate it.
Signs of this type of infestation are empty kernels and enlarged seeds. To deal with this problem, apply an insecticide to the infected plants.
Signs of this type of infestation are webbing on the head of the sunflower and empty kernels. To deal with this problem, apply an insecticide to the infected plants.
Sunflower Stem Weevil
Signs of this type of infestation are leaf damage and weakened stalks. To deal with this problem, apply an insecticide to the infected plants.
Where to Purchase Sunflowers Online
Sunflowers are a popular choice to purchase as a cut flower or in a package of seeds. Either way, they are readily available at these online shops:
Answer: Sunflowers are both annual and perennial plants depending on the variety. Here’s how to tell the difference between annual and perennial sunflowers:
• Annual sunflowers feature a lot of large seeds, while non-hybridized perennial sunflowers feature a modest amount of small seeds.
• Annual sunflowers feature shallow roots that look like strings, while perennial sunflowers feature long roots with rhizomes and tubers attached to them.
• Annual sunflowers grow on a single stem, while perennial sunflowers grow in a cluster formation.
• Annual sunflowers have seed heads that are large or small, while perennial sunflowers only have small seed heads.
• Annual sunflowers produce blooms the first year their seeds are planted, while perennial sunflowers do not produce blooms until two years after their seeds are planted.
• Annual sunflowers sprout and grow quickly, while perennial sunflowers sprout and grow slowly.
• Annual sunflowers sprout in late spring, while perennial sunflowers sprout in early spring.
Answer: Sunflowers can be grown in zones 4 through 9.
Answer: Yes, they can. Not only do these beautiful flowers keep some weeds at bay, but they are also known for their ability to remove lead, arsenic, zinc, chromium, and other heavy metals from the soil.
Sunflowers are bright and beautiful, healthy and delicious, and incredibly easy to grow. All these features make them a wonderful option for small children and beginner gardeners to learn on or more experienced gardeners to grow en masse. It is no wonder why these flowers are a favorite the world over.