by Judy Heyer
If you've ever had the garden blues, now is the time to plant some happy faces in your yard. I'm talking, of course, about sunflowers. These old favorites have had resurgence in popularity - there are so many new cultivars available, these bright, cheery flowers are guaranteed to put a smile on your face.
Gone are the days when sunflowers were solitary sentinels at the back of the garden. If you've been reluctant to grow sunflowers because of their size - they've had a transformation. Along with the 10 or 12 foot giants, there are now dwarf and intermediate cultivars available.
The new dwarfs range from 12" - 18" in height and make striking cut flowers, container plants, or colourful edging in a border. The taller or intermediate varieties make excellent screens and provide a splash of colour in the yard. They can act as a windbreak, screen unsightly areas, and provide shade where needed.
The palette of colours ranges from creamy white through yellow, tangerine, chestnut red, and bronze, with some bi-colours available. Many of the new varieties also have contrasting brown or black centres. These spectacular flowers are real traffic stoppers and sure to make a hit in your garden. An added bonus - these cheerful flowers will attract butterflies to your yard.
Want some animation in your back yard? Plant the new Teddy Bear Dwarf. (Who can resist a flower with a name like that?) It comes with golden yellow, double flowers, and at reaching a height of only 24", these fuzzy beauties are ideal for planting in borders or for cutting.
Prado Red Small has delicate flowers - red with dark brown centres. This is an early-maturing, branching variety that makes excellent cut flowers. Height is 4 ft.
Want something really dramatic and eye-catching? Plant Velvet Queen. This plant produces 5" dark velvety blooms in burgundy, mahogany, chestnut red, and bronze. These plants are branched, and carry flower on strong stems. What a show-stopper for the back of the border or as cut flowers. Plants reach a height of 5-6 ft.
If it's cut flowers you're after, plant Sonja. This plant has attractive tangerine-orange petals with a dark centre, and medium-size blossoms of 4". Upright plants produce 8 or more side branches that make wonderful cut flowers. Grows to a height of 40".
You want big? Plant Giant Grey Stripe. These giants grow to a height of 12-15 feet, have enormous yellow heads up to 15" in diameter, and provide plenty of edible seeds.
If there's no room in your yard for these giants, try the Music Box Dwarf mixture. These are single flowers (10-12 cm.) in a range of beautiful colours from cream and yellow bi-colours to mahogany red, all with dark centres. These are very showy and grow well in containers.
For contrast, plant Italian White. Plants have 4-5" blossoms, in a creamy white to pale yellow, and contrasting dark centres. Multi-branching, plants reach a height of 4-5 ft.
Orange Sun Bright has orange blossoms with a double face surrounded with a tuft of petals. This beauty grows to a height of 6 ft.
Sunflowers are child's play to grow. Direct seed them in a sunny location in your garden, one or two weeks before the last expected frost. Plant the seeds 1" deep, then thin the plants 6-12" apart for smaller varieties, and 2-3 feet apart for the taller plants.
Sunflowers thrive in a well-drained garden soil. Heavy feeders, sunflowers appreciate a side dressing of or during the growing season. Caution: don't over-fertilize as this may weaken the stems. Water the young plants well. Once they're established they can tolerate some drought - good news for areas with restricted summer watering. Sow the seeds from March through May for a continuous supply of flowers.
Not only are the flowers bright and cheery - the seeds are nutritious and packed with Phosphorus, Potassium, Calcium, Magnesium, Iron, and Vitamins A, B1 and B2.
Birds are the only real garden pests that will come between you and your fair share of seeds. In fact, they can strip seed heads clean as a whistle. It may be necessary to cover a few of the heads with mesh so you get your share, too.
For a real visual treat, dry a few of the dwarf flowers for addition to dried arrangements. Simply hang the flowers upside down in a warm, well-ventilated area. These flowers look absolutely stunning when dried.
Sunflowers require a minimum of care, yet provide maximum results - what better reason for planting a few of these beauties in your back yard?