Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Northern & Central Midwest
August, 2003
Regional Report

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These giants seeded themselves right in the middle of my pole bean trellis.

Sunflowers Will Make You Smile

I'm still hard at work (or not at work) on my volunteer garden. Some of my best successes this year are two giant sunflowers that popped up on their own, remnants from last year's deliberate plantings. These two appeared in mid-spring underneath the A-frame trellis where I planned to grow pole beans and cherry tomatoes.

I don't know what it is, but there's nothing like a sunflower to bring a smile to your face. Perhaps it's because they are so robust. They grow from seed to enormous 12-foot plants in a single season. They want to grow!

The Allure of Sunflowers
Annual sunflowers have been in vogue for several years now, and consequently there are many, many new varieties on the market. They range from 4 to 12 feet and come in all shades of gold, yellow, bronze, chocolate, maroon, and white. Besides making an incredible statement in the landscape, they also make spectacular vase arrangements. Six sunflowers on long stems gently drooping over the sides of a large vase add a touch of designer elegance as well as the hint of a summer meadow to the kitchen table.

I decided that last year would be my "Year of the Sunflower," and I collected about ten different varieties just by picking up seed packets at my local garden store. I started the seeds in a cold frame and then transplanted them to various spots throughout my landscape. I planted six giant sunflowers at the posts of my grape trellis where they could put their roots in the vegetable garden.

The ones in the vegetable garden thrived (went berserk as my husband put it), and by the end of August we had 12-foot monsters with drooping heads heavy with seeds. I could see the squirrels sitting nearby just waiting for the seeds to ripen.

The smaller types didn't fare quite so well, although we did collect some attractive bouquets throughout the summer. Being blessed and cursed with a mostly shady yard, none of the plants were in full sun for the entire day like the ones in the vegetable garden. I learned. Only full sun from now on.

This year I gave my daughters the leftover seeds from last year to put in their gardens adjacent to the family garden, and now they have beautiful deep maroon and the palest moonlight yellow blossoms on branching stems. They are quite proud of their accomplishments and even brag to their friends about their sunflowers. However, I've noticed that even though their plants are beautiful, the girls still brag most about the giant volunteers in the main garden.

Next year I think we will have to grow a sunflower house, by planting the giants in a circle and gently guiding them together at the top as they grow. I can't help but believe that it will be a magical place, regardless of my daughters' ages.

Leaving the Seeds
My sunflower seeds will be ready soon, and I will leave the drooping seedheads on the stalks for winter. Watching squirrels and birds sitting atop them extracting the seeds is plenty of fun for the darker fall and winter months. And some of the dropping seeds will start next year's volunteers.

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