Size isn’t everything – go for multiple flowerers
In late summer, you reap the rewards of growing sunflowers, with the traditional huge yellow heads nodding over the garden.
However, it’s not all about size – popular big ‘uns like Russian Giant (3m), Mongolian Giant (3.6-4.2m) and Giraffe (4.5m) are one long stem with a huge flower – great for competitions but no good for a prolonged garden display.
The way forward is multiple flowerers with stems that naturally branch. Once the main flower has died off, deadhead it and others will grow from the leaf nodes, keeping the display going until the first frosts.
Another problem with the giants is wind damage – they’re prone to blowing over. My garden seems to be centred in a vortex, with a permanent spiral of wind, so I grow nothing taller than 6ft and always stake them.
Conventional advice is to plant against a fence or wall and give them six-eight hours of sun a day – no easy task for urban and suburban gardens!
They will still flower on slightly less sun but to give them the light they crave, even if you have to stake.
Bear in mind they are called sunflowers because their heads track the sun – make sure they don’t end up looking over your neighbour’s fence.
I’ve organised these branching sunflowers from the smallest to the tallest – there are colours ranging from cream to almost black, with every warm shade in between. Widely available indicates three or more suppliers.
F1 Suntastic Yellow (20-30cm): Bushy, early, dwarf variety, pollen-free and long-blooming, producing yellow flowers with dark centres. Widely available.
Choco Sun (35cm): Small, quick-flowering sunflower, blooming in 11-12 weeks from sowing. Widely available.
Irish Eyes (45cm): Dwarf and compact, producing many-branched stems. Yellow flowers with a green central disc. Widely available.
Teddy Bear (45cm): Big, double, fluffy flowers 15cm wide on very compact plants. Widely available.
Dwarf Yellow Spray (45-60cm): Neat, dwarf habit can be used to create a hedge, www.thompson-morgan.com.
Solar Flash (50cm): Dwarf, bushy plants with multi-headed, early flowering pollen-free flowers in gold and bronze with a chocolate centre. Widely available.
Total Eclipse (50-60cm): Contrasting deep bronze with dark leaves and a lemon yellow with light leaves in this branching blend, www.suttons.co.uk.
Waooh! (60-80cm): Masses of golden flowers with large, dark, central discs from mid-July-September, www.suttons.co.uk.
Music Box (70cm): Freely branching plants with dark-centred flowers in colours from cream to mahogany via yellow including some lovely bicolours. Widely available.
Jade Green (90cm): Petals open lime green and fade to almost white, pollen-free, www.suttons.co.uk.
Sonja (1.1m): Small plants are well filled with side branches and produce strong-stemmed dark-centred blooms in unusual tangerine-gold-orange. Widely available.
Ruby Sunset (1.1-1.5m): Each plant will produce 5-15 medium sized blooms per stem if pinched out, www.suttons.co.uk.
Buttercream (1.2m): Soft butter yellow with contrasting brown centres. The blooms are early and long-flowering, www.dobies.co.uk.
Summer Long (1.2m): A blend of pollen-free early, mid and late varieties, single-stemmed, and branching, in a range of colours, www.dobies.co.uk.
Ring of Fire (1.2m): Heavily branching, bicoloured blooms, with petals dark red at their base surrounded by golden-yellow flames. Widely available.
Ikarus (1.2m): Branches near the base producing an abundance of light yellow colour blooms with a dark chocolate-brown centre, www.chilternseeds.co.uk.
Black Magic F1 (1.2m): Multi-branching stems, with dark maroon flowers. Widely available.
Valentine (1.2-1.5m): Black centres with bright yellow petals on sturdy plants. Widely available.
Harlequin F1 Hybrid (1.2-1.5m): A bicoloured blend including an unusual rose pink shade. Pollen-free blooms, www.thompson-morgan.com.
Pastiche (1.2-2m): A mixture of evening sun shades – yellows, reds and buff, some with a bright yellow or a deep red disc. Widely available.
Autumn Time (1.5m): A mixture with multi-branching heads in a wide range of shades, www.thompson-morgan.com.
Moonshine (1.5m): Bred for cut flower use, this is a naturally base-branching variety, with lemon-yellow flowers with almost black, velvety centres. Widely available.
Velvet Queen (1.5m): The darkest sunflower with freely flowering, branching plants with deep velvety crimson flowers with an even darker centre. Widely available.
The Joker (1.5m): Pollen free sunflower in shades from mahogany to golden yellow. Multi-branching with flowers 6-7in across, www.mr-fothergills.co.uk.
Soraya (1.8m): Large tangerine-orange flowers with dark centres on thick, sturdy stems (up to 25 stems per plant), www.chilternseeds.co.uk.
Magic Roundabout (1.8m): Multicoloured pastel flowers on branching stems. Widely available.
Shock-o-Lat F1 Hybrid (1.8m): Rich chocolate pollen-free blooms with gold-rimmed edges flower a long period. Widely available.
Earth Walker (1.8-2.7m): A mixture in a range of bronze, yellow and chocolate-brown shades. Widely available.
Kong (4.2m): A giant with multiple flowers and brown-eyed golden heads. Widely available.
Potted guide: sowing sunflowers
When: Sow outdoors when the soil feels warm – April-May, or sow individually in 5″ pots under glass for earlier flowers.
Where: a sunny spot in rich, free-draining soil. Station sow two seeds per position, 45cm apart and one inch deep.
Care: net to prevent bird damage and use appropriate organic slug and snail controls. Stake early on to prevent snapping.
What to do with sunflower seeds
- Feed the birds: Leave the dried flower heads on at the end of the season to make natural winter feeders.
- Eat them: When the back of the flower head turns brown, they’re ready to harvest. Roast them and use them as a garnish or snack.
- Sow next year: (not if they’re F1 varieties, as they won’t come true).
- Use as kindling: Dry the whole stems and use on a real fire.