Few plants are as bright and cheery in the landscape as annual sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). These traditional warm-season annuals can provide food for birds, as well as a snack for your family. But mainly, they provide an abundance of golden yellows, oranges and browns to work with in your landscape. They are one of the easiest plants to grow, but need the right spot to look and grow their best.
Sunflowers range from less than 2 feet tall to more than 12 feet, so the first step to using them successfully is to choose the right variety. The taller varieties can be lanky and top-heavy, requiring stakes to keep them upright. The short types are more erect and a better fit for most small yards. If you want them for cut flowers, plant pollen-free varieties so they don't leave a mess on your kitchen counter. Flower color is a matter of your personal preference -- there are dozens of varieties to choose from, including the single-blossom types and those that yield many flowers on each plant.
Small potted specimens look attractive by themselves, but generally sunflowers should be planted in groups for the best effect. It's a good idea to plant them where they will grow up from behind other plants, so the lower stalks and leaves are hidden -- as a backdrop to a perennial flower border, for example. They are also traditionally used as a border around vegetable gardens, forming a temporary hedge that matches the explosion of growth in a summer garden. Plus, they will attract many of the beneficial insects that pollinate your crops and keep pests under control.
Plant your sunflowers once the soil warms to at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit in spring. Enriching the soil with compost before planting helps to ensure healthy, vigorous growth. Make a furrow 4 inches deep in loose garden soil and press the seeds 1/2 inch below the surface about 6 inches apart. Once they are 6 inches tall, thin them to allow only one plant to grow for every 18 inches of bed space. As they grow taller, fill in the furrow to bury the stems a bit -- they will root into the extra soil and have better anchorage to keep from falling over on windy days.
Growing Requirements and Care
Sunflowers, as their name suggests, require full sun to grow well. Give them a spot with a minimum of six to eight hours of sun per day for the best blooms. They grow well in average soil with weekly watering, but can tolerate a fair amount of drought once they get going. Constant moisture on the leaves can lead to disease problems for sunflowers, so it is always better to water your sunflowers at ground level.