Which varieties of sunflower seeds grow best?

By Staff
Feb. 18, 2001
Dear Gardener,
Last summer we had a few volunteer sunflowers to emerge underneath our bird feeder. We enjoyed them so much, we have decided to try growing some from seed this year. Which varieties do you suggest?
Dear Reader,
Sunflowers are some of my favorite plants. Very few flowers provide so much beauty and joy with so little effort.
My first year of professional gardening (at Cheekwood Botanical Gardens) I had the chance to grow several varieties of sunflowers in the trial garden. Until then, I was unaware of the wide variety of types available.
We are no longer limited to the single flowering varieties of the past. Great improvements have been made in sunflowers. New multiple branching selections are available as well as pollen free and dwarf varieties.
The single stemmed types are the kind we usually think of when we hear the term sunflower. Producing only one, usually large flower, they work best for feeding our fine feathered friends. The really huge "Mammoth Russian" is an amazing sight when set against a building or evergreen backdrop. But, you are really limited in its use because of its size.
Personally, my favorites are the multiple branching varieties. These produce one stem with many flowering branches. They flower throughout the summer and make excellent cut flowers.
Deadheading is recommended to keep them looking top rate. "Italian White" is a beautiful variety with a rich brown center surrounded by creamy white petals. "Autumn Beauty" is another favorite. Its rich colors range from gold to bronze to burgundy to brown. One more is "Fiesta del Sol". All it takes is the name to conjure up the blazing orange of this sunflower. This type needs regular deadheading to look great.
A variation on the branching varieties is the pollenless type. These sunflowers were bred to make outstanding cut flowers. They do not produce any pollen. So therefore, no pollen falls onto your table or floor, etc. They also have a longer vase life. Some nice varieties of this type are "Summer Trio" (yellow) and "Ruby Sunset" (burgundy).
The last type is the dwarf varieties. They are an alternative to the large single stemmed varieties. They are single stemmed, but they only reach about one to three feet. "Big Smile" and "Teddy Bear" are worth experimenting with in your garden.
Dear Gardener,
My husband and I own a local bed and breakfast. Many weddings have taken place in our gardens. The courtyard area is quite often used for receptions. Sometimes the receptions take place in the evening under torch and candlelight. The courtyard has several planting areas, including one around a beautiful fountain. What flowers should we plant to highlight the area in the evening?
Dear Reader,
White is my color of choice for a garden that will mostly be enjoyed at night. There are many plants available in white varieties. I will suggest a few, but it will really only touch on the possibilities.
Start by trellising a vine, or vines, against the courtyard wall. Moonflowers are spectacular flowers that only open in the evening. There are also many white selections of clematis. One of the most prolific is Sweet Autumn Clematis. It blooms in late summer/early fall with an abundance of small, fragrant blossoms.
Next, concentrate on using the fountain as a focal point. A mixture of perennials and annuals will provide a full season of color. White peonies, foxglove and phlox are good for providing height as the back layer. When the peonies play out add in some white zinnias, cleome, cosmos and/or flowering tobacco. In front of these put in a layer of plants of average to short height. Zinnia augustifolia, baby's breath and verbena are good choices.
Also, a bottlebrush buckeye and oakleaf hydrangeas highlighted against the courtyard wall would look spectacular.
Most of the above mentioned plants do best in sun to semi shade. A few plants for shadier areas are impatiens, bleeding hearts, heuchera, Solomon's seal, astilbe, hosta, obedient plant and primroses.
I would keep the design simple. Simplicity and elegance are the beauty of a white garden. While pure white gardens are beautiful, splashes of color add a lot to a landscape. My advice is to experiment, be creative, and do not forget to add some fragrant plants to your collection. It sounds like you have a great space to work with so have fun.
Amelia O'Brian, a native of Meridian, holds a bachelor of science degree in horticulture from Mississippi State University. To submit questions, write From the Potting Bench, c/o The Meridian Star, P.O. Box 1591, Meridian, MS 39302. Or, visit her Web site at www.thepottingbench.webprovider.com.