“Here and yonder, high and low, Goldenrod and Sunflower glow.” -Kelly weeks (1840-76)
It’s interesting to learn more about the flowers in our garden, and knowing a bit about each one can also help us make better garden plans and understand how each plant may interact with others nearby. The bright flowers attract pollinators such as bees, butterflies and birds. The giant flower on sunflowers is actually made up of many tiny blooms. The center of the sunflower, where the seeds develop, is made up of tiny flowers that bees absolutely love. As we know bees and other pollinators urgently need our help to survive and keep pollinating plants. Most sunflowers are good for pollinators, so you could take your pick, plant a sunflower like ‘lemon Queen’ varieties for the pollinator’s survival, as long as you remember not to pick a pollen-free variety. Sunflowers were originally natives to the Americas. They were grown for beauty as well as harvested for seed.
They are used for medicine, dye, food and oil and exported around 1500. Sunflower oil is packed with calcium, iron and contains vitamin A and D. Not all sunflower petals are yellow. Toss out that misconception about sunflowers. There are more than 60 varieties of sunflowers that live across the globe. These vibrant beauties come in all colors of the rainbow from the white light petals of ‘Coconut Ice’, Italian white to the dark chocolate of ‘Chocolate’, ‘Moulin Rouge’ ‘Earth walker’. Some of these varieties have striped petals and also multi-colored sunflowers typically grow between five and twelve feet tall. Some grow to over 16 feet in height like the ‘American Giant’, ‘Russian Mammoth’ and “Sun forest Mix”
While they are associated with large fields and big garden plots ,they can be grown in containers, in borders, hedges and many cultivars have been developed for small spaces and pots. Even a small 3 gallon pot can house the enormous “Mammoth” sunflower. Sunflowers can reach maturity and flowering stage in 4 months. At the bud stage, sunflowers exhibit a unique trait called-heliotropism …….. the bud of the sunflower faces the sun at all times throughout the day and ending it facing west. They will grow leggy and topple while reaching for the sun growing in the shade. Sunflowers need full sun and rich, well-drained soil to reach their maximum height.
Sunflowers prefer sandy soils.Though not too fussy, sunflowers thrive in slightly acidic to somewhat alkaline (pH 6.0 to 7.5). Tall and of course, the plants have creeping or tuberous roots and large bristly leaves. Sunflowers are natural decontaminator of soils. Sunflowers remove toxins such as lead, arsenic and uranium from contaminated soil, and have been used to clean up soil at some of the world’s biggest environment disasters including Chernobyl and Fukushima. Most sunflowers are remarkably tough and easy to grow as long as the soil is not waterlogged. Most are heat and drought tolerant. While the plants tolerate drought, they grow best when watered regularly.
Containers require a bit more vigilance as they can dry out quickly in hot weather. They make excellent cut flowers and many are attractive to birds and bees and other wildlife. Sunflowers should be started from seed. It takes about 3 month to 4 months for sunflowers to reach a mature blooming stage. For potted plants, you can place them in arrangements on balconies, porches; borders, beds, walkways. Sunflowers perform best with lots of fertilizers. Apply a high nitrogen fertilizer while the plant is growing. Then when the flowers begin to open, change to a fertilizer that is high in phosphorus. The phosphorus will help to ensure a spectacular bloom.
You can plant sunflowers individually or with annuals. Pair with other annuals that have prolific blooms. With the right counterparts a container or garden bed design that features a sunflower can be interesting and attractive for the entire season. Remember that any companion plants with sunflowers will need to tolerate full sun. Be careful as slugs and snail like to eat the new shoots. You may have to protect the seedling by cutting the top of a plastic bottle and placing it over it or a mesh bag or nettings over the blooms until seeds ripen. Experiment with plantings staggered over 5 to 6 weeks to keep enjoying continuous bloom.
Tall species and cultivars require support. Bamboo stakes are a good choice for any plant that has a strong, single stem and needs support for a short period of time. Place a cane near the stem and loosely tying the cane to the plant. Watch your sunflower grow and grow. The sunflower is the only flower with the word “flower” in its name.
Meaning and Symbolism
Explore the botanical name of this flower, helianthus annuus, and you learn that it derives from the Greek ‘helios’ (meaning sun) and ‘anthos’ (meaning flower). The word “annuus’ translates as annual, so the botanical name literal translation is sunflower annual-a perfect description of this beautiful plant. Sunflower meaning and symbolism in various cultures run counter to the idea of a short-lived Annual.
In Chinese sunflower symbols include the idea of longevity and long life. Many cultures associate sunflower with prolong constancy and loyalty, reflecting the flower bud’s tendency to follow the sun across the sky. The symbolism in Chinese also extend beyond longevity to include good fortune, vitality, intelligence and happiness. In the modern world sunflowers are a gift of choice for third wedding anniversary. More recently sunflower meaning; is a world free of nuclear weapons. When Ukraine surrendered its last nuclear warhead in 1996, officials from Russia, the USA and Ukraine marked the event by scattering and sowing sunflower seeds.