SUNFLOWERS IN WINTER
Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
Sunflowers are something most of us usually think about in August, but with the arrival of the seed catalogs, winter is a good time to start thinking about which ones you might want to grow this coming year.
Most gardeners are familiar with the tall giant sunflowers exhibited at fairs and field days. But there are three or four dozen other varieties, which come in all heights and many colors, to consider. I've tried most of these in Vermont, and here's how the best performed.
First, you need to understand that sunflowers don't all bloom at the same time. In my trials I grouped them according to bloom time. Early means they bloom in late July or early August. The mid-season ones make up the bulk of varieties commercially available, and bloom in mid- August. The late season sunflowers usually flower from late August to early September.
These dates are approximate for USDA hardiness zone 4 in the Champlain Valley. If you live in a warmer zone, move the dates up a week or two. If colder, move a week or two later.
Another consideration is whether the variety branches or not. If it does, these side branches usually produce smaller flowers after producing larger flowers on the main stems. This way bloom season can be extended another couple weeks or more.
Heights may vary from place to place and season to season, depending on amount of water and temperatures. Sunflowers need well-drained soil, tolerate many types, but do best in a good loam with plenty of water and heat.
For the early sunflowers, in my trials Pacino was one of the best one year but was not as striking this past year. It has yellow flowers, about four inches across, and is about two feet high. Other low-growing, early choices are the yellow Sunspot, Del Sol, or Dwarf Yellow Spray. The latter is very branched as its name indicates. Double Dandy is an early, low, red and yellow combination.
For the mid-season choices, this past year my best performers included three varieties that attain heights of five feet--the red-orange Claret (as in the wine color), the strikingly dark red Moulin Rouge, and the gold Sunny. Two four-foot sunflowers that I'd recommend for home gardens are the red-yellow combination Ring of Fire, an All-America Selections Award winner, and Lemonade with its interesting mix of light and dark yellow petals. Or consider the dwarf double gold and very popular Teddy Bear, which grows to about two feet tall.
If you are looking for a late season variety, my favorite is Titanic, a double gold, four-foot tall variety that bloomed much of September and into October in my trials this past year. Other good choices include the light yellow Valentine (about four feet tall), the gold Soraya (about four feet tall and another All-America Selections Award winner), and the double gold Giant Sungold (about five feet tall).
Other noteworthy sunflowers are the gold Sunbeam, which had the largest flowers at seven inches across of the four dozen or so ornamental varieties I observed in trials. The smallest flowers were the three-inch gold ones of Tangina. The most unusual blooms were found on the Joker, which has yellow, semi-double flowers with twisted petals. More cultivars and details can be found on my website (http://pss.uvm.edu/ppp/sunfls02.htm).
This winter as you leaf through the seed catalogs as the snow gently falls outside your window, think about summer sunflowers. Thoughts of these flowers are sure to warm the coldest of winter days.