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Mammoth sunflowers reach up to 6 feet tall at Carlsbad Senior Garden. Photo by Jano Nightingale
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Jano’s Garden: Spread the joy with sunflowers

One of my neighboring gardeners at the Pine Street Community Garden said recently, “I just love sunflowers, they make me feel so happy!”

Most people agree, it is hard not to look at a towering sunflower without smiling.

Whether planted in deep planters, raised beds or in a full circle in your backyard, they are a no-fail addition to any gardening endeavor.

Planting a sunflower garden would also be the perfect opportunity to bring your children or a neighbor’s children into the garden.

THE ‘SUNFLOWER HOUSE’

One of my favorite children’s books is “Sunflower House,” by Eve Bunting. A group of children find that if they plant their Mammoth Sunflowers in a circle, they can create a Sunflower House in which to play.

The story line progresses, and after many weeks of creative play in the hideaway, the flowers begin to fade.

One day the leaves are tinged with brown. A flower comes tumbling down. Next day some more bend over, fall. And now it’s not a house at all.”

But after careful consideration the children discover that the seeds can be pulled off the center, cleaned and saved for next year.

“It’s neat to think when something’s gone, a part of it goes on and on. It’s such a super-duper plan! We pick out all the seeds we can.”

CREATE A SUNFLOWER HOUSE

For detailed instructions about constructing your own backyard Sunflower House, go to The Farmer’s Almanac, Plant a Sunflower House, April 2, 2021.

SAVE YOUR SUNFLOWER SEEDS

I have included a detailed plan for saving seed in a previous article, but basically if you harvest ripe sunflowers or any annual with large seeds, be certain to let the flower dry out completely before harvesting seed.

The seeds are ready when they appear dark, and pull away easily from the flower head. If the seeds are still green, they will not be suitable for seed saving, so be certain they are completely mature.

Dry on paper towels for a few days, and store in brown paper bags. Be sure to label each variety, so you can give away to friends or save for next year.

COMPANION PLANTING

I also made an interesting discovery in my garden this year regarding companion planting.  Ever since I moved to North County from Upstate New York, I have tried to grow sweet corn, and failed miserably.

So this year, I tried an experiment with four rows of corn, flanked by two densely planted rows of Mammoth Sunflowers.

Now, the packet states, “When given full sun, the seeds will grow to be six feet tall with giant flowers.”

True to form, the sunflowers sprouted just after the corn, so there was no competition. The sunflowers leaned gently against the corn throughout the upcoming weeks, and strengthened with a few 4-foot stakes, the two crops succeeded with flying colors.

PLANT A FEW VARIETIES

In Katherine Whiteside’s book, “The Way We Garden Now,” she includes yet another garden plan for my favorite flower and gives complete instructions for a “Sunflower Folly.” If you are an avid gardener, her book is filled with garden plans, and she has given us a list of some of the many varieties to plant in a true sunflower garden. So try a few of these, Teddy Bear, Lemon Queen, Orange Sun, Piccola, and of course, my favorite, Mammoth Russian.

Whether you plant a Sunflower Folly or a Sunflower House, have fun this summer with your fellow gardeners and your children, enjoying the most versatile seed in the garden catalogue, the sunflower!

Jano Nightingale is a master gardener and horticulturist and lives and teaches in North County. For a complete schedule of her upcoming classes contact her a [email protected].

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