By Judy Feather, master gardener, and Carl Wilson, horticulture agent, with the Denver County office of Colorado State University Cooperative Extension
Modern sunflowers are much more than a huge yellow flower on a tall stalk.
Gardeners who haven't kept up with sunflower varieties are in for a pleasant surprise. Today's ornamental sunflowers include a variety of heights and flower colors.
Multi-branched types will form a quick, annual screen. Dwarf types are suitable for containers and low borders.
Cut flower types won't drop pollen on table linens. Flowers range from bicolored to banded, chestnut red to pale yellow, and include double types.
Among annual types, Moon Walker develops multiple, pale yellow flowers on 8-foot, top-branching stalks. Use for a living screen.
Dwarf types include the Dutch-bred Music Box. The multi-branched, 2 1/2-foot-tall bedding mix bears 4-inch flowers that range in color from yellow to gold, including bicolors. Big Smile grows to only 1 1/2-feet tall and produces one 5-inch head of golden yellow with a brown center. It's perfect for containers and planting in perennial or annual flowerbeds.
Other new, 3-foot dwarfs include Teddy Bear (double yellow flowers) and Floristan (reddish-brown petals with yellow tips).
Among tall types, Japanese Silverleaf produces silver-green foliage to show off the long-lasting yellow flowers with brown centers. Inca Jewels boasts a full-color range of bright yellow, banded gold, orange, burgundy and bicolored bronze flowers. Velvet Queen blooms in burgundy, chestnut-red, mahogany and warm bronze.
Taller varieties come in many colors
If you're looking for cut flowers that don't shed messy pollen, try the Japanese-bred Sunrich Lemon (10-inch pale yellow flowers with jet-black centers) and Sunrich Orange, which grows to 5 feet.
You can find perennial sunflowers, too. Flore Pleno and Loddon Gold produce 4-inch double yellow blossoms on 5-foot plants. They're great as a vertical garden accent.
All sunflowers do best in full sun. They tolerate a wide range of soils, but avoid high nitrogen, which encourages excessive plant growth and fewer blooms. Seeds can be sown when day and night temperatures are above 50 degrees. Promote deep roots and strong stems by watering deeply but infrequently.
Early North American Indians discovered the versatility of wild sunflowers. They ground seeds into meal, used plant parts to cure maladies and made yellow and purple dyes. Today's gardener is typically more interested in beauty.
Whether you are creating bouquets or making a garden full of wonder for children, grow a Native American sunflower.
Photographs courtesy of Judy Sedbrook.
© CSU/Denver County Extension Master Gardener 2010
888 E. Iliff Avenue, Denver, CO 80210
Date last revised: 01/05/2010