Butterflies, beneficial insects, hummingbirds and birds flock to sunflower heads for food, pollen and nectar. Mexican sunflowers are particularly good at attracting Monarch butterflies as they migrate through the country. Butterflies and insects enjoy the flower pollen and nectar while birds feast on the seeds. If growing sunflowers for wildlife, remember not to grow pollen-less varieties. Plant tall varieties along a fence to block an unsightly view, or try them in the back of the flower border or along the side of the house or garage.
Mix and match sunflower plants in the garden with other annual and perennial flowers. Plant tall varieties along a fence to block an unsightly view, or try them in the back of the flower border or along the side of the house or garage.
Mix tall perennials, such as hollyhocks, in with your sunflower plants for added color. Plant medium-tall sunflowers near perennials such as phlox and echincaea. Plant dwarf varieties in the front of a flower garden or even in containers. Create a cutting garden with sunflowers specifically to be cut and brought indoors. Cut sunflowers for flower arrangements in the morning, once the petals are evident, but before they fully open.
Designing with Sunflowers
For kids, create a 'sunflower house'. Mark out a circle in a full sun location with a 3 to 4 ft-wide diameter in the middle. Till and amend a strip of ground around the circle with compost. Leave a 2 to 3 ft-wide opening unplanted for the door. Choose tall varieties that will create a sizable 'roof'. In spring, help your kids plant the circle with their favorite varieties. Keep them well-watered and then let the sunflowers grow together without thinning. Once they form heads, gently tie the tops of the sunflower stalks together to form the roof. Leave the grass as-is, or place cardboard for the 'floor'. Let the kids bring toys and other fun objects into their fun summer home!
You can also use sunflowers instead of corn in a Native American 'Three Sister's Garden'. Plant pole beans to grow up the clump of 3-week old sunflower stalks, and plant winter squash and pumpkins around the base of the clump 3 weeks after the beans. The beans will clinb up the flowers and the low-growing squash will shade out weeds and prevent the soil from drying out.
Sunflower seeds are popular for eating and birds love them, too. When growing sunflowers for the seeds, once the petals fade, protect the flower heads by placing paper bags over them. This will prevent the birds from getting the maturing seeds. Once you can run your hand over the seed heads and the seeds easily drop out, harvest the sunflower head and let it finish maturing in a protected shed or garage.
There is also another way to eat sunflowers: grow a multiple-headed variety! Once the flower buds form, but before they start opening to show color, harvest the flower bud just below the blossom. Steam it like a glove artichoke and dip it in butter. You'll be amazed at the sunflower/artichoke-like flavor!
About the Author: Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden speaker, author, consultant, radio and TV show host. He delights in making gardening information simple, easy, fun and accessible to everyone. Visit his website, GardeningwithCharlie.com for how-to gardening information, and for more about Charlie.
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