Did you know a sunflower isn't just one flower, but instead hundreds of little flowers? The center of the sunflower is made up of little disc florets which are considered individual flowers because they are capable of reproducing.
Types of sunflowers
There are more than 70 varieties of sunflower, which means there is one for every garden. You can grow smaller varieties like Flare, Solstice or Sunny in pots, or wow the neighbours with tall varieties like Sunbird, Giant Single or the Common Sunflower.
You may have heard that sunflowers track the sun. This is true. They will start the day facing east, and follow the sun as it crosses the sky to the west. However, as the sunflower matures and grows heavy, it often remains facing east due to the weight of the head and the stiffening of the stem.
Sunflower seeds are quite large and easy to handle. Soak them for 12 hours prior to planting. Poke your finger in the soil to your second knuckle and plant your seed. Spacing your sunflowers appropriately is essential.
In my experience sunflowers do not like to have their roots disturbed. So if you are planting indoors and transplanting, try not to disturb the roots.
Dwarf Sunsation is a great choice to edge your vegetable garden or to plant individually in the veggie patch. These grow on single stems to a height of about 40cm. Sunflowers, due to their delicious pollen and beautiful flowers, attracts beneficial insects like bees, but also pests. Most insects love the colour yellow and so will flock to these bright blooms. This includes aphids which are sap loving pests that will infest your vegetable garden (and roses) but also ladybirds who will love to feast on aphids. Win-win for all gardeners!
For those who are interested in the sunflowers other companion planting capabilities, they can make cucumbers taste sweeter when planted together, and will even be a great support structure for them to grow on. Sunflowers can also provide much needed shade in summer to leafy crops like lettuce to prevent them from wilting or going to seed. But make sure you do not plant sunflowers with potatoes or beans. This is because sunflowers excrete a chemical that they are susceptible to and inhibit their growth.
Did you know you can eat sunflower seeds? In the Middle East, they are a popular cinema snack, in the place of popcorn. When the head dies, harvest before the birds do. The seeds you are familiar with in supermarkets are inside the large seed you will find in the sunflower head. So let it dry out, and break each seed open and enjoy.
Author: Diana Barnes, Growing Vegetable Down Under