GV Gardeners: Sunflowers surely a summer garden favorite – Green Valley News


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Native Americans are believed to have domesticated Sunflowers as far back as 1000 B.C. Subsequently, these plants spread slowly into Europe. After World War II, production rose dramatically as markets were developed for their seeds as an oil crop, bird feed, and healthy snack product.Annual Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) grow to 10 feet high, possess a strong taproot and prolific lateral spread of surface roots. Continued hybridizing has created colors ranging from tawny red to creamy white, as well as the common bright yellow. The flowers have only female characteristics and may even be without pollen. Growers create hybrids by fertilization of a male-sterile plant with pollen from another variety that produces pollen.Those plants without pollen do not shed yellow dust, so are less likely to be allergenic. They do have abundant nectar and are attractive to butterflies and bees. These hybrids make seeds like any other sunflower if there are others nearby with pollen.Florists often use single-stem Sunflowers for a dramatic effect in cut flower arrangements. When picked fresh from the garden just as petals are unfolding, the flowers can last more than a week in a vase with clean water.Native Sunflowers thrive in hot weather. They can be planted from seed in autumn or early spring, and will bloom from late spring throughout summer into fall. Plant in well-drained, fertile soil in full sun. Leaves are phototropic, meaning they will move to follow the direction of the sun.Sunflowers may be susceptible to mildew on lower leaves, so do not water from overhead. Add a layer of organic mulch around plants without letting it touch stems. Water regularly twice weekly. It is important to not allow the soil to dry out while plants are in flower.Annual Sunflowers should be planted in a different place each year. They give off a toxic substance that affects the next season’s plants. Native Americans traditionally plant three seeds in a mound. Supplemental fertilizer is not needed.A native perennial Sunflower in the desert is Maximilian (Helianthus maximiliani). This variety provides a dense mass of head-high flower stalks covered with small, brilliant yellow blossoms. Growing 4 to 8 feet high, they provide a dazzling background or focal point in the garden. Spreading by rhizomes, Maximilian can soon fill a space, so dividing the plant every few years will control growth and increase both vigor and blooms.Science has found ways to use Sunflowers to filter contaminated water, extract lead from the soil, power diesel engines, and separate useable hydrogen from the oil itself. Some of the world’s most famous artists have used them as subjects.Throughout the countryside, Sunflowers are a symbol of summer with their brilliantly colored, show-stopping blossoms. They are not simply bountiful beauties in the garden, but possess commercial value as well.Mary Kidnocker is a University of Arizona Master Gardener who lives in the Green Valley area. Her articles are featured weekly.

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