by Tracy E. Hill, Ph.D.
The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine although it originated in the Americas. As such, you are most likely seeing it pop up more often in support of those living and supporting family, friends and colleagues in Ukraine. There are more than 70 species of Helianthus (sunflowers) but the most popular species of sunflower is the common sunflower (Helianthus Annuus), whose round flower head in combination with the ligules (the leafy outcrop of the head, https://Ligule) make the flower look like the sun giving it’s name the Sunflower. The sunflower’s scientific name derives from the Greek words helios (“sun”) and anthos (“flower”). The flowers come in many colors (yellow, orange, maroon, red, brown, etc.), but they are most commonly bright yellow with yellowish-brown centers that ripen into heads heavily filled with seeds. The seeds and oil are a good source of food for pets and people.
There are regular sized sunflowers and some of you may have seen the skyscraper sunflowers that can often reach heights up to twelve feet tall.
Planting your sunflowers: According to gardeners we spoke to, it is best to plant sunflower seeds outdoors after the danger of spring frost has passed or after the ground has warmed up to at least 50°F (10°C). The average end of frost for most regions in the U.S. is typically between mid April to mid July. However, if planting indoors first, you should know that they take approximately 70 to 90 days to mature so you’ll want to get a jump on indoor plantings at least three weeks before the last frost date in your region. However, sunflowers dislike having their roots disturbed. So if planting indoors first you may want to plant in biodegradable egg cartons. When the seedlings become big enough to your content or the weather has warmed you can plant each of the twelve compartments directly into the soil. Follow the same instructions below.
When planting the seeds outdoors they should be planted 1 to 1-1/2 inches deep and about 6 inches apart. Give each plant plenty of room and shelter from strong winds. Any fertilizer with nitrogen lightly mixed in will encourage strong root growth to protect them from the winds.
Caring for your sunflowers: water the root zone area often. Once the sunflower is sufficiently established (after more than 60 days), water deeply but infrequently (weekly) to encourage a deep root system. There is little need to feed plants or fertilize once they are established. If you feel compelled to fertilize, do so sparingly and dilute the fertilizer first with water. If planting the mammoths or skyscrapers, they most likely will need structured support. Bamboo stakes are ideal for this as well as ecofriendly.
I recently purchased my seeds from Amazon and am excited to plant some mammoth sunflowers in support of Ukraine while adding a delightful, fun flower to my garden. Send me your photos as yours grow and blossom! I paradoxically but specifically purchased the Mammoth Russian species as an extra kick in the pants to Putin (https://www.amazon.com/russian-mammoths)
Photo credit by Ukraine photographer: Aleksandr Eremin @notevilbird