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If Van Gogh had seen these sunflowers ...

New colors, sizes, habits, and still just as easy to grow

You have to love sunflowers. They offer everything a gardener could ask of an annual. Easy to grow and almost foolproof, they're also beautiful-as evidenced by their depictions in paintings by some of the world's great artists.

Flower color, as well as plant shape and size, varies enough to fit almost any garden. And because they make wonderful cut flowers and their seeds can provide food, it's hard to imagine why sunflowers don't grow in every garden.

In mild climates, March is a good month to start planting. For choices, look on seed racks or in catalogs (see page 206 for sources). Sow directly in the ground as soon as the frost threat passes, and continue sowing until midsummer. First blossoms will appear in two to three months, depending on variety.

Not all sunflowers are yellow, and not all tower above you

Our photographs show the range of sizes and kinds available. (Flowers in the large picture were grown by UC Cooperative Extension's Santa Clara County office.)

Sunflower plants come in two basic types: branching and nonbranching. The nonbranching varieties-including many of the tall, large-flowered kinds grown for seed-produce one flower at the top. Branching varieties, grown as ornamentals, produce many smaller flowers along their trunks, but no edible seeds. Tallest varieties of either kind can reach more than 10 feet. Newer dwarfs, like 'Sunspot', stay under 2 feet but still have a large flower.

Flowers range from the huge seed types such as 'Giganteus' and 'Mammoth', which can grow more than a foot in diameter, to smaller ornamentals such as 'Primrose' (less than 6 inches across). Some show the familiar single-flower form, while others-including dwarf 'Teddy Bear'-are double-flowering.

Flower colors include sunny light yellow 'Luna', gazania-like orange-yellow bicolor 'Autumn Beauty', and dark mahogany red 'Abendsonne'.

How to plant, grow, and harvest Choose a spot with full sun and well drained soil. Flowers usually face southeast; plant for best views of them.

Taller sunflowers' bold foliage makes them wonderful background plants, temporary screens, or vegetable garden borders. Shorter varieties grow well in containers or in beds.

To plant, turn the soil and sow seeds about an inch deep and 6 inches apart. Keep moist until germination; one easy method for a long row is to install singleline drip irrigation (ooze tube or perforated pipe). Thin seedlings to about 2 feet apart. In ordinary garden soil, sunflowers won't need fertilizer. Plants can take some drought, but you'll get bigger flowers and more strongly anchored plants with regular deep watering.

Harvest seeds when the flower head dries completely and before winter rains begin. Some people have allergic reactions when they handle stalks, so you might want to wear gloves and a long-sleeved shirt. If you must cut the heads before they're dry, leave about 2 feet of stalk and hang the flower head upside-down in a warm, dry place. If birds or squirrels start harvesting your sunflowers before you do, cover the flower head with a paper bag and tie the bottom to the stalk with string.
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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:Vincent Van Gogh
Date:Mar 1, 1989
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