These showstoppers come in variety of colors, shapes, sizes SUNFLOWERS

By Marilyn McKinley

OSU master gardener volunteer

Who doesn’t love sunflowers? Big, bright, showy, cheerful, and so easy to grow.

Regular garden soil is just fine (meaning Mahoning Valley clay will work).

Native to North America, they have been used for thousands of years for their beauty, food, oil, medicine and dye.

But not all sunflowers are created equal.

There are about 70 cultivars.

Here’s a few things to consider before just planting any old seed:

Do you want giant heads perched on thick stalks?

Do you want pollen or non-pollen types?

Are you a traditionalist and want just yellow?

Would you like to spice it up with some deep colors?

Do you want the branchy type that can spread and make a huge plant, or a single flower head?

For me, I want some of everything.

If you feed the birds, you likely get little volunteer sunflowers under the feeders. I love these little guys.

First, about pollen. Want birds and bees in your garden? (Please, answer yes.) Sunflowers that produce pollen are a must. Check the seed packet for this information.

But there are sunflowers that are naturally pollenless, or sterile. They do have nectar, which will attract bees, but no pollen.

Pollen is an essential source of amino acids for bees and is used as feed for larvae. No pollen means no pollen dust on furniture or tables.

These varieties are quick to bloom – about 60 days – and come in a wide variety of colors.

You’ll see some of both of these in my gardens.

Next, do you want to grow giant sunflowers? I want that. My tallest ever (Mammoth) was 13 feet, 9 inches. Fun trying to measure.

The tallest varieties take longer to produce – up to 100 days. Be sure to check the seed package for details.

I had goldfinches, chickadees, and even a squirrel picking at the seeds. It is so fun to watch a squirrel try to get up the stalk and balance to eat the seeds, and even more comical when the wind blows.

Straight or branching? Do you prefer straight stems or the branching type? Of course, I must have both.

Single-stem varieties produce one flower. So, if you want continuous blooms for cutting you will need to sow seeds at two-week intervals. The single-stem types have a long vase life – about two weeks.

Branching cultivars produce many flowers with weak stems. The upside is lots of flowers and lots of color choices. They will not grow as tall, but are still rather large.

Many types have copious amounts of pollen, some none.

The vase life is about five days. Most varieties will bloom in 60-90 days. I like the Sunrich and ProCut varieties.

Choose Autumn Beauty for a mix of oranges, reds and yellows – perfect for fall bouquets.

Bottom line: Read the seed package. Check out your newest seed catalogues for pictures and details. Know that if someone hands you some seeds they have saved, you’ll probably get a surprise.

Visit for lists and photos of varieties you might like.

More like this from

Subscribe Today

Sign up for our email newsletter to receive daily news.

Want more? Click here to subscribe to either the Print or Digital Editions.