COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — This year I have really fallen in love with sunflowers. I have always liked them, but this year, I am in love. I love them because of their cheerful disposition, because they are so dang easy to grow, and even more because they are such great plants for the habitat garden.
Sunflowers lure pollinators in with their tall form and bright-colored flowers and then they reward them with abundant sources of both pollen and nectar. Both smaller bees and butterflies find an easy perch on their wide flat heads. Bees that are attracted to sunflowers include bumble bee, digger bee, large carpenter bee, small carpenter bee, leafcutter bee, sweat bee, plasterer bee, andrenid (miner) bee, and honey bees. Even the leaves of sunflower are a good source of food for a variety of butterfly caterpillars including American Lady, Silvery Checkerspot, and Gorgone Checkerspot. Later, the black, oily seeds provide food for a variety of birds such as finches, juncos, and chickadees. Make sure to save a few seeds yourself to plant for next year.
Another reason to like sunflowers is to provide quick screening from neighbors. If you have planted a slower-growing shrub or vine to block a view, but want more instant results, plant some of the larger sunflowers. Some of the ones in my garden are already 7 feet tall at the end of June!
You can also use sunflowers to create a hidden, shady fort for children to play in.
Some tips for growing sunflowers:You can also use sunflowers to create a hidden, shady fort for children to play in.
Plant in full sun. Sunflowers, especially the wild-type sunflower, are drought tolerant, but will bloom better and grow taller with some water. That said, I am astonished at how well the wild sunflowers are flowering here in our extreme drought and heat this summer.
Plant in groups to make it easy on pollinators to forage efficiently. Don’t buy pollen-less single-stem varieties — these are good for the cut-flower industry, but bad for pollinators. Branched sunflowers are a much better bet, plus produce more blooms for you to enjoy.
Plant several different varieties to provide a continuous supply of flowers from late summer to fall. Look for “days to bloom” on the back of seed packets and plant a variety. As a gardener, you can revel in colors ranging from yellows to oranges to reds, with wildly different sizes of plants and flowers. You can also sow sunflowers every couple of weeks in the spring to increase bloom time.
— Irene Shonle, El Paso County Extension
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