It’s really hard not to like sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). These must-have annuals are like bright yellow smiley faces of the garden world. Even on a dreary day they add cheery fun, and it doesn’t hurt that birds, butterflies, squirrels and chipmunks adore them, too!
- Flowers in shades of yellow, orange, white, apricot or red in mid- to late summer
- Full sun
- Moist, well-drained soil
- Powdery mildew is an occasional problem
- Up to 14 ft. tall, 30 in. wide
Sunflowers in every size and color
There’s a wide variety of this sun-loving annual available. As you can see in the chart above, plants range in size from 1 to 14 feet tall, and you’ll find pastel, deep red to orange and even twisted or velvety petals! Their big seeds are easy to start right in the garden. I’ll share seven varieties with outstanding features and give you the low-down on what’s special about each one and the best ways to use it in your garden. Here are a few of my favorites.
1. ‘Pacino’ sunflower
This sunflower mix stays small — just 12 to 16 inches tall when grown in a pot, a little taller in the garden. A good branching habit produces numerous 5-inch-diameter yellow flowers that have yellow or yellow-green centers.
Plant a row of them at the front edge of a windowbox for a flowery impact.
2. ‘Ballad’ sunflower
Reaching 24 to 30 inches high, ‘Ballad’ is a very mildew-resistant variety. Bright gold blooms get 4 to 5 inches across and are pollenless, unlike some other garden sunflowers, so they won’t bother you if you’re allergic to flower pollen and won't be messy if you bring them indoors.
3. ‘Double Dandy’ sunflower
Touted as the first double red sunflower, ‘Double Dandy’ reaches 2 feet tall. Rosy colored, 4-inch double flowers open on very branched stems. This compact plant is great in containers, but don’t hesitate to cut the pollen-free blooms to enjoy indoors, too.
4. ‘Red Courtesan’ sunflower
If you want an interesting color in your sunflower bed, try this 4- to 5-foot-tall variety with 5-inch deep red petals surrounding a nearly black center. This good branching variety means you’ll get more flowers on each plant.
‘Red Courtesan’ looks especially good against a lighter-colored background, such as a white fence, where it’ll really show well.
5. ‘Honey Bear’ sunflower
The word “cuddly” springs to mind when you look at the fuzzy double golden flowers of this sunflower. Each bloom is ringed with a row of single petals. Give this plant some elbow room, though. At 60 to 72 inches tall and 24 to 26 inches wide, it’s great for massing or creating a sunny hedge.
6. ‘Magic Roundabout’ sunflower
You might be tempted to plant this 6- to 8-foot beauty in the back of the border, where it can reign over smaller plants in the bed. But the pretty 5-inch red and yellow blooms are great cut flowers. So be sure to grow it where you can reach them — though you may need a step ladder!
7. ‘Mammoth Gray Stripe’ sunflower
Like to grow the biggest and best? Plant a row of this giant 12-foot sunflower. Huge 12-inch flowers open atop sturdy stems (though they may need staking in a windy spot). It’s one of the best producers of seeds, whether they’re harvested by birds, or the gardeners who grow them.
So whatever the size of your garden, pick up a packet or two of any of these sunflower seeds and grow some sunshine!