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Vermont Garden Journal: Sunflowers

AP Photo/Itsuo Inouye

This Native American flower was one of the earliest examples of Russian and American cooperation. It has been grown in the Americas for thousands of years, but became popular in modern times due to breeding in Russia. It's the sunflower.

The common sunflower was originally grown in the Southwest 5000 years ago. Native Americans used the seed for food, dyes, medicine and oil. Though the Europeans started growing sunflowers in the 1500's, it was mostly as an ornamental. It wasn't until Peter the Great of Russia started growing it on the large scale for oil production that sunflowers started booming in popularity as an agricultural crop.

There are many types of sunflowers to grow in our gardens. They're a diverse group such as the massive 15 foot tall Mammoth Russian with large heads and tons of seeds, or the diminutive 2 foot tall 'Teddy Bear' with a fluffy yellow flower that looks more like a chrysanthemum. I like the multi-head varieties such as  'Soraya', 'Autumn Beauty' and 'Italian White'. These grow 4 to 6 feet tall and have smaller, more colorful heads. If you're looking for sunflower seed production, stick with the Russian varieties, but for ornamental purposes, look for these multi-headed varieties. Many also are pollen-less so they don't make a mess when used as a cut flower indoors. For a real treat, harvest any sunflower head before it opens while it's still in the bud form. Steam and eat the head like a globe artichoke. It's delicious!

Most sunflowers are annuals that grow well on well drained fertile soil in full sun. For a perennial version grow the small headed varieties such as Maximillan which tend to bloom in late summer and fall.

Now for this week's tip, plant fall cabbages, cauliflower and broccoli transplants now to get a harvest of these tasty brassicas in September and October. Protect them from insects and the hot sun and keep them well watered.

Next week on The Vermont Garden Journal I'll be talking about some Italian herbs. Until then, Ciao and I'll be seeing you in the garden.

Perennial Sunflowers
Growing and Selecting Sunflowers
Sunflower History

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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