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Wednesday, October 4, 2023
Oct. 4, 2023

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Sowing sunshine: How to grow your own majestic sunflower patch


Is there any plant more cheerful and charming than a sunflower?

Since last year, the sunny yellow bloom — the national flower of Ukraine — also has become a hopeful global symbol of solidarity with the Ukrainian people.

In Minnesota, glorious golden sunflower fields, planted in waves so some rows are nearly always in bloom, are a late-summer destination for thousands to take photos and soak up some cheer.

The big, beautiful annual is also one of the easiest flowers to start from seed. If you’re looking to start your own patch, the steps are simple.

While you can start seedlings indoors, Kelsey Sparks, who hosts Sunflower Field Days each year at her Isanti farm and sells sunflower seeds at Green Barn Garden Center, recommends planting seeds directly after all danger of frost has passed.

“Planting closer together will cause the flowers to be smaller,” she cautions — so follow the instructions on the seed packet.

There are hundreds of varieties to consider — from those that do well as cut flowers, to those that grow seeds for snacks or ones for bird feeders. “Keep in mind that sunflowers can be yellow, gold, lemon, burgundy or a blend of colors,” Sparks says, adding that many people love “teddy bear” types, which have fluffy flowers.

Shorter varieties can match the height of young children, but giant 10-foot mammoths are also a fun choice.

Because many varieties bloom for as little as 10 days, sunflower farmers often use a technique called “succession planting” to ensure a continuous field of yellow. You can do this at home by planting varieties that have different bloom times, or plant a single variety at intervals, adding seeds to your patch every 10 to 14 days, Sparks says.

New, bushy sunflower varieties like Suncredible Yellow do well in containers and will also naturally bloom for longer, with multiple flowers per stem, she says.

Finally, don’t forget to protect your little patch of sunshine, especially early on, says Peg Johnson, who grows more than a million sunflowers at her Treasured Haven Farm near Rush City, Minn., each year.

“Taller varieties may need protection from strong winds,” she says. “Newly sprouted sunflowers are also a tender treat for deer and other animals.”