Their huge, cheerful heads rising high above even the tallest plants in your garden, like a queen surveying her subjects, bright yellow sunflowers are sure to bring a smile to your face. Annual plants common in the Americas, regal Sunflowers (Helianthus) typically grow to heights of 5 to 12 feet. Scientific records note a sunflower plant in Padua, Italy that grew to the amazing height of 40 feet in 1567.
These sun loving plants are native to Central America and were first domesticated by Mexican natives in 2600 B.C. Three hundred years later, fossil evidence shows sunflower cultivation in Tennessee. Early American peoples who worshipped sun gods, including the Incas and Aztecs, used the sunflower as a religious symbol. Gold renderings of the plant in full flower were transported to Spain by conquistadors along with bags of sunflower seeds in the early 1500s. In the 1700s, sunflower oil was a highly sought European commodity. Today, roasted sunflower seeds are a popular American snack food. Sunflower seeds can even be ground into a healthy alternative for peanut butter called sunbutter.
Easy to grow, sunflowers add bold, bright color, height and joy to any summer garden. Plant sunflowers along a fence or behind shrubs or other garden plants toward the rear of garden beds. Sunflowers grow quickly and will soon tower over lower plants. Sunflowers do best in full sun and should be planted in organic-rich, well-drained soil. While heat tolerant, sunflowers should be waters daily in hot weather to keep the soil moist. Consider mulching sunflower beds to retain soil moisture.
Birds love sunflower seeds and will perch on flower heads to peck out seeds when they mature in the fall. Heads can be removed when seeds are ripe and stored for winter bird feed or left on the stems to add interest to the winter garden and provide a snack for migrating birds.