(Helianthus annuus and hybrids) Sunflowers are great fun for kids to plant, and, of course, the birds will love you for providing them with one of their favorite foods. Flowers come in a range of colors, from white and orange to claret-red, bronze, and bicolors. The large seeds are easy to handle; thin seedlings to stand 2 to 4 feet apart, depending on the cultivar. Tall sunflowers grow 4 to 6 feet tall; dwarf sunflowers maintain a more manageable height for smaller gardens of 2 to 3 feet. They love heat and tolerate drought. Flower heads turn to follow the arc of the sun. If you want to keep the seeds to feed birds in winter, cover the seed heads with mesh as they ripen.
Uses and Combinations: Use at the back of a border, group for a screen or plant as a hedge, or as cut flowers. Dwarf varieties take well to large containers, where they do best on their own, although you can combine them with ornamental grasses, such as pennisetum or blue oat grass, and black-eyed Susans and marigolds.zinnias produce flowers nonstop all season. Sow seeds in the border thinly because germination rates are high and plants grow better when not crowded. Fertilize at least once a month and water frequently unless nature provides rain. Avoid getting water on the foliage; that promotes mildew, although many newer hybrids are mildew resistant. Zinnias need a site in full sun, except in the hotter regions of the south and southwest, where they appreciate some midday and late afternoon shade. They are not fussy about soil, as long as it drains well.
Uses and Combinations: Zinnias practically define 'cut flowers' because the more you cut, the more you get from July to frost. Stake tall zinnias in a cutting garden. Use shorter zinnias to edge a bed ('Profusion White', 'Cherry' and 'Orange' create flower mounds around a garden) and in containers. Combine plants with other annuals such as blue salvia, bachelor's buttons, marigolds, and silver-leaved dusty miller, as well as perennials from Shasta daisies and helenium to Russian sage, black-eyed Susan, and pennisetum. Z. angustifolia makes an excellent ground cover.
Follow seed packet directions.
More Annual Flowers and Herbs
Easily Grown From Seed
- Bachelor's button (Centaurea cyanus)
- Basil (Ocimum basilicum)
- Blanket flower (Gaillardia)
- Cilantro (Coriandrum sativum)
- Dill (Anthemum graveolens)
- Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena)
- Moonflower (Ipomoea alba)
- Nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
- Poppy (Papaver rhoeas)
- Spider flower (Cleome hasslerana)
- Strawflower (Helichrysum bracteatum )
A Few Tips
- Cover seeds with enough soil to protect them from wind and wildlife: 1/4 to 1/2 inch, or 2 to 3 times their thickness.
- Water the seedbed to keep it evenly moist until the seeds germinate.
- Thin seedlings to the correct mature plant spacing (seed packets provide this information) when they grow 1 to 2 inches tall. Gently pull them up and transplant the thinned seedlings to other parts of the garden, or snip thestems off at the soil surface.
- Mulch plants (when they are tall enough so you won't bury them!) to prevent weeds and to conserve soil moisture. Spread mulch 2 to 3 inches deep.
- Pinch off the growing tips of some annuals, such as basil, marigolds, and strawflowers, to promote bushy, compact growth.
- Water plants near the soil surface not from overhead, whenever possible.
- Check container plants often in hot, dry weather, when you may need to water once or twice a day.
- Fertilize most annuals at least once during the growing season; midway through gives them the boost they need to perform beautifully until frost.