Sunflowers in Your Borders or Garden – Dramatic? – Yes, but Is There a Downside?

Before I show you pictures that will most likely create a desire within you to grow Sunflowers, I’ll give you the downside.

Once I started growing flowers (39 years ago), it didn’t take long to discover Sunflowers.  My love affair with them in my borders was short lived and I found them more trouble than they were worth.

Although stalks are thick, they blow over easily and I didn’t find them appealing at all when that happened.  Had no interest in staking them.

They were even less appealing when they finished blooming.

Since then I’ve added some other reasons to the list that are probably more important.

Sunflower seeds attract squirrels. If you’re dependent on your garden for food, you don’t want squirrels. Once they get started, they’ll take a bite out of everything you grow.

Deer love the tender leaves of sunflowers when they’re just starting to grow.

Another thing to consider before you grow sunflowers: They produce chemicals that can inhibit germination and/or growth of other plants.

This makes them allelopathic.

Because of this trait, they make poor companion plants particularly near vegetables. Potatoes and beans especially, should not be planted near sunflowers.

My friend and reader, Jim S. found this out the hard way. His pole beans never recovered. (More about Jim in a minute.)

Some time a plant can be allelopathic and you can deal with it easily.

For example, winter rye is allelopathic. But with careful planning a gardener (or farmer) can wait 2 or 3 of weeks to plant after the rye has been harvested. By then, the allelopathic properties cease to exist even though the rye may have been tilled into the soil.

But with sunflowers the chemicals are said to remain in the soil for some time.

Ok. The bad stuff is out the way and you know what to expect.

I Grew a Few Sunflowers This Year!

Here’s how it happened and how I used them.

Various seed suppliers send a package of free seed along with each order. I happen to get a package of Sunflower Lemon Queen.

At first I wasn’t going to plant them. And then I thought of using a couple of them as an accent in my border at the very back of the property.

I thought about squirrels, but my reasoning was that this was only 4 sunflowers at the very back of the property and maybe I could get off lucky. (I think I did. Maybe.)

Here are pictures of how things turned out. (Click to enlarge.)

The border at the back of our property. Left to right:  an ornamental bamboo that is not invasive; Helianthus summer queen; Lemon Queen sunflower (also in the Helianthus family); Buddleia; Asters not yet blooming; Giant Rudbeckia.


Closer view showing Lemon Queen Sunflower, Helianthus Summer Sun and purple Buddleia.


The border would have still been pretty without the sunflowers, but they were spellbinding because of them.

A Contrasting Perspective

Just before writing this post I received an email from my friend, Jim, in Illinois telling me about his experience growing Mammoth sunflowers.

I found the pictures he sent so amazing that I wanted to share them with you.

Jim is an incredibly gifted gardener and these pictures with his sunflowers only give you a hint of what he is capable of.

Jim and Mammoth Sunflowers about 15 feet tall.

He told me the sunflowers were the star of the season – but a lot of work. In case you want to know what it takes to get this effect, here’s what Jim wrote:

“— at first glance from outside the garden it really was a spectacular sight. It was also a lot of work…I literally pulled out every scrap of metal pipe, elec conduit, copper pipe, steel rod I had to support these plants.

Although they were all fastened at the three foot mark (on the fence) with a strong length of wire, they also needed additional support up along their final height of approx 15 feet.

The stalks had become like small diameter tree trunks, hard and solid but even a gentle wind would force the plant crashing down. This happened twice and I quickly reinforced each plant.

The stalk resembled a large piece of bamboo. I was frequently up on top of my 8′ ladder securing these giants.”

Close up of Mammoth sunflower.

It’s too bad that more folks couldn’t see the view from the roof of Jim’s garage.

On the roof looking down at the sunflowers.

The squirrels discovered the sunflowers in late August and he covered them with mesh bags to protect the seed.

Sunflower heads covered with red mesh bags after the squirrels discovered them in late August.

Jim said, “—it never dawned on me that squirrels would be drawn to the seeds!

Squirrels are the last thing I want to invite anywhere near my garden…now I have thousands of their favorite seeds inches away from my veggies!

People have asked me if I’m going to plant these sunflowers again next year…no way!”

Final Thoughts

There are always pros and cons to everything.  Do you have any sunflower stories you’d like to share? I’d love to hear them.

Never grown sunflowers before?  Will you?


Having fun with flowers in spite of all the difficulties.


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