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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.

_____________

All content including photos is copyrighted by TendingMyGarden.com. All Rights Reserved.

 

 

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

  • Toni Melvin

    I have been growing sunflowers for about 5 years now. This year 2017 growing season, I have learned of the results of growing these beauties! The deer come right up and eat the young plants, and the squirrels have invaded EVERYTHING.
    They sure are beautiful and I love that they feed so many pollinators.

  • Theresa

    Toni, with all the problems you’ve had with gophers you sure don’t need deer and squirrels!
    Sorry you have deal with all that.
    Sunflowers have nectar that is said to be very high in protein and is thus an excellent source for bees.
    Theresa

  • Abby Stein

    Before Hurricane Sandy, I had sunflowers growing out front. Before the wind started to blow, the stalks bent way over in the direction the wind would blow to. During the eye of the storm they stood up again briefly and then bent way over the other way. After the storm, they stood up straight again.

  • Oh my! Here in Kansas, sunflowers are my friends! When I first moved to my 1923 bungalow (50′ X 125′ lot) and began gardening in 2009 the landscape was a disaster with invasive Bermuda grass from the neighbors on both sides and a dilapidated elm the only “ecological” features. Pair that with all kinds of poisons left in the garage for spraying insects, and – as an organic gardener of more than 3 decades – I had my work cut out for me. First ridding myself and “homestead” of the poisons, I set about researching how to get rid of Bermuda grass organically. Daunting. Most folks joking said that the only way was to move! I discovered that if I shaded out the Bermuda for two years (hard to do in full sunshine and no shade except from the poor old elm out by the curb) in patches I wanted to garden in, I could have vegetables and flowers. Most often I made large and small lasagna beds where I wanted to plant in the future. But the sunflowers that volunteered by the scores in my yards also came to my rescue during 5 years of drought out here on the short-mixed grass prairie while I was trying to convert my parcel of earth into a place where all sorts of birds and insects and diverse plants would want to visit and live. Oh, the sunflower stories I could tell! They “pre-shaded” areas where I would later put lasagna beds, weakening the dreadful Bermuda. Today I do not have space to grow so many volunteer sunflowers; Kansas sunflowers tend to sprawl out all over. But I am looking into the smaller kinds because they develop a symbiotic relationship with mychorrhizae, and I want to encourage the beneficial fungal networks in my soil biology all through my property. The only allelopathic problem I’ve ever noted -after almost 10 years of growing hundreds and hundreds of sunflowers – was after I’d been feeding birds over several winters with store bought sunflower seeds in feeders hung from my trellis and my rose was not doing well. (I’d just let the hulls stay in place to compost the area with them.) After reading about the allelopathic effects, I thoroughly cleaned out the “compost” and put good soil in its place, and the rose began to improve and is doing well now. I’ve always cut down my dried sunflower stalks in late fall and gathered bunches of stalks – like you would corn stalks to put them in shocks – and tied them together securely and put them around in different places on my property for the birds to eat out of and to shelter in over winter and early spring. Many of my sunflowers easily grow to 10 to 12 feet. When I cut them in the fall, I cut them to within about 6 to 8″ of the ground; I leave most fall garden debris over the winter to catch any snow we might get, and to provide homes for the beneficial insects that over-winter in hollow stalks. Plus some birds, like the male over-wintering Robins, can scratch through the litter for insects to eat. I will admit though that I now have a large pile of organic sunflower stalks (lamb’s quarters stalks, and lots of other debris) that I am slowly converting to compost. Thus, another encouragement to try the smaller sunflowers! I enjoyed reading about your adventures with sunflowers, and learned some new things. Who knew! But our persistent and strong winds out here on the prairie, and our constant tendencies to drought, must make our sunnie’s stems STRONG. Those things are stout, often an inch and a half thick, and can be 3 inches in diameter if they get supplemental water! They do not bend or break. I am glad to be getting your emails and I love reading your pages. Thanks!

  • Theresa

    Thanks for this great post Nan!
    Theresa

  • Kathi Whittington

    Definitely a newbie at gardening here in Austin Texas but I love trying new things and seeing growth. I planted sunflowers on the border of my garden this year and the thing I love the most about them is how they attract finches. I have lots of beautiful finches feasting on the plant material. Though they’re not looking very good right now I think we need to balance the visual Perfection we desire with the beautiful nature that thrive on our plants and bring Beauty to our living spaces as well. I do understand keeping squirrels away though and other pests but how I love to see beautiful animals also joyfully getting food.

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