Gardening: Why size is not the be all and end all for sunflowers

A trial bed of sunflowers, tall and short, at the Royal Horticultural Society's Harlow Carr garden in Harrogate.
A trial bed of sunflowers, tall and short, at the Royal Horticultural Society's Harlow Carr garden in Harrogate.

It’s the time of year when you reap the rewards of growing sunflowers, with the traditional huge yellow heads nodding over the garden.

However, it’s not all about size – popular big ‘uns like Russian Giant (3m) and Mongolian Giant (3.6-4.2m) are one long stem with a flower – no good for a prolonged display or a small garden.

Solar Flash, a great performer for a windy site.

Solar Flash, a great performer for a windy site.

The way forward is plants under one metre tall with multiple flowerers – once the main flower has died off, dead-head it and others will grow from the leaf nodes, keeping the display going until the first frosts.

Another problem with the giants is wind damage, so keeping plants short and stocky avoids this problem.

Top 11 dwarf multi-branching sunflower varieties:

I’ve organised these from the smallest to the tallest, with a wide range of warm colours.

Solar Flash contrasting with lavender.

Solar Flash contrasting with lavender.

F1 Suntastic Yellow (20-30cm): Bushy, dwarf variety is early, pollen free and long-blooming, producing yellow flowers with dark centres. Widely available.

Choco Sun (35cm): Small, quick-flowering sunflower, blooming in 11-12 weeks from sowing. Widely available.

Irish Eyes (45cm): Dwarf and compact, producing many branched stems. Yellow flowers with a green central disc. Widely available.

Teddy Bear (45cm): Big, double, fluffy flowers 15cm wide on very compact plants. Widely available.

Dwarf Yellow Spray (45-60cm): Neat, dwarf habit can be used to create a hedge, www.thompson-morgan.com.

Solar Flash (50cm): Dwarf, bushy plants with multi-headed, early flowering pollen-free flowers in gold and bronze with a chocolate centre. Widely available.

Total Eclipse (50-60cm): Contrasting deep bronze with dark leaves and a lemon yellow with light leavesin this branching blend, www.suttons.co.uk.

Waooh! (60-80cm): Masses of golden flowers with large, dark, central discs from mid July-September, www.suttons.co.uk.

Music Box (70cm): Freely branching plants with dark-centred flowers in colours from cream to mahogany via yellow including some lovely bicolours. Widely available.

Jade Green (90cm): Petals open lime green and fade to almost white, pollen free, www.suttons.co.uk.

Sonja (1m): Small, erect plants are well filled with side branches and produce strong-stemmed dark-centred blooms in unusual tangerine-gold-orange. Widely available.

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JOBS FOR THE WEEKEND

Keep picking autumn-fruiting raspberries and prune out fruited canes on summer-cropping varieties.

Hebes and lavenders can be given a light prune after flowering.

Give hedges a final trim over now. They will only grow a little before cold weather stops growth.

Hyacinths, ‘Paperwhite’ daffodils, freesias, and Lachenalia corms can be planted in bowls now to achieve flowers for Christmas. Once they have put on 2.5cm (1in) growth, they can be taken into a cool room, only to be brought into a warm room in time to flower for the festive period. Bulbs sold as ‘prepared’ can be forced by plunging the planted bowls in a cold, dark place for a few months, then bringing them straight inside to flower.

Lawns on thin soils may benefit from a high phosphate feed. This will strengthen the roots for winter, rather than encouraging lush top growth that could suffer in the cold and weaken the grass.

Dig over any areas due to be grassed over later in the year. Leave them for a few weeks to allow weeds to re-emerge, and then spray with a weedkiller or hoe off to ensure thorough weed clearance before seeding or laying turf in the autumn.

Summer prune apple and pear trees to encourage more fruiting spurs. Put grease bands on fruit trees to catch wingless winter moths.

Plant out rooted strawberry runners and pot some up to bring into the greenhouse later in winter for early fruits.

Vegetables to sow now include lettuces, spinach, land cress, purslane, beetroot, radishes, coriander, spring onions, calabrese, spring greens, turnips for their green tops, Swiss chard, winter spinach and hardy Japanese onions.

Prune pyracantha and train shoots to supports.

Prepare soil to plant evergreen shrubs and conifers by digging it over and incorporating lots of organic matter.

Hoe and hand weed borders.

Pinch out the tips of wallflowers to promote bushier growth.

Buy spring-flowering bulbs like tulips, crocuses, narcissus and fritillaries.