Sensational sunflowers

Music box sunflower (photo by Rick Wetherbee)

With dazzling blooms that come in an ever-changing palette of sun-drenched colors, the once-towering native plant of the Americas is turning heads in a big, bold, and colorful new way

Giant sunflowers like “Mammoth Russian” with their sunny yellow blooms and massive seed-producing heads may have reigned in Ohio gardens in the past. The beloved annual has evolved, however, and sensational sunflowers now come in more sizes, types, and colors than ever before. These days, gardeners can grow varieties in single- and bicolor shades of yellow, orange, rosy pink, ruby red, purple, bronze, and even white.

Height varies as well, with compact varieties growing 1 to 3 feet tall. As such, they are a great option for container gardens or as border or edging plants in the flower garden. Taller, multi-branching types grow 4 to 6 feet tall and produce multiple flower heads for mass appeal. Some varieties are bred to produce especially large seeds, while pollen-free types such as “Bashful” and “Cherry Rose” clean up as the cream of the crop for cut flowers with a longer shelf life.

Of course, the towering giants with massive heads still have their place in the garden as an attractive, living bird-feeding station, a fast-growing hedgerow, or a barrier to disguise an unsightly view. With so many options to choose from, why not go beyond the standard and dial up the attraction with one of these out-of-the-box varieties.

Autumn Beauty

This multi-branching plant grows to 5 feet tall, with single- and bicolor blooms up to 8 inches across in shades of yellow, bronze, and purple-red. One plant can have up to two dozen flowers all open at the same time, making it a cutting favorite, despite the pollen. (1,2)

Music Box

A delightful dwarf plant, growing 24 to 28 inches tall, resounds with 4- to 5-inch blooms in solid and bicolor shades of cream to yellow to mahogany-red. Its multi-branched habit produces plenty of flowers. (2)

Floristan

Another cut flower favorite, this multi-branching plant grows 3 to 4 feet tall. Dark chocolate disks are surrounded by bicolor blooms of reddish-brown rays tipped in light yellow to orange hues. (3)

Ring of Fire

A visually striking variety that really lights up the landscape with bicolored petals of deep red-burgundy toward the center that transition to golden yellow at the tips. This multi-branching variety grows to 4 feet tall, with a profusion of 5- to 6-inch flowers. (2,3)

Strawberry Blonde

Stunning rose-pink sunflowers brushed with lemon-yellow tips surround a dark chocolate center. It has a nice branching habit, so there are plenty of 5- to 6-inch pollen-free blooms to enjoy in the garden or showcase in a vase indoors. Grows 5 to 6 feet tall. (1)

Teddy Bear

A truly unique sunflower, “Teddy Bear” has soft and cushy chrysanthemum-like 4- to 6-inch blooms topping sturdy branched stems. This dwarf variety grows 21/2 to 3 feet tall, and the full double yellow blooms are as eye-catching in the garden as they are in a vase or larger floral arrangement. (1,2,3)

The Joker

A whimsical mix of eye-catching colors in semi-double and double blooms. The 4- to 7-inch flowers sport a two-tone mix of red, orange, brown, gold, and other autumnal hues for a blanket of color that’s sure to impress. This multi-branched sunflower grows to 6 feet in height, is pollen-free, and is one of the earliest to bloom. (3)