It just isn’t summer without sunflowers. To me, summer is synonymous with sunflowers. Every year I grow them from seeds carefully saved from the season prior, and every year I am awed anew at their size, beauty and subtle ability to remind me to turn my face to the sun, a not so oblique reference to their ability to follow the sun.
These cheery beauties may take a while to achieve full size (at least 6 feet and often higher in my garden!), but every minute of their growth is a minor miracle to me. The first reason is because they can achieve such heights, a rarity amongst flowering annuals, and the second is due to their penchant for following the sun’s rays, a proclivity that makes me feel they are as sensitive as I am.
Van Gogh’s fascination with sunflowers is well known, and with no wonder. Anyone who has ever stood in a field of summer sunflowers would have a tendency to feel their own insignificance coupled with reverence.
Planting Sunflowers in the Garden
Another great thing is that growing sunflower plants is so easy. I sow the seeds about 10-12 inches (25-30 cm.) apart directly into the soil after frost for my region is over and the soil has warmed. The seeds germinate in about a week. Prior to sowing, I amend the soil with plenty of organic matter because anything that big must need some extra food, right?
Most years I plant them against a fence, which minimizes how much I need to stake them, but this year I’ll be growing sunflower plants against the house. I suspect I will need to stabilize them more this year, especially since the area is like a wind tunnel.
When the blooms are spent, I do a few things with them. I dry some of them by hanging them from the rafters in the basement. One of the heads will be used as saved seeds for the next season, and the others will be hung from trees or laid atop the snow in the winter for the critters.
But before I share with the birds and squirrels, I save some seeds for myself. First, I soak the seeds in salt water overnight and then drain them in the morning and pat them dry. The seeds then go on a cookie sheet, spread out so they aren’t overlapping and into a preheated 300 F. (149 C.) oven. Bake for 30-40 minutes, stirring them around every10 minutes or so until they are golden brown. Cool the roasted seeds and then store in an airtight container.
The heliotropic sunflower is to me a symbol of summer, even though the plants are actually in full bloom at the very end of summer”¦ but let’s not nitpick here.