There are lots of good reasons to plant sunflowers: They’re tall and cheerful. The flowers can be cut for Van Gogh-worthy bouquets. They’re inexpensive and easy to grow from seed. Dried heads of sunflower seeds provide a treat for songbirds. As the state flower of Kansas, my home state, they’re also a reminder of my roots, which is reason enough for me to include them in my Pennsylvania garden. In return for all this, the only demand that sunflowers make is that you plant them in full sun.
There are so many varieties and colors and sizes of annual sunflowers in seed catalogs, it’s hard to choose. I look for branching varieties in the six-foot range; these types tend to bloom all summer long, offering lots of flowers for cutting. Varieties grown for their edible seeds are worth growing, too, although this type usually expends all its energy in producing one huge flower and then calls it quits. If you want to win popularity contests among the neighborhood squirrels, harvest the saucer-sized seed heads and store them in a dry spot indoors to bring out as a midwinter indulgence. —Doug Hall