It’s easy to see why the sunflower is one of the world’s favorite flowers. They’re easy to grow, have easy-to-save seeds, and are undeniably cheerful in the garden. Open-pollinated types are magnets for bees in the spring and summer, and for birds as the seeds develop. Here are 5 unique open-pollinated sunflower varieties to consider planting in your garden this year.
'Lemon Queen' Sunflower
'Lemon Queen' is an heirloom sunflower variety with lemon-yellow petals and rich chocolate-colored centers - a combination that bees find absolutely irresistible. The plants tend to grow about 6 feet tall in average conditions. 'Lemon Queen' is a branching type of flower, where each plant can bear on to two dozen flowers.
The 'Lemon Queen' Sunflower is a perfect choice for gardeners hoping to attract pollinators to their yards. Because each plant gradually produces multiple branches and flowers, this type provides continuous blooms over a long flowering season. These pollen-filled stunners are best left to flower in the garden where the wildlife can enjoy them as they tend to drop quite a bit of pollen if used in floral arrangements.
'Autumn Beauty' Sunflower
'Autumn Beauty' is a classic heirloom sunflower with variable, highly ornamental petals in shades of yellow gold, burgundy red, rusty orange, and beautiful bronze. This branching sunflower produces multiple blooms on each stem, with plants growing an average of 6 feet tall (depending on growing conditions).
With all of the colors of fall leaves, 'Autumn Beauty' is a bold and beautiful choice for the garden and home landscape. These are hardy, reliable plants that bloom over a long flowering season. The flower heads are about 6 inches across, making them a nice choice for smaller spaces and up-close viewing.
'Teddy Bear' Sunflower
'Teddy Bear' is a beloved dwarf sunflower variety with stunning double petals. These cute fluffy blooms are like living pom poms, and make excellent cut flowers for bouquets. The plants grow only 2-3 feet high (depending on growing conditions).
'Teddy Bear' sunflowers are perfect for a children’s container garden or a small space where shorter stalks are preferred. Kids and adults alike love the cheerful puffy flowers. This van Gogh-type variety attracts pollinators but also tends to hold its pollen well when used in bouquets. It’s an all-round winner!
'Mammoth Grey Striped' Sunflower
'Mammoth' is an old standard sunflower variety grown both for its sky-high height and for the big, striped sunflower seeds it produces. 'Mammoth' Sunflower plants grow about 10 feet tall on average, but can certainly grow taller if conditions permit.
'Mammoth' sunflowers are just as much a treat to behold as they are to harvest. The tall plants are showstoppers as they tower over the garden! Harvest the sunflower seeds from the 1 foot wide single heads or leave them up for the eager birds that have been spying them all summer.
'Titan' is an heirloom sunflower prized for its giant flower heads, which routinely reach 1 to 2 feet across. The giant sunflower heads are supported by tall, sturdy stems that can easily reach 10 feet tall.
As with its 'Mammoth' relative, the seeds inside the 'Titan’s single head are also much bigger than many other sunflowers. Titan sunflowers tend to develop thicker stems and roots than traditional Mammoth sunflowers, and are therefore less likely to blow over in the wind or have hanging flower heads.
More Tips for Open-Pollinated Sunflowers
Open-pollinated sunflowers are one of the easiest crops from which to save seeds. Gardeners can select seeds over time that are acclimated to their growing region and that reflect desirable traits. For instance, many gardeners who love growing tall sunflowers will save the seeds from the tallest sunflower to plant in their garden next year. The rest of the seeds are delicious roasted or even sprouted into sunflower microgreens over the winter.
Photos by Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford is a gardening blogger and video creator based in British Columbia, Canada. She is continuing the task of creating a productive landscape around her childhood home for her own children to enjoy and learn from. Mary Jane writes about her experiences on her gardening blog, Home for the Harvest. She also vlogs about her garden and about natural living on her YouTube channel. Connect with Mary Jane on Pinterest and Twitter, and read all of her MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.