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Add some smiles to your summer garden

Lemon Queen sunflowers are a favorite for attracting bees. Sunflowers can be planted now for summer cheer. (Photo:
Debbie Arrington)

Sunflower planting time is here

Add smiles – and more bees – to your summer garden. Plant sunflowers.

Now is the best time to plant these fast-growing summer favorites. Direct seeded in the ground now, they’ll start turning their golden (or otherwise colorful) heads by late July or early August.

Sunflowers thrive in our Sacramento area. In fact, Yolo County is a hotbed for sunflower hybridization, producing scores of new varieties and color combinations. Yolo also produces vast quantities of sunflower seed for commercial growers in other states.

Our climate has just what sunflowers want: Lots of summer sun and heat with little rain. Although sunflowers require consistent irrigation (about the same as tomatoes), they stand up better if not subjected to wet and stormy weather.

The head of this Russian Mammoth is almost 2 feet across.
(Photo: Debbie Arrington)
Sunflowers are known for their colossal size; some varieties such as American Giant and Russian Mammoth easily top 12 feet. If growing tall sunflowers, give them some room. Space plants about 3 feet apart.

New dwarf sunflowers offer the same cheery flowers but on much shorter plants. Little Becka and Pacino, two popular dwarfs, average 1 to 2 feet tall.

Hybridization has produced sunflowers in almost every hue (except blue), from creamy white to near black plus combinations. Chianti, a deep wine red, and Moulin Rouge, a bright red sunflower with a center to match, were developed for the florist trade as cut flowers. Fantastic in the vase, they look equally dramatic in the summer garden.

Over the past 20 years, sunflowers have become among the best sellers in the cut flower trade, symbolizing adoration and happiness.

As a food crop, they trace back thousands of years. Sunflowers are considered North America’s second oldest domesticated food plant. (Squash is No. 1.)

Sunflowers will thrive in just about any location with full sun and enough space to put down their big roots. Because some varieties can get very tall, plant on the north end of your garden to prevent shading nearby crops.

Yes, you could say bees like sunflowers! (Photo: Kathy Morrison)
If planting for bees and other pollinators, make sure the variety you choose has pollen. (Several new hybrids are pollenless.) The top sunflower choice for bee-friendly gardens is Lemon Queen, which has light yellow petals and a chocolate brown center. This sunflower’s bushy habit produces many blooms on one plant instead of one gigantic flower and seed head.

Sunflowers are heavy feeders. Add some compost or aged manure to the planting area; the fast-growing plants will appreciate the boost.

Expect to see the first blooms in about 50 to 60 days, depending on variety. Then, get ready to smile.


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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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