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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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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 26:

Sacramento can expect another inch of rain from this latest storm. Leave the sprinklers off at least another week. Temps will dip down into the low 30s early in the week, so avoid planting tender seedlings (such as tomatoes). Concentrate on these tasks before or after this week’s rain:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Knock off aphids with a strong blast of water or some bug soap as soon as they appear.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to help corral blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees, which are now in bloom and setting fruit.

To prevent sunburn and borer problems on young trees, paint the exposed portion of the trunk with diluted white latex (water-based) interior paint. Dilute the paint with an equal amount of cold water before application.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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