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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 3:

* Celebrate the city flower! Catch the 100th Sacramento Camellia Show 3 to 6 p.m. Saturday, March 2, and 10 a.m to 5 p.m. Sunday, March 3, at the Scottish Rite Center, 6151 H St., Sacramento. Admission is free.

* Between showers, pick up fallen camellia blooms; that helps cut down on the spread of blossom blight that prematurely browns petals.

* Feed camellias after they bloom with fertilizer formulated for acid-loving plants.

* Camellias need little pruning. Remove dead wood and shape, if necessary.

* Tread lightly or not at all on wet ground; it compacts soil.

* Avoid digging in wet soil, too; wait until it clumps in your hand but doesn’t feel squishy.

* Note spots in your garden that stay wet after storms; improve drainage with the addition of organic matter such as compost.

* Keep an eye out for leaning trunks or ground disturbances around a tree’s base, a sign of shifting roots in the wet soil.

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

* If aphids are attracted to new growth, knock them off with a strong spray of water or insecticidal soap. To make your own “bug soap,” use two tablespoons liquid soap – not detergent – to one quart water in a spray bottle. Shake it up before use. Among the liquid soaps that seem most effective are Dr. Bronner’s Pure-Castile Soaps; try the peppermint scent.

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

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

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

* Make plans for your summer garden. Once the soil is ready, start adding amendments such as compost.

* Indoors, start seeds for summer favorites such as tomatoes, peppers and squash as well as summer flowers.

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