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Get free 'Autumn Beauty' sunflower seeds at Harvest Day

Sunflowers can be planted in late summer for autumn blooms

'Autumn Beauty' sunflowers are often multicolored in shades of bright yellow, dark gold and rich bronze.

'Autumn Beauty' sunflowers are often multicolored in shades of bright yellow, dark gold and rich bronze.

Kathy Morrison

What can you plant in August that will add wow to your autumn table – and make birds very happy? Fast-growing, sun-loving sunflowers.

Sunflowers aren’t just for summer in Sacramento. In fact, this sunny annual can produce two crops: One planted in late winter or early spring for June flowers and July seeds, plus a second round planted in late summer or early fall for late fall or winter harvest. Quick-maturing varieties can be planted as late as October in Sacramento to produce blooms by New Year’s Day. (Their only limitation: They can’t take hard frost.)

See for yourself with free sunflower seeds offered by Sacramento Digs Gardening. The SDG seeds are part of the goody bags available free (while supply lasts) to anyone who turns out for Saturday’s Harvest Day at the Fair Oaks Horticulture Center in Fair Oaks Park. Gates open at 8 a.m. (There will be lots of other great stuff in those bags, too.)

We Sacramentans love sunflowers, probably because sunflowers love Sacramento and the Central Valley. Yolo County produces much of the nation’s hybrid sunflower seed – not to eat, but to grow (often just for their flowers).

When planted in late summer, sunflower seeds sprout rapidly in warm soil. Plant seeds about 1 inch deep and keep evenly moist; the better the soil, the faster they’ll grow.

Most sunflowers mature in under 100 days; that’s not the time to produce flowers, but to form dried seed. A seed-packed sunflower head is ready to cut when the back of the flower head turns yellow to brown, the petals shrivel and the head droops forward, due to the heavy seeds.

You also can tell they’re ready to pick by the increased bird activity around your sunflowers. To keep the seeds for yourself to eat (or to plant next year), place a large paper grocery bag over the ripe head and secure it with string around the stem. Then, cut the stem and let the flower head dry inside the bag in a cool dark place. The seeds will drop into the bottom of the bag for easy collection.

As a cut flower, sunflowers offer a quick return on any time or effort. Sunflower blooms often appear in 50 to 60 days and branching varieties keep producing more flowers for at least another month, depending on the variety. Planted now, your sunflowers will provide bouquets in time for Halloween.

For our Harvest Day giveaway, we chose ‘Autumn Beauty’ sunflowers, which live up to their name. Growing 4 to 6 feet tall, this branching variety matures in 70 to 80 days with flowers in six to seven weeks. An excellent cut flower with strong stems, the large blooms are often bicolor in shades of bright yellow, dark gold and rich bronze.

Hosted by the Sacramento County master gardeners, Harvest Day is the Sacramento region’s largest free garden education event. Fair Oaks Hort Center is located at 11549 Fair Oaks Blvd., Fair Oaks.



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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of Nov. 26:

Concentrate on helping your garden stay comfortable during these frosty nights – and clean up all those leaves!

* Irrigate frost-tender plants such as citrus in the late afternoon. That extra soil moisture increases temperatures around the plant a few degrees, just enough to prevent frost damage. The exception are succulents; too much water before frost can cause them to freeze.

* Cover sensitive plants before the sun goes down. Use cloth sheets or frost cloths, not plastic sheeting, to hold in warmth. Make sure to remove covers in the morning.

* Use fall leaves as mulch around shrubs and vegetables. Mulch acts as a blanket and keeps roots warmer.

* Stop dead-heading; let rose hips form on bushes to prompt dormancy.

* Prune non-flowering trees and shrubs.

* Clean and sharpen garden tools before storing for the winter.

* Brighten the holidays with winter bloomers such as poinsettias, amaryllis, calendulas, Iceland poppies, pansies and primroses.

* Keep poinsettias in a sunny, warm location – and definitely indoors overnight. Water thoroughly. After the holidays, feed your plants monthly so they’ll bloom again next December.

* Rake and remove dead leaves and stems from dormant perennials.

* Plant spring bulbs. Don’t forget the tulips chilling in the refrigerator. Daffodils can be planted without pre-chilling.

* This is also a good time to seed wildflowers and plant such spring bloomers as sweet peas, sweet alyssum and bachelor buttons.

* Plant trees and shrubs. They’ll benefit from fall and winter rains while establishing their roots.

* Set out cool-weather annuals such as pansies and snapdragons.

* Lettuce, cabbage and broccoli also can be planted now.

* Plant garlic and onions.

* Bare-root season begins now. Plant bare-root berries, kiwifruit, grapes, artichokes, horseradish and rhubarb.

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