Posts Tagged ‘sunflower’

King of the sun

August 3rd, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower 'Sun King'

One of the great things about being able to visit the trial ground at Mr F is that it’s possible to see all the varieties of a single plant growing side by side. This year, it’s nasturtiums (more on them another time) and last year I paid special attention to the sunflowers. This one, ‘Sun King’, really stood out.

I used to grow a double flowered variety called ‘Teddy Bear’ but I found that it had become less and less consistent, especially in terms of its height: It’s supposed to be relatively short, about 60cm, but some were noticeably taller than the others and that sometimes made for a very odd looking group.

‘Sun King’ reaches 2m and they’re all consistent at about that height. The flowers are larger too – and don’t they look spectacular, packed with petals around that vivid green eye.

I raised them by sowing three seeds in 9cm pots, in April, and keeping the pots in the cold greenhouse. They were soon through – well, the ones the mice didn’t get were soon through – and by that time the greenhouse door and all the vents were open and so hardening off wasn’t really necessary.

I planted the whole potful of seedlings when they were about 10cm high, watered them in with liquid feed and away they went. When they were about 60cm tall I supported them with a 1.2m bamboo cane to each group of plants intending to add a stout dahlia stake later but that never happened. And they stood tall and upright through the hammering rain and the wild wind without the extra support.

I haven’t picked any yet, I should have sown a few more potfuls after the episode with the mice so there’d be plenty. But they’re branching well and just one head, in a heavy vase on the kitchen table, will be just the thing.

Still time to sow sunflowers!

June 1st, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

'Teddy Bear' sunflowers

“It’s June, and you’re suggesting I sow sunflowers?” You know what, I’ve even had them flowering well from sowing in July. OK, it was July 2, but still.

But there’s two things to keep in mind. Firstly, don’t put your faith in a June sowing of ‘Titan’, which can reach 3m, or ‘Kong’, which can grow even taller. These need an early sowing. Secondly, give them a good start, keep them growing strongly and never allow them to get dry. And there are also two approaches getting them going.

You can sow them outside, in the border or even in a container, where they’re going to flower. The advantages are that you don’t need any special equipment and they never suffer any root disturbance so grow steadily. The disadvantages are that you may have to plant them between other plants which soon overshadow them and that they feed the slugs.

I favour sowing individual seeds in 7.5cm pots of fresh new compost and keeping them in a cold greenhouse with the tomatoes – full ventilation. Or in a sunny and cosy place outside. Be sure to set mousetraps, I’ve already learned the hard way this season that mouse traps are essential.

When the the roots are emerging from the pot, plant them outside, stake them with a slender cane and water them in well with tomato feed in the water.

Whatever your approach, water them every week with tomato food and watch them grow – and then watch them flower. And the varieties to try? I tried it with ‘Solar Flash’ and ‘Teddy Bear’ but I’d say that ‘Choco Sun’, ‘Little Leo’,‘Santa Lucia’, and perhaps even ‘Garden Statement’ would be worth a try.

Take a look at all the Mr F sunflowers, and choose for yourself.

Catch up with seed sowing

May 4th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Larkspur, cornflower and calendulas

Not been much of a spring, has it… But things have changed and this Bank Holiday weekend looks to be a great chance to catch up and get some seeds in.

The thing is, just because the packet says sow in March or April, it doesn’t mean you can’t sow in May. Soil temperature is key to seed germination and seed that has been sitting there in the chilly and wet soil may just not come up at all. Now that the soil is warming up, you have another chance.

So all those hardy annuals such as calendulas and larkspur and cornflowers and annual poppies and sunflowers that would usually be romping away by now – pop down to the garden centre and pick up some seed. And get them in soon.

I sowed some sunflowers outside and most have failed to come up – actually, I think the mice might be partly responsible: the longer the seeds sit there not germinating the more chance the mice will find them. So yesterday I checked the racks in the garden centre, bought some seed and it will be going in today.

Of course, if we can spark the seeds into prompt germination, so much the better. After I’ve made the drills but before sowing the seed, I always water along the drills, preferably with liquid feed in the water. That may be less necessary this weekend, after rain earlier this week, but it’s generally a good idea. I’ve even been known to fill the can with warm water from the tap – but I realise this may be going too far!

The important lesson is that it’s not too late. So take a look in your seed tin or pop down to the garden centre and get sowing.

Mr Fothergill's sunflowers in the garden centre

RHS Award Winners: Super Sunflowers

January 19th, 2018 | Plant Talk with Graham Rice | 0 Comments

Sunflower ' Valentine' Image © GardenPhotos.com

Isn’t it a treat to have sunflowers in the garden? And the varieties that come on the market are getting better and better, with new colours, sturdy growth and better branching – the days of stems taller than you are with one flower on the top are long gone.

Last year I grew two that are included in the new RHS range from Mr F, although I had to be careful. The previous autumn I’d left the heads for the finches but they missed some of the seeds so I had self sown seedlings popping up all over the place. And the question then, of course, is this: which are the unpredictable self sown seedlings and which are the seedlings of the carefully chosen varieties I actually wanted to grow.

This year I’m going to solve the problem by raising my chosen sunflowers in 9cm pots in the cold greenhouse, sowing in late March or April. At the same time I’ll be ruthlessly removing any self sown seedlings that pop up in the garden. Then, when I plant my seedlings in May, there’ll be no doubt about which are the sunflowers I really want.

And I’ll be growing two RHS award winners. ‘Claret’ is a lovely deep red, with brighter petal tips and with an almost black centre. When it was grown in the RHS trial the judges summarised its qualities like this: “very dark reddish brown; very good foliage, nice dark stems; flowered well over long period; good cut flower”.

The other AGM winner I’ll again be growing is ‘Valentine’, with dark-eyed flowers in a lovely soft primrose shade. The RHS judges reported: “striking dark centre with pale yellow rays; excellent cut flower, basal branching”.

Apart from removing self sown seedlings, the other lesson from last year was to support them well. A head-high sunflower can be weighed down by summer storms and fall into the plants around it. So support them well with stout stakes set behind the plants so they’re hidden by the fat sunflower stems. Just remember to tie them in as they grow.