Sunflowers (Helianthus spp.) dot the landscape across the country in summertime.
Towering above most other flowers and garden plants, the large seed-filled head of the popular sunflower is easily visible to humans and birds.
However, that tall familiar plant is not the only type of this flower species available.
Sunflowers varieties range is height from a few inches to a few feet. Some are annuals, some are perennials, some have yellow petals and some produce petals that are orange or red in color.
All love the heat of summer, provide food for hungry birds and are easy to grow.
Another fun fact about sunflowers is how they got their name- their heads turn to follow the sun throughout the day.
Select a size and type that’s right for your growing space and enjoy the blooms and the bird show that growing sunflowers can provide.
Tall Growing Sunflowers
The sunflower most people are familiar with, the Helianthus debilis, is a tall growing annual that will grow to a height of 6 feet in just one growing season.
This type of sunflower has a thick stem with leaves all the way up and top branches that bare the weight of several large blooms and the birds which land on the plant to eat the seeds.
Blooms are three inches across with a multitude of seeds in the center surrounded by yellow petals.
Helianthus debilis will become top heavy due to the multitude of blooms and will need to be supported before the end of the growing season.
Another tall growing annual sunflower is the Helianthus annuus.
This type grows slightly taller and produces fewer, but larger sunflowers than the Helianthus debilis. This type usually does not have to be supported.
A perennial tall-growing type of sunflower is the Helianthus maximiliani.
This sunflower will return for several years and produce its bountiful seeds that will keep nesting bird species returning to your outdoor space year after year.
The plentiful supply of seeds makes your landscape an attractive location for a variety of nesting bird species to come and set up a summertime homestead.
The Helianthus maximiliani will reach up to 10 feet in height and have a single stem.
The bottom leaves on the stem will be about 10 inches long and as the leaves progress up the stem they begin to shorten and will only be about 2 inches long at the top.
One very large sunflower bloom is borne on each stem. The flower head will be 5-6 inches across with a greenish-brown seed-packed center surrounded by yellow petals.
A second type of tall-growing perennial is often called the swamp sunflower (Helianthus angustifolius).
It grows slightly shorter than the Helianthus maximiliani and produces brown seed heads surrounded by gold-colored petals.
Short Growing Sunflowers
When space won’t allow for the growth of the tall growing sunflower types, try some of the shorter growing versions.
They can do everything their much larger cousins can do, they just do it in a compact size.
Annual Sunspot (Helianthus annuus “Sunspot”) will reach a mature height of 2 feet and produce a seed-filled bloom that is 10 inches across.
Sunspot will bloom within 60 days of planting the seeds.
Perennial dwarf sunflower First Light (Helianthus salicifolius “First Light”) will reach a mature height of 3 feet and produce blooms that are 3 inches wide.
The seed-filled center is raised and brown, surrounded by butter-yellow petals.
Several species of birds and butterflies love to land on seed buffets and eat their fill before flying away.
Sunflower: Colorful Types
Brownish-green centers and yellow petals are colorful, but that’s not the only color of sunflowers.
The Mexican sunflower (Tithonia diversifolia) is an annual type of sunflower that reaches a mature height of anywhere from 2-6 feet, depending on the type planted.
Bloom colors are orange, red, or two-toned.
Instead of flowers being borne on tall stalks, the Mexican sunflower creates a bush covered with blooms.
The blooms are not filled with seeds like other types of sunflowers, but birds, bees, and butterflies are still attracted to their colorful, open-faced blooms that produce nectar.
All sunflowers types should be planted in full sun.
Plants are not picky about soil and grow well in almost any type of soil.
Plants are started from seeds sown into the soil after all danger of frost has passed in the spring. Sunflowers are hardy in growing zones 4-9.