Annual Sunflowers in Perennial Borders
As Christmas nears, visions of annual sunflowers are dancing in my head. I’m thinking about what I want to change in my main flower border along the driveway.
I’ve grown native perennial sunflowers, but they have been a disappointment. Surprisingly, western sunflower (Helianthus occidentalus) has been unable to compete with the other border plants, and has almost disappeared. Downy sunflower (Helianthus mollis) has grown to monstrous height, but the quantity and quality of flowers has been unimpressive.
So I’m thinking annual sunflowers. Specifically, I’m thinking of ‘Italian White’ a cream-colored, multi-branched annual that grows to 5-6′. I grew ‘Italian White’ at the house we lived in before temporarily moving to Wisconsin. It grew just in front of a south-facing picture window, which enabled us to watch the goldfinches up close as they fed on the seeds. That was in the first year of a new bed. Unfortunately, in the second year ‘Italian White’ did not grow well. While it self-sowed, the seedlings were shaded by the early perennials to the point that the stems were falling over.
But there must be a way to successfully include annual sunflowers in a perennial border without the sunflower seedlings getting excessive shade. I am inspired by how Money included sunflowers in his borders at Giverney. The only solution I can think of is starting the seeds indoors so that they get a head start on their perennial competition.
Have you tried growing annual sunflowers with perennials in your garden? How did you ensure the young plants got enough sun, and how did it work out?