Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Helianthus annuus: Growing Sunflowers on a Sand Dune

I'm very happy and proud that my first group of Russian Mammoth Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) were able to complete their entire life cycle on my little patch of dune. Not easy, though! They need much richer soil than the alkaline, sandy stuff I have here. So I dug out a pretty deep area and mixed the soil with lots of organic matter along with rabbit droppings and soil from a local farm. Zone 9 is a little hot and dry for Helianthus. They need consistent drenchings of good water (no salt water, please!), and lots of fertilizer to grow. But that didn't stop me.

Here are the seedlings, just showing their first leaves in May of this year:

Note the bunny droppings, great fertilizer!
I had a dozen germinate successfully, about 90% of the total planted. The landscapers weed-whacked a few young ones before I built a fence to protect them (bad weed whackers!).

But would the sunflowers really grow 10feet (3m) tall, as they do in Eastern Europe? Nope. Life on a windy dune seems to signal to the plants that 3m is way too dangerous. They grew to about 5-6 feet (2m), and I had to stake them with some humongous stakes to keep them from toppling and breaking, as our "ocean breezes" get up to about 50-55mph (around 80kph) during the summer now and then. But the sunflower buds did arrive by June....
Numero Uno, Ready to Bloom
Every sort of insect and fungus tried to attack these sunflowers. But I didn't use any pesticides at all, as our dune is environmentally sensitive and we try not to use anything poisonous. Ladybugs are about it. And I was also curious to see if they could survive as is. They did! Here's the first full bloom, and I was delighted.

Then came more!
In all, 9 of the 12 bloomed magnificently. The seed heads have now almost completely ripened and dried. So now I've got lovely black seeds to plant next year. My dream of growing my favorite flower in my own garden came true. And until next year, I've got plenty of photos to enjoy and work with in my studio.


  1. Wonderful story that ended in complete success. Very nice Marla. I have sunflowers planted outside our dining room patio. Although I planted a few, most were planted by the birds, from sunflower seeds on the bird feeder. Of course my growing conditions are a lot easier on sunflowers than yours. It's amazing they have done so well. Must be that rabbit manure. Nice painting, what's the medium? Looks like watercolor.

    1. Thank you! The painting is mixed (water) media- GAC 700, chalk pastels, and watercolors.