Sunflowers and hoverflies

by Kate Bradbury

For me, the competition to grow a giant sunflower is over. My six sunflowers are either in flower or just about to bloom...

Hoverfly visiting a sunflowerFor me, the competition to grow a giant sunflower is over. My six sunflowers are either in flower or just about to bloom, which means they're not going to grow any taller. They look good, particularly the two that are providing support for the rogue sweet peas that ended up in the border, but they're no giants.

I've succeeded in my personal mission to beat Adam Pasco in the height stakes, as did our our colleague Ross, who managed to grow his sunflowers to a respectable 2m. Others weren't so lucky - David's were all eaten by slugs, while Tamsin's disappeared overnight (probably also eaten by slugs). Despite all the attention I lavished on mine, including extra watering and a weekly nettle feed, just two of the six made it above 2m (2.24m and 2.35m respectively).

While I'm not going to enter the record books for growing the tallest sunflower, I reckon I'm in with a chance of setting a new World Record for The Greatest Number Of Hoverflies You Can Squeeze Into A Four-Metre-Squared Garden. Everywhere I look there are hoverflies, all engaged in some sort of mid-air traffic jam to get their nectar fix. A cloud of them rises suddenly whenever I brush past the hebe, and they're taking full advantage of the basil, rocket, coriander and watercress that bolted. Happily, they don't seem to mind that my sunflowers are not record breakers, and are gorging on those, too.

A quick scout round the garden this morning revealed just two species, Eupeodes luniger and Episyrphus balteatus (the latter is sometimes referred to as the marmalade hoverfly). Both of these are supposed to resemble the common wasp to deter predators, and are completely harmless. They lay their eggs on plants and their larvae eat aphids.

Having abandoned hopes of growing the world's tallest sunflower, I'm now content that the plants are providing a late source of nectar and pollen for bees, hoverflies and other pollinators. Soon they'll be plenty of seed for the birds.

How are your sunflowers coming along? Have they reached the dizzy height of 2m or more? Do let us know, and don't forget to email us your photos and details.

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Gardeners' World Web User 29/07/2011 at 14:18

My only sunflower is self sown from the bird feeder above and is growing horizontally. If I was more clever i would show you a picture but I haven't worked out how to yet!

Gardeners' World Web User 30/07/2011 at 07:31

My one and only sunflower has finished flowering and is now making seed but it was beautiful while it lasted and at over two metres had to be tied to a drainpipe. But the bush that gets hundreds, perhaps thousands of hoverfly visitors in my garden is the Lemon Balm, Melissa officinalis, which I love,leaves mixed with mint as a tea at bedtime. This has brought a dilemma. The hoverflies love the nectar from the masses of flowers. I need to cut them down to get fresh growth in September. If I leave the flowers and they seed I get self sown Lemon Balm all over the garden. But then, pulling them out leaves me smelling strongly of lemon - could be worse.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/07/2011 at 12:08

I have a Sunflower that is well over 7ft and still no sign of a flower! The other's did not fair so well and flowered before they even reached 2ms, and I have 2 minature ones that are no bigger than 30cms.

Gardeners' World Web User 31/07/2011 at 18:50

I have some Floribunda which are looking very poorly with rose rust, can anyone advise me as to what action to take now to stop this???????

Gardeners' World Web User 01/08/2011 at 15:49

Sophiesgardens - a horizontal sunflower sounds love. At least it won't blow over! Potsmith - sounds like you're on to a winner. Keep feeding it and let us know how you get on Happymarion - I love lemon balm, will find a friend who grows it so I can take some home. Carol - remove all affected stems and leaves and burn them, or dispose of them, don't put them in the compost heap. Remove all leaves that have fallen to the ground as well, as the rust fungus will overwinter. It's also worth pruning out any congested growth, to enable air to circulae around the plant better, preventing rust in future. Mo - try taking root cuttings of the sea holly. This how-to project will show you how to do it: Kate

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