Sunflowers are far from just towering novelties to grow in summer.
The genus Helianthus includes the annual sunflower, Helianthus annuus and its numerous cultivars, plus many more annual and perennial species. Some are even grown as vegetables, notably the Jerusalem artichoke, Helianthus tuberosus.
Sunflowers make marvellous cut flowers. If you’re growing them for flowers and not height, pinch out the growing tips on each plant when they’re about 20cm tall. This will produce lots of slightly smaller flower heads, as opposed to one giant flowerhead.
When growing sunflowers, don’t forget to leave a few flower heads in the garden for wildlife. Bees will arrive in their masses to sample the pollen and nectar, while garden birds will appreciate the feast of sunflower seeds in autumn.
For full growing advice, check out our sunflower grow guide.
Discover some of our favourite unusual sunflowers to grow, below.
Helianthus ‘Black Magic’
With rich red-chocolate coloured flowers, Helianthus ‘Black Magic’ isn’t the usual yellow sunflower. Similar cultivars to grow include ‘Ruby Sunset’ and ‘Moulin Rouge’. Lovely for cut flowers or grown in a border.
Helianthus ‘Stella Gold’
The flower heads of ‘Stella Gold’ are surrounded with a halo of spidery ray flowers, while the tiny flowers in the centre are the colour of dark chocolate. This cultivar can reach 2m tall, so is ideal for the back of a border with plants like dahlias.
Unlike globe artichokes (Cynara), which are unopened flower heads, Jerusalem artichokes are the tuberous roots of Helianthus tuberosus that are dug up like potatoes. This perennial species enjoys a cooler climate, so is ideally suited to growing in the UK.
There are many sunflowers that vie for the title of tallest sunflower. In Monty Don’s giant sunflower trial, it was ‘Pike’s Peak’ that came out on top, reaching a mega height of 2.93m. Other large cultivars to grow include ‘Russian Giant’ and ‘American Giant’.
The outer flowers of ‘Shock-o-Lat’ are an intense chocolate brown with a golden-yellow fringe, so they’re especially striking. ‘Solar Eclipse’ is similar except it’s capable of growing taller; up to 2.5m. If you’re after a similarly coloured dwarf variety, try ‘Solar Flare’.
Helianthus ‘Lemon Queen’
For perennial sunflowers, ‘Lemon Queen’ is a popular choice. It’s perfect for growing as part of a sunny border, where it can reach a good 2m in height. For more daisies, check out eight essential border daisies to grow.
Helianthus ‘Orange Sun’
This gorgeous cultivar has ruffled flower heads, so it’s a great plant for a sensory garden and for cut flowers. ‘Orange Sun’ will reach around 1.5m in height and you could also grow similar cultivars like ‘Teddy Bear’ and ‘Starburst Lemon Eclair’.
Sunflower growing conditions
As the name suggests, sunflowers enjoy all the sun they can get – so grow them in the brightest spot you have. Keep them well watered and provide them with a boost of tomato feed just before flowering.