Soaked in Sunflowers
By Jarred Schuetze
By: Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
There are hundreds of varieties of sunflowers in the United States. Among those, the “silverleaf” sunflower is endemic to South Texas, which means it grows well here, but nowhere else. It is our own private sunflower!
The silverleaf variety grows up to 20 feet tall on thick, trunk-like stalks covered with golden blooms. These flowers make the ideal native hedgerow.
A Living Fence to Protect the Garden
A hedgerow of silverleaf sunflowers shields the garden from the relentless Gulf winds, which dry out the soil and cause moisture to quickly evaporate. Dry soil blows away in the wind, but a sunflower hedgerow conserves water and holds the soil in place.
Silverleaf sunflowers grow in the summer, when gardens most need their protection. The deep roots absorb water and prevent soil erosion in big rainstorms. The hedgerow fades in late fall but comes back all on its own, thick, lush, and beautiful, the next spring.
In the fall, you can also weave the sturdy stalks into trellises for winter peas, or burn the stalks to make potassium-rich ash to use as a soil amendment.
Sunflowers attract birds, butterflies, and bees to your landscape. Much of our fall honey in The Bend comes from the pollen of sunflowers. While attracting garden helpers, this living fence grows so dense that it prevents deer from sneaking into the garden to feast on plants. And best of all, sunflowers bring their golden blooms in late summer, when there is not much color in the garden.
Gather in October, Plant in March
Silverleaf sunflowers are easy to grow, but you must collect the seeds now, during the fall, from mature flowers. Because the silverleaf variety is endemic to South Texas, seeds are difficult to find commercially, so you must collect them in the wild.
Harvest the seeds by cutting mature flower heads from their stalks, just as the blooms wither. There are many small seeds on each flower head. To keep the seeds through the winter, store the flower heads in a zip-lock bag in the freezer.
In early March, plant these frozen flower heads into well-tilled, well-drained soil. To plant, simply cast the seeds or flower heads on the ground and stamp them into the soil. Water every few days until the seeds sprout.
You don’t need to thin these hardy sunflowers; they thin themselves as they mature. You can plant a living fence or a small thicket of flowers, whatever is best suited to your landscape. Once the sunflowers are two to three feet tall, mow around the edge to create the shape or footprint you prefer.
Silverleaf sunflowers are a useful, beautiful, and age-old companion to the garden. These gorgeous flowers will happily make themselves at home in your landscape!