A new movement is encouraging gardeners to plant sunflowers for peace in Ukraine.
Sunflowers face east at dawn to greet the rising sun, then slowly turn west as it moves across the sky, continually seeking light and warmth. Then, during the night, the plant slowly turns again, ready for the morning.
The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine. As the growing season gets underway, seed companies and garden centers have partnered with organizations like the Canadian Red Cross and the Canada-Ukrainian Foundation. They’re donating the proceeds from the sale of sunflower seeds to help the humanitarian efforts for Ukraine.
In dwarf, medium, and giant varieties, sunflowers are fit for any garden space and are one of the easiest summer annuals to start from seed and grow.
Starting from Seed
Before planting, soak the seeds in a warm bowl of water overnight to soften the outer husk and help with germination.
Seeds can be planted directly into the ground after the last frost, 10cm apart and 3cm deep. Or, start them indoors in seed trays. Using regular potting mix, place the seed into the soil warmed to a constant temperature of 21-30°C. The mix should be moist; never over-saturated. Seeds take about one to two weeks to sprout; thin out the weaker seedlings, and once the hardy stock reaches 5cm in height and all danger of frost has passed, plant outside.
Blooming from mid-July to late September, sunflowers will need at least 8 hours of sun a day. Mature plants can adapt to drier conditions, as their extensive root systems will seek water underground, but they still need a good shower every week. When watering, make sure to wet the root only. Water on the leaves or blooms will encourage powdery mildew and other diseases.
These smaller-sized sunflowers do great in pots and planters and are an excellent choice for gardeners with little space, only reaching 0.5 to 1 m in height. Popular options include Little Leo, Little Becka, or Teddy Bear.
Growing to a height of 3 meters, these are the most sought after. They include single stem types that produce only one flower per plant or branching stem varieties, which will grow more flowers off a central stalk over a longer bloom time. Some favorite choices include Lemon Queen, Moulin Rouge, or Italian White, a unique creamy white blossom that looks incredible in any garden display.
These varieties reach 4 to 5 meters in height and need to be planted against a fence or in the back of a perennial border. Sometimes requiring staking, cultivars include American Giant or Skyscraper.
Making a difference
With so many wanting to help, the list of garden centers and seed companies selling sunflower seeds for Ukraine changes regularly. The website sunflowersforukraine.ca provides an up-to-date shortlist of involved seed companies, including Vesey Seeds, Gaia seeds, and Westcoast Seeds.