Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Well Worth the Effort

      Sunflowers have a way of lifting my spirits.  Even on a gray day, they seem to shine with stored up energy.  As the rest of the garden is ready to tuck it in to sleep at night, the sunflowers still have the glow of the day till all is dark.  The packets of sunflower seeds deliver fantasies of beautiful yields of sunflowers in many different hues and sizes.  Yet I have lost track of the number of times I have tried to grow sunflowers from seed.  Many seeds fail to sprout.  Those that do are most often so leggy that their fragile stems collapse on the first day out in the garden.  Or some pest trades the long term potential harvest of sunflower seeds for the immediate gratification of tender sunflower shoots.  So after many failures, I gave up on trying to grow sunflowers.
      Three years ago in the spring as I was leaving the park community garden to go home, I passed one of the bare spots in the grass that had been a pile of discarded plants and weeds from the year before.  These spots are often a great place to search for volunteers for transplant to my garden.  Never do I refuse a bargain.  There to my delight were several nicely green stubby little plants that I believed to be sunflowers.  Whoopee, time for a transplant.  Digging them out resulted in the plants being bare rooted.  No problem, they all took to their new home quite easily.
      In the first year, I had quite a crop of sunflowers, and even harvested some seed heads to maybe try to eat the seed or at least to grow on for next year.  Meanwhile, the birds, particularly the beautiful gold finches, were eagerly stripping any flower head that I didn't pick.  But alas, some little larval worms, most likely some moth, decimated the store of seed that I had saved.
      Out of business again?  Not so fast.  Remember the birds that had so eagerly attacked the flower heads last year.  Apparently they are pretty sloppy eaters.  So late spring of the following year presented me with sunflower volunteers growing right in my own garden.  The ones in the spots I deemed correct were left to grow on.  The others were offered to other gardeners to start their own stand.  So last year produced a good crop of sunflowers, and as you can now guess, there were volunteers this spring for the taking.  So if I could have sunflowers at the park, why not at home?  Six or seven plants made the trek home to the back yard garden.  They took well.  Then August hit with its nearly twenty inches of rain.  Sunflowers are top heavy and have a shallow root system.  Plus they are brittle and often snap off somewhere along the main trunk.  So I was down to just one tall plant that had its first bloom two days before Hurricane Irene's arrival.  I blogged previously about that plant and our efforts to save it.  Save it we did, and it was worth the effort.  The following pictures were taken on 9/7/11, near the peak show of this sunflower.

Back yard sunflower, 9/7/11

Sunflower in its glory!!

      So this sunflower survived Hurricane Irene and lived on to become quite a beauty.  I lost count on the number of blossoms when I got to twenty five!  Hopefully the birds will be sloppy again and spring will deliver lots of new volunteers to carry on a beautiful tradition.  Hint: If you don't have a source of volunteers, I would plant seeds outside in January or February as the survivors should grow out big and strong.  After the first year, hopefully the patch will reseed every following year.

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