Sunflowers are traditional in the typical Midwestern garden, but modern hybrids have greatly expanded the palette of choices. Whether you want short, medium or tall; yellow, burgundy, bronze or brown; seed for the birds; or just pretty to look at, there’s a sunflower for you.

Gardeners will find two different types of sunflowers available from garden centers and online catalogs: those grown for their edible seeds, and those grown primarily as ornamentals. Traditional sunflowers are generally quite tall (over 5 feet) with bright yellow blooms. Modern cultivars now offer a range of orange, gold, lemon-yellow, bronze, amber, mahogany-red and even white.

Another new development is more highly branched plants that may carry numerous smaller flower heads, rather than one large head. Some cultivars have been bred to fill the center with additional rows of ray-type flowers, giving a fuller, double-flowered appearance. And for smaller gardens and containers, you’ll find sunflowers ranging in height from dwarf types (1-2 feet). Many of the newer garden types are intermediate height (3-5 feet).

Sunflowers are also popular as a cut-flower crop, and breeders have responded by creating new hybrids that bloom without producing pollen. These new floral cultivars solve the problem of pollen stains on fabrics and also extend the vase life of the cut flower.

Sunflowers are easy to grow in just about any type of garden soil and climate. Choose a sunny location for best flowering. Sunflowers are generally considered to be a warm-season crop plant.

To harvest sunflower seeds for eating or for feeding the birds, cut the head when at least two-thirds of the seeds are mature; the outer shell of the seed will be hardened, and the back of the head will be brown and dry. You may need to protect your harvest from the birds by covering the maturing head with cheesecloth, netting or a paper bag. Cut the head from the plant, leaving 1-2 feet of stem attached. Hang the heads in a paper or cloth bag to catch the falling seeds, and place in a warm, well-ventilated area for a few weeks to cure.

Selected cultivars of sunflower:

Dwarf:

• Bert

• Big Smile

• Firecracker

• Little Becka

• Smiley

• SunBuzz

• Sunny Bunch

• Sunny Smile

• Teddy Bear

Intermediate to tall:

• American Beauty

• Buttercream

• Chocolate

• Jade

• Lemonade

• Moulin Rouge

• ProCut series

• Ring of Fire

• Sonja

• Soraya

• Starburst

• Sunbright

• Sunrich

• Zohar

Giant:

• American Giant

• Kong

• Mammoth

• Pike’s Peak

• Treasure Mountain

Pollen free (for cut flowers):

• Bert

• Buttercream

• Copper Queen

• Dafna

• Gold Rush

• Helios Flame

• Moulin Rouge

• ProCut

• Strawberry Blonde

• Sunbright

• Sunrich

• Zohar