Miniature versions of tall garden sunflower (Helianthus annuus), dwarf sunflowers are bred for short height and showy flowers. They come in yellow, orange, pink and reddish tones, often with more than one color in the flower. Flowers are single or double and vary in size and stem length. Some are good cut flowers. Dwarf sunflowers grow well in containers and limited-space gardens. Annual plants grow 14 to 36 inches tall, depending on the variety. All are cultivars of Helianthus annuus.
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Sunflowers belong to the daisy family, or Asteraceae, and what looks like a single flower head is made up of many smaller flowers. The small, tubular flowers in the center are called disk flowers and produce seeds. Surrounding them are petal-bearing ray flowers, framing the central disk like rays of the sun. Many dwarf sunflowers don't produce pollen. This is an advantage for cut flower use, since they don't shed pollen on indoor surfaces.
Planting Dwarf Sunflowers
As their name implies, sunflowers need to grow in full sun. Dwarf sunflowers make a good border or edging. Even though they're dwarf varieties, if you grow them in containers give them at least an 8-inch pot size so the soil doesn't dry out too quickly. Plant sunflower seeds in loose, well-drained, fertile soil after all danger of frost is passed. Cover seeds with 1 to 2 inches of soil. Water the planted seed and keep the soil moist until they germinate. Then allow the top layer of soil to dry out between waterings.
Fast-growing sunflowers need to be kept moist for good growth and flower formation. Especially in containers, plants need frequent watering. Container plants may need daily watering in hot summer areas. Usually sunflowers don't need fertilizing. Too much nitrogen inhibits flower formation. For cut flowers, plant sunflowers closer together, from 6 to 2 inches apart, depending on climate, and don't fertilize them so longer stems develop.
Unusual in its fully double, shaggy, almost plushlike flower, "Teddy Bear" dwarf sunflower varies in height depending on growing conditions. In containers, it's about 12 inches tall. In the ground, plants are 35 to 42 inches high. Bright yellow flowers are 3 to 5 inches wide. For a very different color effect, "Double Dandy" has 4- to 5-inch wide, deep red, double flowers with a black center. Plants are 2 feet high and branch for multiple flower stems.
Some dwarf sunflowers possess classic-shaped, single flowers with darker center disks and flaring yellow ray flowers. "Yellow Pygmy" gets only 18 to 22 inches tall and is used for cut flowers as well as gardens. Even smaller is "Elf," rising to just 14 to 16 inches tall. Flowers are 4 inches across, and plants spread 6 to 8 inches wide.
Showy flowers of "Firecracker" are gold washed with red at the bases of the ray flowers. Central disks are dark brown to almost black for great color contrast. Plants are 24 to 36 inches tall. "Little Becka" flowers have red ray petals tipped in yellow and a brown center. Plants are full and branching, reaching 36 to 40 inches tall.
A garden standout with purple and pink flowers, "Ms. Mars" has a deep purple disk surrounded by ray petals that are rosy purple at the base and pink at the tips. Plants are 20 to 30 inches tall and 18 to 24 inches wide. Try the pastel pale yellow blooms of "Bashful" to contrast with more brightly colored flowers. Ray petals have a touch of orange-pink toward the base, and dark flower centers accentuate the petals. "Bashful" is 36 inches tall with a spread of 6 to 8 inches.
Large Central Disks
Some dwarf sunflowers have proportionately larger central disks and shorter ray flowers. "Sunbeam" has a striking, almost luminous green central disk surrounded by medium yellow ray flowers. "Sunbright Supreme" has a darker, brownish central disk and golden ray flowers. Both varieties have 6-inch-wide flowers and grow to 3 feet tall.