Black Russian Sunflower - From Russia with Love
Black Russian Sunflowers are the giants of the garden at 12-15' tall and blooms that are 8" across! Petals are a bright golden yellow and centers can be either quite dark or quite light. Seeds are black and striped. A great plant for attracting birds to the garden.
The wild sunflower is native to North America but commercialization of the plant took place in Russia. It was only recently that the sunflower plant returned to North America to become a cultivated crop. Sunflower was a common crop among American Indian tribes throughout North America. Evidence suggests that the plant was cultivated by Indians in present-day Arizona and New Mexico about 3000 BC. Some archaeologists suggest that sunflower may have been domesticated before corn.
The large, composite flowers are magnets for bees of all kinds, especially bumblebees, as well as attracting a myriad of pollinators into the garden, from different bees to butterflies and even hummingbirds.
Once the seeds mature, they bring in tiny finches and myriad other birds who delight in pulling the seeds out of the head and feeding on them one by one.
Sunflowers have one of the most aggressive root systems known, drilling down through hardpan or clay. We’ve used them as the first stage in cover cropping a new area, opening up the soil making it easier for the next cover crop mixture. They also work great to pulverize a hard spot in the raised beds or flower bed, making it perfect for next season.
Their roots have one of the most aggressive allelopathic effects on seed germination we’ve seen. The allelopathic effect inhibits other seeds from germinating in the same soil, and is one of the reasons when weeds pop up first – everything else has a hard time growing. Sunflowers are used to put the hurt on weed seeds.
Sunflowers make an excellent windbreak in our southwestern climate, we plant them on the south and west sides of the garden to slow down and filter the near-constant winds to something our tomatoes, peppers, and corn can handle.
The taller varieties provide shade for vegetables that appreciate some afternoon shade like tomatoes, peppers, and eggplant. We transplant the vegetables after the sunflowers are about 1 - 2 feet tall to avoid the seed germination inhibition.
Sunflowers make good companion plants for cucumbers and melons – planted after the melons and cukes have sprouted to avoid the allelopathic effect. They provide shade, wind protection, and shelter for the vegetables.
Sunflowers make an excellent trap crop, attracting sucking insects like the stink bug and leaf-footed bug away from tomatoes and peppers. Learn more about what trap crops are and how to use them in our trap cropping article.
Larger sunflowers will penetrate deep into the soil. If you use drip-irrigation in your garden, make sure to place drip-lines away from the roots, the roots can puncture it.
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