I often recall the fascination my kids had for sunflowers. My daughter still loves to grow sunflowers and shares her passion with her son. I assume the fascination that children, as well as adults, have for sunflowers relates to the size of the mature plant and the enormous flower. Whatever the reason, growing sunflowers is quite easy and this is a good time to plant sunflowers.
Rather than direct sowing in the garden, pre-sprout the seed by placing them between two layers of damp, but not soggy, paper towel. Place the towels in a large zip-lock bag and check on the seed daily. Once seeds have begun to sprout, immediately plant them into the garden. The planting site should be in full sun ... where else would one plant something called sunflower?
Actually, the name has more to do with the size, shape and color of the flower. Because they grow quickly and require little care, this is a great plant to use when trying to interest kids in the pleasures of gardening, a sensible alternative to computer games. There is also the additional reward of collecting and eating the nutritious seeds.
For the mature gardener
• Sow more seeds of chervil, cilantro and dill for a continuous supply of fresh leaves. These herbs tend to bolt, that is, produce flowers when the weather is hot, therefore, keep a fresh supply of plants coming along. Allow the flowers of bolted dill and cilantro to set seed and then collect the seed to use as seasoning or save some seed for replanting. Cilantro seed is better known as coriander.
• Plant low-growing thyme between the stepping stones of walkways. Don't worry if they sprawl over the stones and get stepped on. They'll survive the trampling and will release a pleasant fragrance.
• Expand your perennial border with plants having a long flowering period. Some examples include Russian sage, Rudbeckia "Goldsturm," sedum "Autumn Joy," perennial salvias and lanceleaf coreopsis.
• Spread a one-inch deep layer of compost around herbaceous perennials. With few exceptions, this addition of compost each spring can eliminate the need for fertilizer applications. The exceptions are daylilies, peony, chrysanthemum and border phlox, which are heavy feeders and benefit from fertilizer applications in spring and again in July.
• Plant some tall zinnias and snapdragons if you only have space for a tiny cut-flower garden.
• Hill up potatoes by using a hoe or garden rake to pull soil up and around the potato plants, leaving only the top three or four inches of each plant exposed. As an alternative to hilling, place a layer of straw at least six inches deep around the plants. Additional straw will have to be added as the initial layer settles.
• Go on slug patrol. Slugs and snails are now happily dining on vegetable and flower plants. Make them even happier, though temporarily, by setting pans of beer among your plants. Slugs and snails are attracted to the beer, crawl into the pans and drown. What a way to go! Perhaps, a less joyful approach is to use slug bait product. Another reported option is to scatter coffee grounds around plants or spray plant foliage with coffee. I think this may work best on slugs suffering a hangover from the beer.
• Place straw under ripening strawberries to keep the fruit off wet soil.
* Bring your soil samples to the Western Massachusetts Master Gardener testing table at the Saturday Farmers' Market at Berkshire Mall in Lanesborough, Mass. from 9 a.m. to noon on June 11. Need to know how to take a soil sample? Refer to the Master Gardener website: http://wmmga.org.