Growing Drop Dead Red Sunflowers

Drop Dead Red Sunflowers, a collection of seeds available from Botanical Interests

Remember I mentioned earlier that sometimes I buy plants simply for their title alone? How could one possibly resist a collection of sunflowers called, “Drop Dead Red?” I dreamed about them last winter, and sure enough, they lived up to my expectations of blooming in a fantastic array of deep mahogany, burnished copper, vibrant goldenrod, and even a dusky peach.

Some of the sunflowers in this collection are a deep, mahogany brown which glow cherry-red when the sun shines through the petals.

The “plan” was I was going to plant my entire collection in containers lining the side of our driveway. I’m chuckling as I write this, does anything ever actually go according to plan? After even giving many of the seedlings away (I always start my sunflowers from seed for two reasons: one, because we have a shorter growing season, and two, because of birds and squirrels) I still ended up with more seedlings than I had containers. Therefore, some ended up in containers and some ended up in the ground. Want to take a guess as to which performed better?

Growing Drop Dead Red sunflowers in containers is definitely an option, but give them plenty of room for their massive root system.

You guessed it. The sunflowers that I planted in containers bloomed earlier, which was nice, but I believe that was due to plant stress as they simply did not have enough room for their massive root system. There was much fewer side branching, and the stalks were very slender compared to their counterparts growing directly in the ground. It didn’t take long for the squirrels to discover the seeds, and every morning I would venture outside to discover that the slender stalks had snapped from their weight and there was flower and seed-hull carnage all over the pavement.

Drop Dead Red sunflowers are supposed to be pollenless. The bees disagree.

For a short time there, though, my container-grown sunflowers looked amazing, and they were covered in bees and goldfinches. Drop Dead Red sunflowers are described as being pollenless, but don’t believe it. If you bring some indoors for arrangements, you will see a puddle of yellow pollen beside your vase the next day, and of course they create seeds. If you are looking for a branching, pollenless sunflower, this is a beautiful variety which I had a lot of success with in the past. I actually greatly enjoy the bees and birds, of course, and kept an arrangement outdoors on our patio dining table to avoid a pollen mess.

Drop Dead Red Sunflower going to seed.

So, my container grown sunflowers are done blooming, but my ground-grown sunflowers are still growing strong and have already reached heights of about 9 feet. The sunflower heads get quite heavy and will begin to nod as they grow, but there is some nice side branching so there is always something pretty to look at. The stalks of these sunflowers are thick like tree saplings. When they are done blooming, I will remove the seed heads and leave them out for the birds, and use my pruning saw to cut the stalks down at the base.

A female American goldfinch plucks seeds from a sunflower

If you choose to grow this collection for yourself, I suggest you plant them en masse for the best effect as the different varieties bloom at intervals so planting in a large group will help prevent gaps in color and bloom times. Give them plenty of room, frequent watering, and expect them to get super tall!

My grouping of Drop Dead Red sunflowers which were planted in the ground performed the best. Here they are combined with Blaze rose and Cut & Come Again zinnias.

Sunflowers are on my mental list of favorite flowers. I know they’re easy to grow, common, and simple but I think that’s partly what makes them so appealing to me. Sunflowers are heliotropic, meaning they turn their faces to follow the sun. Annual sunflowers, or Helianthus annuus, are members of the very large and distinguished Asteraceae family. Sunflower oil is being investigated as an alternative fuel source. Here I am visiting an experimental garden for alternative energy at Penn State University: Look at all of those sunflowers!

A pretty cherry-red sunflower lit up by the sun glows like stained glass.

As in love with this collection, I probably will not grow these again next spring simply because I don’t have the room for a large swath of them and I am still on the hunt for varieties that grow great in containers. I’ve tried dwarf varieties, but after about 1 week of bloom they tend to look ragged. It’s fun to be on the hunt, though, and try new things. (If anyone reading this has a suggestion of one I should try, I’d love to hear it!) But if you have the room and are looking for a collection that’s a little non-traditional, I highly recommend Drop Dead Red; you won’t be disappointed!

How can you resist this happy face?

7 thoughts on “Growing Drop Dead Red Sunflowers

  1. YES! I just looked out my window was admiring these same sunflowers you are writing about (since you graciously shared some with me) and hoping you would put up pictures. They are really amazing!

  2. Lara
    I am enjoying your gorgeous photographs of the sunflowers and would love to grow them here in my rural garden in Gisborne, Melbourne, Australia! Your website is really lovely and I enjoy your writings very much. Yes, some gardening plans don’t go to plan and the garden simply evolves with each glorious planting and turn of shovel or roll of yet another rock!
    Thank you for sharing such beautiful photographs of such divine subjects.

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