Two Thumbs Up for the MAMMOTH SUNFLOWER!

Last summer, we were entertained by pairs of gold finches who would flit up high from flower head to flower head.

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

I enjoy growing big, beautiful sunflowers in corners of my backyard.

It's an annual that is my annual pollinator and bird thing.

The bees love 'em.

Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) do tend to attract cool butterflies like Red Admirals, and are among the plants that provide organic pest control...via companion planting in your garden.

However, while butterflies flock to sunflowers for their bright coloring, large flower heads, nectar and lush foliage that makes excellent caterpillar food, planting other nectar-bearing and host butterfly plants along side them can attract more butterflies to your landscape, as well as help prevent caterpillar damage in the long term.

Last summer, we were entertained by pairs of gold finches who would flit up high from flower head to flower head, although I do provide a supplemental tube feeder filled with Nyjer.

Sources say that the mighty mammoth sunflower is also known as the fourth -- and often forgotten female sib -- in the age-old "Three Sisters" companion planting approach. The idea behind it is that certain plants benefit from being inter-cropped.

Here's how and why.

1.  Sister Bean fixes nitrogen on its roots, improving the overall fertility of the plot by providing nitrogen to the following year's corn;

2.  Sister Corn provides the support for Sister Bean's trailing vine;

3.  Sister Squash provides ground cover to hold moisture and maintain healthy soil environment, as well as deterring animal invaders with its spiny stems;

4.  Sister Sunflower can act as a second support for the beans -- at least that is what I am going to try -- as well as be an attractant for insect pollinators.  In addition, hungry birds that are drawn to it won't peck away at the kernels of nearby corn.

Well then, we will see about that...and, of course, how in the heck I can keep the ever-hungry and pesky squirrels from popping off the sunflowers' seed heads. 

The season of squirrels in the garden can be frustrating, yes?  Here's a Deb's Big Backyard video summer rerun, "Squirrel vs. Birdhouse," that brings the point home again, and again and again.

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