Growing Mexican Sunflowers

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Everyone knows intuitively what a "normal" sunflower looks like. Tall and bright, they take on an almost majestic appearance by the time they've grown to full height. Mexican sunflowers are striking in the way they look, but many passersby would be surprised to discover that the plants are actually part of the sunflower line. They look different, they're shorter, but they look no less regal than their taller brethren.

In this article, we'll explore growing Mexican sunflowers (it's scientific name is Tithonia rotundifolia). I'll describe some of the traits that are exclusive to the breed as well as how to plant and care for them to encourage the best crop.

Their Appearance

They typically grow to a full height of only 5 feet. Some varieties have been known to reach 8 feet while others only reach 2 or 3. In most cases, the plant is relatively short when compared to a regular sunflower at twice the height. One of the reasons why people don't realize that they're part of the same breed is because they look completely different. Tithonia have heads that are only a few inches in diameter and they boast a deep orange-red color. Through cross-breeding, some varieties have been grown with yellow heads, though most growers prefer the distinctly sharp orange or vibrant red.

The leaves of the Mexican sunflower are usually coarse and reach a length between 6 and 8 inches. They're green, shaped like a spade, and have a noticeable fuzz across their surface.

Traits Of The Breed

Tithonia love the sun and grow quickly under full exposure. They have 2 flowering seasons: one in the summer (from July to the middle of September) and one during the fall (from October through the end of November). When grown to harvest, they'll only yield approximately 50 seeds, a tiny amount compared to the several hundred seeds produced by a regular sunflower. Most gardeners who grow them do so for their appearance rather than their seed yield.

How To Plant Them

Most varieties of Tithonia are extremely easy to grow as long as they have direct, plentiful access to sunlight. They'll develop well in fertile soil that has been drained properly, but can also thrive in sites that haven't been drained or offer less fertility. Like regular sunflowers, they're resilient. That said, they should be planted after the last trace of frost has disappeared; while the plant can withstand arid or dry climates well, it can't tolerate frost.

Also, it's important to note that Tithonia are soil scavengers. Because they tend to scavenge the nutrients within the soil and grow outward, they should be planted approximately 3 feet apart. That will prevent them from cannibalizing the site.

How To Care For Them

Mexican sunflowers need plenty of water when they're grown in extremely dry climates. However, take care not to drown them. They absorb water well and don't need a constant supply. When you first plant them, you should water them daily. After a week, watering them every other day is sufficient. Also, consider using a compost or fertilizer mix, especially if the site in which they're planted isn't particularly fertile.

You may also want to mulch the soil around each plant and stake them once they've reached nearly a foot in height.

A Dazzling Display

Because this variety has such a vibrant color, it makes an ideal ornamental plant. When used within an outside garden, only a few are necessary to have a noticeable impact. When used in a bouquet of flowers, 1 or 2 heads in the middle can have an unparalleled intensity. Inside or out, in gardens or bouquets, Tithonia captures attention and makes an unforgettable impression.

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