Sunflower Fence

I guess this one kinda falls into the “winter pick-me-up” category, although this is actually something I meant to write about this past summer.

While I’ve certainly come to realize that my “little” property has a lot more potential than I thought when we moved here a little over 5 years ago, there is still no getting around the fact that it is very EXPOSED! The backyard “fence” (if you can even call it that) is 4 feet tall and not even completely filled in with fence boards, and we are on a corner lot so multiple neighbors have little trouble seeing what sort of kooky things Bentley is doing in the middle of the day! lol

Last year I tried growing a row of sunflowers along the back fence-line as a sort of “living fence” (see “Growing Your Own Privacy Fence” on the CompostGuy website), but I ended up somewhat disappointed with the results. Apart from starting the plants later than I should have, I chose a seed mix called “Monet’s Palette” which is better suited for creating a beautiful show (which it did) than a wall of vegetation.

This year I decided to give it another go, but with a different variety of sunflower – appropriately named “Kong”! Most of these were planted just outside of my fence on the sidewalk side (the longest exposed stretch of my yard). This actually used to be a patch of grass, so my first task last spring was to turn it into a garden bed.

I started the sunflowers in small pots, which is a bit of a “no no” since they don’t like to have their roots disturbed. My hope was that the benefits of keeping the plants well protected while very young (a time when they seem to get mauled by all manner of creatures) would outweigh the potential harm that transplanting might cause. What’s funny, and rather ironic, is that a neighborhood chipmunk managed to find the plants on my deck and ended up munching a bunch of them (requiring me to start some more).

Chipmunk maulings aside, I am glad to took that approach since it really did seem to help the plants get off to a good start once they were in the ground! That’s certainly not to say they weren’t attacked though! In all honesty, early on, I really wasn’t all that optimistic that they were going to be successful at all. It took some time for them to get going initially, and plenty of slugs (and I think ants as well) managed to cut lots of holes in the leaves while they were small. I like to think that the scoopful of beautiful vermicompost that went into the bottom of each planting hole made a big difference, but it’s hard to say for sure.

As you can see, the Kong sunflowers ended up turning into an incredible “living fence”! The flowers ended up being quite nice once they emerged, but it was the amazing jurassic vegetation that impressed me the most. Some of the leaves were absolutely MASSIVE!

What’s interesting is that while I certainly enjoyed a LOT more privacy this past summer, I actually ended up talking to more neighbors than ever before due to their interest in the sunflowers. Kinda cool!

Am I planning to grow another row of Kongs next year?
You betcha!

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  1. Gorgeous! This sounds like a great idea! Two questions: do deer eat sunflowers? Did you get edible seeds from the Kongs? I would love to get a privacy fence AND sunflower seeds for munching!

    • Kim from Milwaukee
    • December 7, 2010

    Wow Bentley, I’ll have to try that method. I have been unsuccessful with sunflowers as well…and it’s one of my (and my sister’s) favorite flowers. We don’t have as much sun in our little city lot, but maybe I can find those Kongs and give it another try. Those leaves are HUMONGOUS!

    • Diane
    • December 7, 2010

    When did you plant them???

    • Ted
    • December 7, 2010

    I was thinking(it dose happen once in awhile):-)
    You did the video on making newspaper planters. Why not start the Sunflowers in those, then just set them in their place to grow without bothering the roots. Just make the planters extra thick to hold up till planting time. I hope this can be of some help.

    • Barb V.
    • December 8, 2010

    Wowser! My side yard is bare once the nasturtiums die back .. perfect place for some sun flowers!

    • Bentley
    • December 8, 2010

    EMILY – Not sure if deer eat sunflowers. Would be surprised if they would when young anyway – might not be quite so tasty once they reach a decent size. Unfortunately, Kongs do not produce seeds (I didn’t want to end up polluting neighborhood yards with sunflower seedlings! haha). The birds still went to town on them. I also grew some “Mammoth” sunflowers which DO produce seeds – their foliage isn’t nearly as impressive but they still seem like a cool giant variety to grow.
    KIM – Try em for sure! They may not do quite so well in a more shaded location, but I’m sure they’d still reach a decent (normal) sunflower size!
    DIANE – I started them indoors in April I believe. They didn’t go into the ground until the end of May though (they grew for awhile in small pots).
    The first picture and the one with my daughter were taken at the end of July.
    TED – Good point, Ted. I guess I must have started them before got excited about the paper pot approach. Will have to remember that for next year!
    BARB – Great! Let me know how you make out!

  2. Bentley: If you want to experiment with other types of plants for “fencing”, here’s a link to a list of ornamental grasses along with their hardiness. Some offer winter interest with their flowers or dead foliage. Some can even provide screening in winter. Since I’m in zone 7 I’m going with Pampas Grass next spring.


    • gayle
    • December 12, 2010

    Bentley – what is the other “tower” in the foreground of the last picture. That is gorgeous too!


    • Bentley
    • December 12, 2010

    MIKE – thanks for the link! I thought about potentially trying some sort of grass but was worried about them being too invasive etc. Let me know how your grass fence works for you!
    Gayle – that is my bean garden. Bush beans down below, and pole beans growing up the teepee.

    • gayle
    • December 12, 2010

    Hi Bentley – thanks for the reply – it was the flowers that threw me off – I just looked up pole beans … could they be “Scarlett Runner” pole beans? I got a bunch of bamboo from a friend this past fall and I can’t wait till spring to create bamboo teepees! I think one will be covered with pole beans!


    • Bentley
    • December 13, 2010

    Keen eyes, Gayle! Scarlet Runner was indeed one of the varieties on the teepee! Was pretty cool seeing hummingbirds attracted to my bean gardens! Definitely going to grown more of those again next season!

    • Paul from Winnipeg
    • December 16, 2010

    Hey Bentley, I’m glad you posted your living fence for this year. It looks like you had fantastic results. My experiment with the giant corn was pretty much a flop this year. The spring and early summer were much too wet and only a few survived. I let one grow to maturity to see it’s final size and wasn’t very impressed. Perhaps my lasagna needs more time to mature to support these nitrogen hogs.

  3. Beautiful – LOVE this.

    I stumbled across your site when searching for info on wooden compost bins. I’m going to get into it this winter, I think I might have a basement bin made by Mr Chiots.

    Love that you are able to keep them outside in a cold climate, perhaps I’ll look into that more.

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