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Indiana man out to break his sunflower record again
By Stan Maddux
Indiana Correspondent

FORT WAYNE, Ind. – An Indiana man – who was not a serious gardener until about 10 years ago – is trying to break his own record of growing the tallest sunflower for three years in a row.
Alex Babich, of Fort Wayne, set the U.S. record in 2022 for a sunflower measured by Purdue University Extension at 25 feet, two inches in length. He shattered the record last year by 11 inches.
Babich said he’s optimistic about breaking the mark again because of an early, wet spring. The tallest of his 16 sunflowers was over four feet in height with several months left in the growing season.
“I like my chances, but a lot can happen between now and then. We’ll just do the best that we can, I suppose,” he said.
Babich, 46, wasn’t even into gardening much a decade ago when he planted three tomato plants and three butternut squash plants simply to show his daughter how to grow produce.
It wasn’t until five years later that he grew his first sunflower after learning it was the national flower of his native Ukraine.
He migrated from Ukraine to Fort Wayne with his family when he was 14.
The height of his sunflowers each year rose from 13 feet to 15 feet and then 19 feet prior to breaking the U.S. record for the first time the following year.
He broke the record after building a tall wooden structure to support the heads of his sunflowers to promote extension of the plants.
Babich said the average weight of a sunflower head ranges from a quarter to half pound, which can stunt the growth of the plant by causing them to droop or get blown over by strong winds without support.
As a precaution against Mother Nature, Babich said each of his sunflowers are fastened to metal rods within the structure that he climbs to take care of the plants once they’re beyond his reach.
Each of the plants is fastened to a rod with rope and bungee cords.
“If you’re going for tallest you definitely want to secure your flowers,” he said.
Babich also credits the recipe of his mulch for the height of his sunflowers. He developed the mulch from a compost of leaves, grass and other materials like various types of mushrooms.
Babich would not reveal the rest of the ingredients, preferring to keep them a family secret. “It’s trial and error. It’s all trial and error,” he said.
Another reason Babich feels he can break the record again is the warm, wet early spring allowed his sunflowers planted in early May to get off to a fast start.
The wet weather also allowed him to collect a huge supply of rainwater to give the plants, when necessary, during the summer. Municipal water contains chlorine and other treatment chemicals that can be hard on plants.
According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the tallest ever sunflower was grown in Germany in 2016 and reached one inch above 30 feet in height.
Babich said he wouldn’t mind breaking that record, too, but he’s focused more on topping his own mark every year, even if it’s just by one inch.
“If it’s going to be 30 feet, that’s great. That would be crazy, you know,” he said.
Later in the growing season, he plans to reduce the number of his 16 sunflowers to less than a half dozen to give the tallest ones more room to spread their root systems to help promote growth.
Babich, who described his children as excited by the media coverage generated by his results, said he might give up planting sunflowers for a year if he ever grows one close to or above the world record.
Such a decision might not rest well with his hockey-loving children who have already decided to name a third record-breaking sunflower, “Hat Trick.”
A hat trick in hockey is when one player scores three goals in a game.
He said raising a gigantic sunflower requires a lot of time, hard work and dedication to balance with his work schedule.
“I’ll leave that up to the family. If I’m able and if they’re supporting me, I’ll keep doing it,” he said.
Babich owns a mowing, landscaping and snow plowing business along with another one that provides gear for mushroom hunters and outdoorsmen.