Not many other plants say sunshine and happiness like sunflowers do, and not many have the word flower in their name either.
An easy plant to grow and makes them great fun to grow with kids, which often leads to a race to see who can grow the tallest. You’d be surprised to see how many adults cheat and buy a sunflower already in bloom, but we only sell the dwarf variety so they are never going to win any races with one of those.
Types of Sunflowers
Before planting sunflowers in your garden you’ll what to choose which type of sunflower you want to grow. Some can grow over 15ft tall, whereas the dwarf varieties only grow about a foot tall.
If you are growing sunflowers to use as a cut flower you can grow a variety that is somewhere in between.
Sunflowers don’t just come in yellow either, there are also orange and red varieties to try out too.
Growing Sunflowers From Seed
Sunflowers are an easy plant to raise from seed and you are better off just planting seeds straight into the ground rather than transplanting seedlings grown in pots.
When To Plant Sunflowers
Sunflower seeds can be sown between April and May.
If you miss sowing in this period container-grown plants should be available from June.
Where To Plant Sunflowers
Sunflowers like a sunny position where they’ll get at least 6 to 8 hours of sunshine a day.
They also like loose, well-dug and well-draining soil as they develop long tap roots that need to stretch out, and if the soil isn’t free-draining this can cause root rot.
Sunflowers will grow in average soil, but if your soil is poor, mix in some rich, loamy soil where you wish to plant them.
Grow against a fence or wall for support, and use a stake when growing taller varieties.
How To Plant Sunflowers
Make some drill holes with your finger or a dibber about 1 inch (2.5cm) deep and 4 to 6 inches (10-15cm) apart.
Cover the seeds over with soil and water in gently.
Keep the soil moist and not waterlogged until spouts emerge from the soil. Once your sunflowers have stems and an established root system has formed you can reduce water frequency.
Protect your seeds from pests, squirrels and birds love sunflower seeds and may dig them up before spouts even emerge.
Slugs and snails also like to munch on new shoots, you can protect them by cutting the top off some plastic bottles and placing them over your seedlings.
If your sunflowers become overcrowded you can thin them out to about 18 inches (45cm) apart leaving the tallest and strongest plants.
If you are trying to grow tall sunflowers dilute tomato food in water and pour into a “moat” around the plant, well away from the base.
If you feed directly over the plant this may cause the roots to rot.
Growing Sunflowers In Pots
Dwarf varieties can be grown in a small container, but a mammoth sunflower will need at least a 12” inch pot.
Growing For Cut Flowers
The long-lasting blooms of a sunflower make it a magnificent cut flower.
When growing as a cut flower plant them closer together, you’ll get smaller blooms but the stems won’t be as thick leaving more space in your vase for a floral display.
How Long Does It Take For Sunflowers To Bloom?
Sunflowers take between 80 to 120 days to flower.
Harvest sunflowers when their petals become dry and begin to fall and the green base of the head will turn yellow and eventually brown.
If squirrels or birds are a problem, you can cover the heads with a paper bag as soon as the petals begin to wilt.
When seeds are fully ripened and just beginning to loosen from the head, cut the stem about one inch below the head.
Briskly rub the seeds from the head with your hand, blow off the chaff and allow the seeds to dry before storing.
Sunflowers are one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet.
Their scientific name is Helianthus, “Helia” means sun and “Anthus” is another word for flower.
There are two kinds of sunflower seeds. Sunflower oil which is used in cooking and margarine is made from black seeds and snack food is made from the striped seeds. The seeds can also be used as bird feed.
It is a misconception that sunflowers track the sun across the sky during the day. Young buds do display movement similar to this behaviour through a process called heliotropism, but a mature sunflower usually points in a fixed easterly direction.
Native to America, the sunflower was used extensively by Native American Indians for food, as oil, in bread, medical ointments, dyes and body paints.
Kansas is often known as the Sunflower state and the flower is, in fact, Kansas’s state flower. The sunflower is also the national flower of Ukraine.
The tallest sunflower that has ever been grown to date was by Hans-Peter Schiffer from Germany in 2014. It was verified by Guinness World Records at a whopping height of 30ft and 1in (9.17m). Has-Peter had held the record twice previously.
Sunflowers can also be processed into a peanut butter substitute called Sun-butter. In Germany, sunflower seeds are mixed with rye flour to make a type of bread (Sonnenblumenkernbrot).
In 1987 Vincent van Goth’s painting named “Sunflowers” sold for a record £25 million pounds at Christie’s in London.
I can remember growing sunflowers as a child with my nan at the bottom of our garden. My grandparents used to have an African grey parrot, so we just pinched some of his sunflower seeds and planted them in the garden.
I reckon this must of been my first foray into gardening and remember them poking their heads over the hedge that separated the top and bottom parts of the garden.
Another fun plant to grow with kids are tomato plants, check out our post on how to grow tomatoes.