Every gardener should know how to grow sunflowers. Sunflowers, or Helianthus annuus, are great garden plants with particularly striking blooms.
These annual plants are remarkably tough and resilient, making them an excellent choice for any kind of garden. Plus, they have a wide range of uses beyond just being so darn beautiful to look at.
Here’s everything you need to know to cultivate, grow and care for these fantastic flowers.
With striking, yellow, radiating petals, sunflowers have long been a gardening favourite, believed to be a symbol of courage.
These gorgeous blooms were initially cultivated by Native Americans as a source of medicine and fiber, but also for their seeds and to create oil.
The most common varieties of sunflowers include:
- Russian Mammoth
- Lemon Queen
- Aztec Gold Hybrid
- Super Snack Hybrid
- Paul Bunyan Hybrid
Are Sunflowers Easy to Grow?
This fantastic flora is incredibly easy to grow, even for beginner growers and those without much of a green thumb. Sometimes, they may even plant themselves when loose seeds from bird feeders fall to the ground.
Sunflowers are fuss-free, fast-growing as well as heat and pest resistant. That means that they can grow pretty much anywhere, and it doesn’t take much effort to get big, blooming flower heads.
How to Grow Sunflowers
Sunflowers are best suited for outdoor growing, as these sun-worshippers will need as much as 6 to 8 hours of sun per day.
They are incredibly drought-tolerant, so apart from lots of sun, you’ll want to make sure your sunflower has plenty of loose, well-draining soil for its roots to grow in. Plus, they enjoy a slightly more acidic soil, aim for a PH level anywhere between 6.5 and 7.0.
Apart from the soil and sun, you can plant your sunflower anywhere. Should you cultivate a specifically tall-growing sunflower, consider planting it near a wall to protect it from significant winds.
Your sunflower cultivation is best and most successful from seed and should be carried out around mid-spring.
Propagating Sunflowers from Seeds
Sunflower seeds are super viable, and you can either buy them from a store or grab some from an existing flower.
To sow your seeds, simply:
- Dig a shallow trench and space out seeds at least 6-inches apart and 1 to 2-inches deeps.
- Backfill with soil and water well.
Sprouting should occur within 7 to 10 days and will take between 80 to 120 days for your sunflower to fully mature.
It is recommended to mulch around the base of your sunflower to improve soil quality and deter weeds.
Can You Grow Sunflowers in Pots?
Smaller varieties of sunflowers can be grown in pots or containers. However, larger sunflowers species are best grown in the ground, so the taproot has sufficient space to grow.
If you’re looking for a sunflower species to grow in pots, consider the ‘short stuff’ or ‘teddy bear’ cultivars, as these will do best and have a shorter root system.
If you’re thinking of keeping your pots indoors or on the patio, just make sure it’s getting sufficient sunlight throughout the course of the day.
Sunflowers Care Tips
Sunflowers won’t require much maintenance, except some light watering every now and then.
Infrequent watering will encourage root growth, so try not to stick to a too strict regime. Especially if you’re receiving a lot of natural rainfall, you won’t need to water your sunflower much, if at all.
However, your sunflower may require some extra moisture before and after flowering.
Although sunflowers are heavy feeders, they don’t require regular fertilization, significantly as excess amounts of nitrogen may inhibit flowering. It’s recommended to prepare your soil before planting with a slow-release, granular fertilizer just to boost soil nutrients levels.
Taller-growing varieties may require the support of a bamboo stake as they get closer to maturity.
How to Harvest Your Sunflower
If you’re hoping to use your sunflower for a bouquet, we recommend harvesting just before it reaches the peak of its bloom.
Otherwise, you’ll want to wait until the reverse side of your flower head turns brown, the flower head begins to nod or when the leaves start to dry out and fall off. This will mean your sunflower seeds are ready to be harvested.
Using a sharp pair of shears to cut off the sunflower head, with about a foot of the stem.
It’s important to note that sunflowers are annual plants and won’t grow back after cutting. Once you’ve harvested your flower head, simply pull the rest of the stem and roots out of the ground.
If you like, keep the stem and allow it to dry out to use as kindling in the wintertime.
Problems, Pests and Diseases
One major issue with growing sunflowers is that the seeds, stems and leaves emit substances that may inhibit the growth of other plants around them.
This means it’s not ideal for growing amongst your vegetable garden, for instance. Other than that, your sunflower may be susceptible to fungal diseases such as mildew or rust.
You’ll notice an issue should your leaves suddenly begin to wither and die. Simply treat your sunflower with a natural fungicide. Sometimes, sunflower moths may lay eggs within the blossom.
This can be problematic as the larvae will destroy the seeds and eventually kill off the flower head.
Either pick off the worm and kill them between your fingers, or if you have a particularly nasty infestation, consider treating your sunflower with a pesticide that contains Bacillus Thuringiensis.
The only other issue you may find is that other animals quite enjoy sunflower seeds. Birds and squirrels are common feeders. If you want to keep them away, consider setting up barriers around your sunflower or harvesting before they have a chance to get to it.
Alternatively, if you don’t mind some friendly garden visitors, consider cutting off the flower head and placing it on the ground to allow for more comfortable feeding.
What to Do with Your Sunflowers
Sunflowers aren’t only a beautiful outdoor display. Once harvested, there’s quite a bit you can do with your sunflower and the seeds. Of course, if you’re hoping to use the cut flowers, you’ll want to harvest your sunflower before the seeds are ready.
You can use the seeds to either re-plant more sunflowers or keep them in a sealed container at home.
Sunflower seeds are rich in vitamins and minerals, plus they’re incredibly high in protein. You can enjoy them as a snack, add them to muesli or oats, put some in your salads or add them to your baking or bread.
When you toast the seeds slightly, you’ll also enhance their natural flavour.If you’re feeling incredibly experimentative, you can even try making your own sunflower oil.
Wrapping Up How to Grow Sunflowers Guide
There really are so many applications when it comes to sunflower, and once you’ve grown your first sunflower, it’s so easy to keep growing more and more.
They really are such a beautiful addition to a garden, and they’re big, yellow blooms really make it feel like summer. Always keep in mind that you want to avoid water-logged soil at all costs and make sure your sunflower is getting all the sun that it needs.
Yes, beautiful, bold sunflowers are only one seed away, no matter where you stay! Now you know how to grow sunflowers.