Learning how to grow sunflowers is perfect for warm weather gardening. After all, nothing speaks of summer more than the bright and jovial blooms of sunflowers.
We’ll go through the basics of how to grow sunflowers for an amazing summer garden.
Ultimate Garden Season Guide on How to Grow Sunflowers
What Sunflower Varieties Should You Try
Sunflowers are heliotropic plants with most varieties reaching maturity in 90-100 days. Aside from the gorgeous flowers and nutritious oil and seeds, sunflowers help your garden invite pollinators and pest-deterring birds.
What are heliotropic plants? These are plants whose flowers or leaves follow the movement of the sun from east to west. Other heliotropic flowers include poppies, daisies, and marigolds. Experts believe that this phenomenon is a way for the plants to optimize pollination and seed development.
Here are some of our favorite cultivars perfect for different garden types and needs:
- Russian Mammoth. The variety we are familiar with, this cultivar reaches a height of more than 12 feet tall. Russian Mammoths are great if you’re getting seeds for snacks.
- Autumn Beauty. This variety gives a rainbow of colors (red, yellow, and burgundy) growing on branching stems. This stunning multi-color display is a favorite backdrop for smaller flowers.
- Teddy Bear. Perfect for small gardens and containers, this dwarf variety will give you golden blooms great for cutting displays.
- Zohar. The hybrid cultivar is one of the pollen-free sunflowers you can grow in your small garden. This is a great variety if you are looking for long-lasting varieties for flower bouquets.
- Elf. The elf sunflower is probably the shortest variety there is. This cultivar will be a lovely addition to your garden if you want your children to enjoy sunflowers as well.
Where to Plant Sunflowers
The first thing to know about how to grow sunflowers is that they are sun-worshippers. Find a spot where there is at least 8 hours of direct sunlight.
Sunflowers are not choosy in terms of soil. However, a well-draining and loose soil will help the long taproots stretch out. If you’re planning to grow them in beds, till the soil up to 2 feet deep.
The plant will thrive well in slightly acidic soil, between 6.0 – 7.5 pH. Prepare the soil with high-nutrient organic compost as sunflowers are heavy-feeders.
If possible, find a sheltered location to protect the flowers against strong winds, especially those varieties that tend to have big and heavy flowers.
Tip: Be aware of how the tall sunflower will grow relative to the other plants in your garden. They can easily shade them once the sunflower plants mature.
When to Plant Sunflowers
Plant sunflowers when all the dangers of Spring frost are gone. It’s best to wait for the soil to warm up to at least 60°F. At this temperature, the seeds have more chances to germinate.
You can also opt to start germinating seeds indoor 4 weeks after the last frost. This will be perfect for transplant to the ground when the soil temperature is favorable.
How to Plant Sunflower Seeds
Sunflower seeds should be planted at least 2-3 inches deep and 6 inches apart from each other. The best time to plant is when the dangers of frost are over.
After sowing the seeds, cover lightly and water thoroughly until the first sprouts appear. Once they grow to 6-inches in height, tin plants to achieve a 2 feet distance between each other.
Tip: For short varieties, leave more room for growth because these cultivars tend to branch out. However, for very low-growing varieties like Zohar and Elf, you can plant them closer to each other.
How to Care for the Sunflower Plant
Being a summer plant, sunflowers are drought resistant and require less attention. However, here are some care guidelines you should consider when growing them:
- Once the plant is established, water well but infrequently. Once a week deep watering will do, except when the heat is extreme.
- Don’t overfertilize. This will only lead to fragile stems during the Fall season.
- If you must, apply organic fertilizers only as side-dressing or dilute in the water when applying.
- Apply a 3-inch mulch to help the soil retain moisture.
- If you choose to plant tall varieties, a stake will help the plant support the big flowers.
- Most of the time, sunflowers are not targetted by pests. In case powdery and downy mildews appear, treat with an antifungal soap.
- When planting sunflowers for their seeds, cover the flowers with polyspun garden fleece. This will let the plant enjoy the sun and air, but deter birds and other insects from feasting on the seeds.
Tip: Remove leaves nearest the flower to make it hard for birds to perch.
How to Harvest Sunflower and Seeds
Cut the main stem just before the bud has a chance to open to encourage side blooms. Harvest the flower early in the morning to avoid making the flower last long.
Handle the flowers with care. Put them in a vase with room-temperature water, and the bloom will last for a week or so. Change the water every day to keep the flower fresh.
You’ll know when the flowers are mature, they start to nod downwards and the florets shrivel. Cut the stem 6 inches below the flower head. Place in a container face-down to catch the loose seeds.
Hang the flower in a warm and dry place. Use your fingers or a brush to dislodge the dried-out seeds. Allow the seeds to dry for a few more days before storing in a sealed container.
Watch this video from MrMossyMC on how to grow sunflowers in pots:
At this point, I’m sure you’ll agree with me when I say that sunflowers make the summer more fun and interesting. And for green thumbs like you and I, learning how to grow sunflowers is as fulfilling as admiring these gigantic blooms.
Which sunflower variety will you try growing in your flower garden? Let us know by leaving a comment below!
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