Sunflowers (or Helianthus – the correct plant name) is one of the most popular summer flowers. It is native to both North and South America, but this easy-to-grow flower is often cultivated due to is a friendly, large flower.
Not just being beautiful to look at, the sunflower is also useful; the seeds grown in the flower’s head are a good parrot and birdseed, as well as being tasty for a hamster. The seeds are also home to the oil which many of us cook with.
Sunflowers can be found in two varieties; the dwarf and the larger variety. The larger variety averages a height of 6-10 foot in full sun.
The dwarf variety (named Dwarf Sungold) are easier to manage and grow to an average height of 24 inches.
Growing sunflowers, in general, is quite easy. They need little maintenance and when planted out in the Spring, will flower in the summer. Re-appearing year after year they bring great hues of yellow to a sunny garden.
Growing to tall heights, the stems take on a lot of weight and are therefore top-heavy. Sunflowers need to have a good start to ensure that they grow strong and healthy, ready to take on the job of supporting the flower head for years to come.
How do I grow strong sunflowers?
Ten tips for growing strong sunflowers:
- Plenty of suns plus some shade.
- Generous watering.
- Planting out at the right time. Think about the weather, sunflowers don’t like the cold.
- Plenty of space. Don’t crowd them. Each sunflower needs a lot of nutrients from the soil, planting several together will just mean each plant will get fewer nutrients.
- Staking at the right time. Don’t let a sunflower struggle against the elements.
- Good compost.
- No interference. Once planted out, do not move them.
- To keep them strong year after year continue this kind of treatment while the plants are young every year.
- Attention. Cut off dead leaves, and keep the area weed-free.
- Do not use any pesticides, grass seed, or other chemicals near the growing sunflowers.
A head start
Before you sow or plant any flower ensure you know how to care for it. Know how much attention it needs, the position it needs to thrive, any feeding required etc.
Can you give the plant what it needs to survive and grow into a strong flower?
Sowing the seeds
Sunflower seeds can be picked up very reasonably at all garden centres. The dwarf variety seeds are much smaller, so you will probably get more for your money by buying these. The ideal time to buy would be in the spring, a week or so before you intend to plant them.
If you’re buying the larger, more common variety, try your local pet store. Many sell sunflower seeds in whatever weight you like, you can buy a huge bag for around 60p! This way if your first attempt at growing them doesn’t work to plan you haven’t wasted a lot of money.
If you are growing the seeds in a greenhouse before planting them out you’ll need to sow them sometime in April. Make sure you don’t plant them too far down in the pot, just cover with about an inch of compost/soil.
If you intend to plant straight out in the garden, make sure that the early morning frosts are over, sunflowers will not tolerate the cold.
Early May is a good time, if it is slightly warmer than average for this time of the year, you can plant out a little earlier. If this is your first attempt at growing sunflowers try planting some in a greenhouse and some straight in the ground and see which works best in your garden.
Tall sunflowers need to be planted against a wall or fence post for support. You’ll need to stake the plants was they become more established to save wind and rain damage, but planting against something is a good idea to make the stems stronger to hold the weight of the heavy sunflower heads. You can then tie the stem loosely to the post as it grows bigger for added support.
Make sure you plant the seeds no less than 24 inches apart to avoid crowding.
Sunflowers need sun. To make your sunflowers extra strong, plant them where they can benefit from both. If you’ve a spot in your garden where the sun covers it during the day, and then is shaded in the afternoon this would be perfect.
Try different spots with your seeds and see which works best for your garden. Soil conditions, weather climates, positions, and temperature all differ in gardens, so to make sure you grow the best sunflowers you can, experiment.
In July to September your flowers will be bright and strong. To keep them fresh, keep watering them every night. The air will be humid and the flower will need a drink! Be generous with your water, but try not to drown the plants. If you have a watering can with a rose attachment, sprinkle some water on the actual flower head to get the water in all the right places.
To ensure your sunflowers keep returning stronger and stronger, respond to what they need – a lot of sun, a lot of water, to be staked well and to be left to shine.