How to Grow Sunflowers

Sunflowers are fun and easy to grow, and have been a favorite of gardeners for several reasons.  Not only are they hardy and pest resistant, as their name suggests, they are a sunny, cheerful flower.  Children especially love to grow them because of their typical height—it is a thrill to plant something as small as a seed and watch it grow into a friendly eight foot giant!  And aside from their towering beauty, sunflowers also provide us with a delicious and nutritious snack!  The sunflower seeds of most varieties can be roasted and enjoyed by young and old alike.  Sunflowers will also attract some beautiful birds to your garden (although they may steal away some of your yummy seeds) and some varieties attract butterflies as well.  Although most of us are familiar with the standard sunflower with its pretty yellow petals and dark center, sunflowers come in an assortment of colors, designs and heights.  They also are available as perennials as well as annuals, so there is sure to be a sunflower out there to suit every taste.

 Before You Plant

 Choose the Right Type:

Sunflowers come in many varieties, some as tall as 8 feet, some much shorter.  There are even newer varieties designed to be pollen free, thus making a perfect cutting flower to bring into the house for decoration.  Regardless of the variety you choose, the methods of growing and caring for your sunflowers will be the same.  Consequently, the variety you choose is more a matter of personal taste than it is necessity. Aside from the classic giant sunflower that carries a single large bloom with bright yellow petals and a large dark center, here are some varieties you may want to consider.  Keep in mind that, while annuals bloom the season that you plant them, if you choose a perennial variety, it may take 2 or 3 years to bloom initially.

  • Velvet Queen:  Plants grow 4 to 6 feet in height, mature in about 100 days, and produce multiple boom son numerous side branches.  The seeds are smaller and great for birds, but because of their small size, they’re not great for roasting and eating.
  • Red Sun:  Unique sunflower that produces dark orange/red blooms with a tinge of yellow around its brown center.  This variety usually grows 5 to 6 feet in about 90 days and produces multiple blooms of about 5 or 6 inches.
  • Ring of Fire:  This variety grows to about 4 or 5 feet in about 100 days, and produces a bloom with bi-colored petals, dark red around a brown center and golden yellow around the tips.
  • Maximillian:  This variety is a perennial that grows to 4 to 7 feet tall and produces multiple sunny yellow 2 to 3 inch blooms all summer long.  It is a favorite of birds and butterflies, is heat and drought resistant and is great for cutting
  • Tithonia Torch:  This is a shorter variety, growing about 2 to 5 feet in height in about 90 days, and produces Dahlia-like flowers in orange, yellow and bright red.

Find a Suitable Location:

  • Sunflowers in general are hardy plants that are heat and drought tolerant, and do well in all zones, so long as they are planted after the danger of hard freeze has passed for your zone.
  • As the name suggests, Sunflowers love the sun and do best in areas that provide full sunlight (at least 6 hours) every day.
  • While some varieties do well even in poor soil, for the most part, sunflowers do best in average to rich soil.
  • Avoid planting your sunflowers in sandy or loose soil as they can become easily uprooted.
  • Keep in mind that, depending upon the variety you choose, sunflowers require adequate space to grow, and overcrowding will diminish the beauty and health of your sunflowers.
  • Also remember that sunflower blooms will generally face toward the East, which may be a consideration to you when choosing the perfect spot for your garden.
  • Since sunflowers grow so tall, you may not want to place them around other plants that require sunlight since the sunflower may block the sunlight, providing too much shade.
  • Keep in mind that since sunflowers generally grow tall, if you’re using them in a garden with other flowers, you may want to use them as a background border, i.e. behind other flowers, so as not to block shorter flowers from view.

Prepare the Soil:

  • Soil should be prepared after the last danger of frost has passed.
  • Sunflowers can be started indoors, then once seedlings have established, they can be easily transplanted into your garden.
  • When sowing your seeds directly into your garden, late spring planting is best and will generally produce sunflowers midsummer.
  • Since sunflowers do best in richer soil, work your compost or fertilizer into your planting area before sowing your seeds.

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