Sunflowers are one of the many marvels in the garden. To think that in one summer, a seed planted in the ground can grow to a towering 12 feet high is incredible! Top it off with a huge beautiful flower covered in seeds, and sunflowers have to be included in the top features of any garden. Sunflowers are useful as a visual barrier to an unsightly view or structure like an unattractive fence or an old garage. They are fun plants to grow in the corners of the garden beds.
You don’t have to grow the giants if that doesn’t appeal to you. Today’s sunflowers come in all sizes–from the giants to miniature varieties and every size in between. Some have the single flower head atop each stalk, but some varieties grow multiple flowerheads. Sunflowers also come in multiple colors–from the traditional yellow flower petals to rust, orange, red and brown. The most difficult part of growing sunflowers may be choosing between the many varieties of sunflower seeds for sale to include in your garden!
Starting your sunflowers indoors
Most packets of sunflower seeds recommend planting directly in the ground, but they can be started indoors for an early start or if you live in a grow zone that has a shorter growing season. The largest sunflowers can take as long as 90 days to mature. Basic knowledge of how to start seeds indoors is all that is required. Plant two seeds in each pot about two to three weeks before the last frost date for your planting zone. The seeds will germinate quite easily. Before you transfer them into the garden, harden them off as usual with plants started indoors.
Preparation of the garden bed
Sunflowers have a deep and strong root system. Prepare the site you want to plant with sunflowers keeping that root system in mind. The typical garden supplies you will need are a shovel or garden fork, fertilizer and compost and possibly support structures. Because of that deep root structure, you want to work up the soil well and add lots of compost. Sunflowers grow fast and large, so they are heavy feeders. This is your best chance to enrich the soil to provide the sunflowers with the nutrients they need to grow to their maximum impressive size.
When the soil is prepared, check the seed package to determine how far apart the sunflowers should be. This can be anywhere from six inches to two feet, depending on the variety you’ve chosen. If you started your plants indoors and hardened them off, plant each sunflower the prescribed distance apart. Don’t forget to pinch off the weaker seedling in each pot. If you are direct sowing the seeds into the soil, sunflower seeds are large and usually planted about an inch deep. Again, check the seed package for specific instructions for the variety you chose.
Note: These seeds are very much like the sunflower seeds that we fill our bird feeders with. They are also attractive to the squirrels and chipmunks. If they discover your sunflower bed before the seeds start to grow, there is a chance they will eat them all. If you think this may be an issue, you can put a collar around each plant or lay chicken fence wire over the bed until the plants start growing.
Supporting your sunflowers
If you are growing the taller variety of sunflowers, the biggest enemy to your success is wind. The plants are tall and covered with large leaves. Even though they have a strong root system, the wind can catch them and knock them over. This is especially true when the flower head is developing, making the plant top heavy. If you live in an area where there is a lot of wind, you may want to take an extra step before you plant. If your sunflowers are planted against a fence or building, simply attach them to it for a little added support.
If your sunflowers are not close to some structure, you will need to provide some support. It doesn’t need to go to the height of the sunflower, just a few feet up the stem to give a little extra support from the wind. A snow fence post is ideal. They are metal and last forever and are relatively inexpensive. Each post has a triangular piece attached to the sides of the post near the bottom. This helps stabilize the post when in the ground. They can be pounded into the soil with a good hammer. Another option is an extra long wooden stake. Put the support piece in the ground before you plant the seeds or sunflower seedlings so as not to disturb the root system.
That’s it! Sunflowers are one of the easiest flowers to grow and you will have an impressive display as a result. You might even grow a record-breaking sunflower!