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Tips on How to Grow Sunflowers From Seed
The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is a fascinating plant to grow, especially for children. Whether you are growing for competition or pleasure, practicing the following advice will help give your sunflowers the best conditions for good growth and health.
Choosing a sunflower species to grow
The first step in growing sunflowers is deciding which species you want to grow. There are 67 species of sunflower worldwide with single or multiple stems, heights, head sizes and colors. Read the details for each popular species below to help make an informed choice about the sunflower you plan to grow.
Music box is what is known as a dwarf variety that grows to a maximum height of 28 inches, making it suitable for container growing.
Teddy bear species of sunflower smaller than Music Box, grow to about 12 – 18 inches.
Italian white sunflower, also a small variety but with an attractive cream colored flower.
Autumn mix unlike the above, it usually grows over 6 feet tall with yellow and rust-colored flower heads, 5 – 6 inches in diameter.
Largest sunflower species such as the Russian giant grows more than 15 feet tall with a large head diameter of up to 20 inches. Obviously, larger sunflower species will require more space than the other previously mentioned species. But it’s fun if you have the space to grow them.
What is the best place to grow sunflowers
Grow sunflowers in soil exposed to direct sunlight and sheltered from wind. Protect your sunflowers by supporting the stem with a bamboo stake as soon as the sunflower reaches 1 foot in height. This will help the stem grow straight and protect the sunflower from wind damage.
As the sunflower matures, the heavy weight of the head on the tall stem makes the sunflower vulnerable to wind damage. Because wild sunflowers only grow between 2 and 6 feet in height, the risk of wind damage is far less than that of the domesticated sunflower.
What is the best soil for growing sunflowers
Plant your seedlings in good quality soil, such as my personal favorite – Miracle Grow potting mix, which has good water retention, enriched with plant food. Always make sure the soil is kept moist and avoid it drying out completely. Consider adding fertilizer to the garden soil where you plan to plant your seeds or seedlings.
Tips for germinating sunflower seeds
If you prefer to germinate your sunflower seeds before planting in soil, place at least 10 sheets of absorbent kitchen paper on a plate and soak them with water. Sprinkle seeds evenly over the wet paper towel before placing them in a warm room such as an airing cupboard. The more sheets of paper towel you use, the better you retain water, which means less frequent watering is required.
Controlling seeds with regular watering prevents the paper towel from drying out, especially common in warm environments or direct sunlight. When your sunflower seeds begin to germinate, plant in potting compost mixed with manure in your garden at a depth of 2 inches, spaced 1 – 2 feet apart.
Sowing sunflower seeds in pots
If you are germinating your sunflower seeds in pots, sow a single seed in each pot at a depth of 1 inch in pots with a diameter of 3 inches. Use a good quality potting compost such as Miracle Grow potting mix before covering the top of the pot with clear cling film.
When green leaves appear above the ground after germination, remove the film and place the pot near a window that receives the most sunlight throughout the day, if possible. Turn the flower pot 180 degrees in the morning and again in the evening, and check that the soil is kept moist.
If the pot was too small or the sunflower has been in the pot for too long, there will probably be a heavy build-up of roots around the walls of the pot. Because sunflowers have long taproots capable of growing 4 feet deep, growing the plant at this stage in pots will severely stunt growth.
Crowded roots can be safely removed by cutting no more than 1/3 off with a sharp knife. Break away and discard dead soil around the sunflower’s roots before planting in the garden. Remember to be careful not to damage the remaining healthy roots in the process.
Sowing sunflower seeds in the garden (Recommended)
Sowing seeds directly in the garden is my preferred method where I have had the most success. So your sunflower seeds after the last winter frost has passed and the night temperatures have risen above 5º or 10º Celsius. Sow in loose soil at a depth of about 50 mm (2 inches) and spaced 1 – 2 feet apart. Water seeds regularly until 2 feet tall when the second set of leaves appears. Liquid fertilizer must be added to the water for feeding from this point onwards.
- The sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is a fascinating plant to grow, especially for children. Sunflowers can grow up to 12 feet tall with a head diameter of up to 30 cm (1 foot).
- The sunflower head, often mistakenly referred to as a flower, consists of 1000 – 2000 individual flowers. The petals around the head are ray flowers.
- Sunflowers are one of the fastest growing plants in the world, growing up to 30 cm (1 foot) per day.
- A fascinating characteristic of the sunflower is its ability to track the direction of sunlight by pointing the sunflower head towards the sun. This behavior is referred to as heliotropism.
- Wild sunflowers have smaller seeds that grow multiple branches and/or stems with more than one head. It is only through hundreds of years of careful, hand-picked seed selection that the domestic sunflower is much larger with a single stem and flower head.
- The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas, USA and the nationally recognized flower of Russia.
- According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the tallest sunflower ever grown was in 1986 by M Heijms in Oirschot, Netherlands at a height of 776 cm.
- The largest sunflower head ever recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records measured 32 1/4 inches (82 cm) in diameter, grown by Emily Martin of Maple Ridge, Canada in the hot summer of 1983.
- Although native to the Americas, 60% of the world’s sunflower population is grown in Europe and Russia. Popular species with sunflower growers starting with the tallest: Moonwalker, Pastiche, Velvet Queen, Russian Giant and the smaller Teddy Bear and Big Smile species.
- Sunflowers are very effective at attracting butterflies, bees and birds.
- Sunflowers are used to produce sunflower oil. As seeds, they are used for bird feed and as a healthy snack for children and adults.
- Sunflower seeds contain 50% polyunsaturated fat and are rich in Omega-6, which has been shown to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. Sunflower seeds are rich in calcium along with a number of other vitamins and minerals.
- The scientific name for sunflower; Helianthus comes from two Greek words, Helios meaning sun and Anthos meaning flower.
- Sunflowers are perennial plants that grow every year.
- Sunflower seeds are poisonous to grass, so remove them from your lawn, which would be killed by falling seeds.
Sunflowers: An excellent choice for children
Sunflowers are an excellent choice of plant for children to grow. They are visually appealing, attract a variety of insects such as butterflies, bees and birds as well as being easy to grow.
You might encourage friends or neighbors to compete with to see who can grow the tallest sunflower. I personally have fond memories of being a 9-year-old kid competing with my neighbor. If my memory serves me correctly, I managed to grow three sunflowers to a height of about 6 feet. Even though I’m so young, everything seems bigger at that age, so I could be wrong. I know I shouldn’t brag, but of course I won… of course of course. 🙂 Pardon!!
BBSRC (Biotechnology and Biologically pscience Rsearch Cadvice… phew) has produced a Sunflower Growing eBook where young children can grow their very own sunflower while learning how plants grow.
Plant care of sunflower
Sunflowers need plenty of watering and sunlight, taking about two weeks to emerge and 90 days to fully grow. If you are using a chemical herbicide, make sure it is suitable for use on sunflowers or pull weeds by hand. Overwatering sunflowers is likely to damage flower heads, especially 20 days before or 20 days after full bloom.
Pour about 2 liters of liquid fertilizer solution each week around the sunflower roots, being careful not to pour the solution over the stem as this has been shown to cause sunflower stems to rot.
Try to position your sunflowers so that they spend as much time in the sun as possible, preferably 6-8 hours or more. If strong winds are forecast, delay watering until the wind has passed to prevent the sunflower from blowing over.
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