Growing Sunflowers is one of the really fun parts of summer time gardening. These big annuals are very easy to grow, which makes them a very popular plant to introduce children to gardening. Sunflowers (Helianthus annuus) are a member of the Aster family.
The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas. It is native to Central North America and has been cultivated for centuries. The common name “sunflower” refers to the annual variety of the plant. There are also perennials, but they are not often grown, because they spread easily and are quite invasive.
Tips for Growing Sunflowers
There are over 70 species of the sunflower plant. They range in size from dwarf varieties that are only 1 1/2 feet tall to Mammoths that can be over 8 feet tall. The heads of the largest sunflowers can be a foot or more in diameter!
Sunflowers are not too fussy about the type of soil, so they can be sown in most areas of the garden and in large pots on deck gardens. However, they are heavy feeders, so adding compost or other organic matter to the soil will result in better plants. You can water early in the spring when the new growth starts with a slow release fertilizer.
These plants are called sunflowers for a reason – they love the sun! Plant them in full sun and try to situate the plants on the northern side of the garden, so that they won’t shade other plants or vegetables when they are grown. Growing sunflowers in the shade will result in stunted flowers that reach for any available sunlight.
Even though sunflowers are drought resistant, they will grow much better if you give them water regularly, especially after the flowers develop.
The flowers of the sunflowers are amazing when they open. They can take time to develop but are worth the wait!
The flowers themselves vary dramatically. We all know the bright yellow sunflower with a black or brown center but there are so many other varieties, too – from multi colored plants to huge fluffy Teddy Bear Sunflowers that are so popular right now. They make fabulous cut flowers for bringing indoors.
There is nothing quite like the look of a sunflower in your garden! #♥sunflowers #gardenfaces… Click To Tweet
Mid summer is the peak bloom time for sunflowers. They grow all spring to get their height and then flower during the summer and early part of the fall.
The seeds and nectar of sunflowers are attractive to many forms of wildlife. Bees, wasps, and butterflies are drawn their nectar. All animals that save seeds for the winter, such as chipmunks and squirrels, love them, and even raccoons and garden mice will enjoy a sunflower treat or two, as well.
It’s a good idea to leave dead seed heads when the cold weather comes for any birds that may be around in the winter months.
When to Plant
Seeds should be sown after the last frost date when the soil is warmer. You can get a head start by starting seeds a few weeks before the last frost, they really prefer to be sown directly into the soil. Plant them an inch deep and about 6 – 12 inches apart. (1 1/2 feet apart for the largest varieties.) Water well after planting.
Birds love the seeds of sunflowers, which can make collection them for personal use hard. Some gardeners recommend covering flower heads with cheesecloth, pantyhose, or the perforated bags that vegetables come in if birds become a nuisance. The time to harvest seeds is when the backs of the heads turn yellow and the seeds start to turn brown. The heads will usually start to droop when they are ready for you to harvest the seeds. It takes 80 -120 days for seeds to develop, depending on variety. To roast sunflower seeds, soak them over night and then bake for 200 º F for 3 hours. Add salt if desired. They make a great snack.
Growing sunflowers can attract wildlife and also brings beauty to the garden. Since sunflowers have such thick stems, you can use them as living supports for climbing vegetables. Their size also makes them perfect for wind breaks and privacy screening.
A Note on Sunflowers and Grass
If birds feed on your sunflowers, it may be hard to grow grass near them. The hulls have a toxin that will kill the grass. Either harvest the seeds before they start to fall, or plant the sunflowers in a place where the grass does not grow nearby.
My daughter’s favorite flower is a sunflower. We snapped this picture of her one day on the way to college. She just HAD to be in that field!
If you have young children, try to get them interested in gardening by growing sunflowers. The seeds are large and easy for them to handle and they sprout and grow very quickly. Once they stand at the foot of a fully grown sunflower and see how tall it is, they will be hooked!