How to Grow Sunflowers

sunflowers blooming

by Jennifer Poindexter

Driving through the countryside during the warm summer months, it’s common place to see gorgeous gardens, country style homes, and towering sunflowers decorating the landscape.

Have you ever wanted to add these bright behemoths to your yard?

Sunflowers are gorgeous, delicious, and somewhat intimidating. Trying to grow a plant that towers over most gardeners, depending upon variety, and houses alike can seem like a difficult task when considering raising them.

Don’t be intimidated any longer. I’m going to share with you all you must know to attempt growing sunflowers with confidence.

Here’s how you can grow your own sunflowers around your home or garden this upcoming gardening season.

Growing Conditions for Sunflowers

Sunflowers are a large annual flower that consists of brightly colored petals with a dark center. They usually stand out for their long stems.

However, there are multiple varieties of sunflowers. Some can grow to only a foot tall while others can grow to be 14 feet tall.

If you don’t live where you have enough room for sunflowers, you might choose a smaller variety and grow it in a container.

However, if you live where you have room to grow the traditional varieties, be mindful that they’ll need support or a shelter to protect them from stronger winds. This can cause the sunflowers to topple over.

Regardless of the variety that you choose, sunflowers are hardy in zones two through 11. They all need well-draining soil that’s also loose. This allows their roots to dig feet into the ground to establish a strong support.

Sunflowers also should be planted in soil that’s nutrient dense. They require a great deal of nutrients, and the soil must supply it for them.

Perhaps the largest element sunflowers need to grow properly is sun. All varieties love sun and should be planted where they’ll receive at least eight hours of it per day.

If you can provide these needs in a grow space around your home or garden, sunflowers might be a great fit for you.

How to Plant Sunflowers

Planting sunflowers is a straight-forward process. Most gardeners choose to direct sow them because it’s less complicated.

However, if you live where you have a shorter grow season, sunflowers can be started indoors using grow trays.

They should be placed in quality soil within the trays and supplied with heat and water. Once all threat of frost is over, they can be placed in an appropriate outdoor grow space.

When direct sowing, wait until all threat of frost has passed. The soil should be 60 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

Plant your sunflowers in one-inch holes. Whether placing seeds or seedlings, there should be a half foot between each plant. Be sure to leave three feet between each row of sunflowers to avoid overcrowding.

When seedlings are six inches, begin thinning them. There should be one foot between each plant as they grow into maturity.

It’s a good idea to practice succession planting when growing sunflowers. Plant a new row of sunflowers once or twice per month.

This will prolong your blooming schedule. Keep in mind, it takes sunflowers three to four months to grow from seed to the blooming stage of their life cycle.

Utilizing succession planting could certainly make the wait very worthwhile. Understanding how to plant sunflowers properly can provide a foundation for gardening success.

Caring for Sunflowers

Sunflowers require very little care. If you can water them adequately, stake the varieties which need it, and mulch, you’ve got caring for these beauties under control.

To begin, you should water sunflowers once per week. Be sure to utilize the deep watering method. By watering deeply, it ensures the water reaches the roots of the plants. More frequent shallow watering doesn’t always accomplish this.

Therefore, watering fewer times per week, for longer periods of time, will benefit your sunflowers because it encourages deeper and stronger root systems.

Larger varieties of sunflowers need to be staked. The reason being, if high winds roll through, the sunflowers will flop over.

Finally, mulch around the base of your sunflowers. Not only will this keep things neat and tidy beneath the sunflowers, which can help deter pests and diseases, but it also keeps weeds down and moisture in.

By providing the most basic of care, your sunflowers should perform beautifully in your garden.

Garden Pests and Diseases for Sunflowers

Sunflowers do have a few enemies in this world. As the gardener, it’s your job to be aware of potential threats, so you can head them off before they ruin your crop.

When it comes to sunflowers, be on the lookout for birds, squirrels, deer, rust, downy mildew, and powdery mildew.

Rust, downy mildew, and powdery mildew are all considered a type of fungus. They normally form where there isn’t adequate airflow around the plant, too much debris beneath the plant which blocks airflow, or when soil gets splashed on the stem and foliage of the plant.

All of this can be avoided by mulching around your sunflowers to keep the soil off the plants. You should also practice good garden hygiene by keeping the weeds down and debris out of your plants.

If the diseases still find your sunflowers, be sure to treat them with a fungicide. Healthy sunflowers can be achieved with proper maintenance and treatment.

Gardeners should be aware of squirrels, birds, and deer. They will destroy your sunflower harvest in no time.

Birds and squirrels are attracted to the sunflower seeds within your harvest. When the heads become large and filled with seeds, cover them with cheesecloth or a pillowcase. This will allow them to breathe while stopping pests from stealing what you’ve worked for.

Deer love your sunflowers for a different reason. They like them when they’re small and filled with delicate foliage. This is as good as a salad bar to a deer.

This can be avoided by building a chicken wire teepee. Place stakes on either side of your sunflowers and allow them to meet in the middle. It should form an A-frame.

Cover the A-frame with chicken wire. The frame is to support the chicken wire and keep it off the sunflowers directly, so they won’t become smothered.

This will stop the deer from chewing your sunflowers down to a nub. It may require some extra effort, but it’s worth it if it will protect your harvest.

How to Harvest Sunflowers

Sunflowers can be harvested for three reasons. The first reason being to enjoy them in  a flower bouquet. Smaller varieties of sunflowers are what’s normally used for this purpose.

Be sure to harvest your sunflowers in the morning before the heat of the day has caused them to wilt. Ensure to cut enough of the stem that it will fit nicely in the bouquet.

The next reason to harvest sunflowers is for eating them. Many people enjoy eating sunflower seeds. You can harvest your own and prepare them to eat as you would those which come prepackaged at many stores.

Along the same lines, you can harvest sunflowers for planting the next grow season. Whether you’re harvesting seeds to eat or plant, you’ll follow the same process.

Remove the head of the sunflower from the plant. Cut it where you only leave a half foot of stem left standing.

Place the head in a large bucket or pan and begin brushing the seeds out of the head with your hand. You can store the seeds in an airtight container until you’re ready to plant them.

Be sure the storage location is dry and cool as well. If you’d rather eat the sunflower seeds, boil them in salt water.

Once done, drain the water and put the seeds on a cookie sheet. Roast the seeds in the oven until they’re crisped up. They’ll be in the shell but could still make a delicious homemade treat.

This demonstrates that sunflower seeds can go much further than being eye-candy. In fact, they can make gorgeous flower arrangements, delicious snacks, and produce seeds for planting year after year.

Hopefully you now feel confident enough to try your hand at growing multiple varieties of sunflowers. You could be only a few months and some gardening away from creating a beautiful flower oasis right outside your door.

Learn More About Sunflowers

https://hort.purdue.edu/newcrop/afcm/sunflower.html

https://www.ag.ndsu.edu/extensionentomology/recent-publications-main/publications/A-1331-sunflower-production-field-guide

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