How to Grow Sunflower Plants
Some folk see a Sunflower as a flower. Others, see it as a vegetable. It
is, of course, both a beautiful flower, and a great vegetable! Healthy,
nutritious and attractive, Sunflowers have it all. That is probably why
sunflowers have spread from their native home in North America, and are now
grown around the world!
As homeowners, we adorn our yards and gardens with our choice of dozens of
sizes and varieties. We use it to attract birds to our homes. We
also enjoy eating the seeds. They are high in protein. Sunflowers are
popular as a cooking oil, too.
Sunflowers are also great for kids. The seeds are big and easy to handle,
and they require minimal attention. Kids like to grow big things, so a sunflower
fits the bill. The end product is not only eye appealing, but makes a great
snack. We put Sunflowers, along with pumpkins, as the top two plants for
kids to grow.
Native Americans used Sunflowers for a variety of uses. They ground
the seeds for making breads and cakes. Like today, the seed was used as a
snack. It was used to create dyes for clothing, and as body paint. The plants
were used medicinally for ointments and snake bite remedies.
Did you know?: Giant Sunflower plants can grow well over 20 feet tall,
and their blooms over two feet in diameter! Fall festivals often include
competition for the tallest sunflower.
Giant Sunflower competitions
are a regular at many fall festivals and giant pumpkin weigh-offs.
More on Giant Flowers and Vegetables
The most popular giant sunflower plants include:
Mammoth, American Giant and Skyscraper.
Varieties of Sunflowers:
There are many types of sunflowers. And, gardeners like to grow a wide variety
Sunflowers are basically separated by size. The giant varieties grow over
ten feet. Regular sunflowers typically grow from six to ten feet. Miniatures
are gaining in popularity as borders. They are very popular in Asia, and
grow two to four feet.
Some varieties of sunflowers have one big head or flower. They are usually
the giant sunflower varieties. Other large headed varieties, have a few much
smaller heads that form on lower branches. Some varieties have multiple heads.
These are typically mid sized sunflowers, and are perfect for flower gardens
in attracting birds.
Sunflower seeds are usually a dark brown to black, or large, grey and white
striped. The latter is the most popular for eating due, to their large size.
Don't worry over selection. The birds will eat ample quantities of both,
and so will you. Whether you are feeding the wildlife or not, there are plenty
of wildlife that enjoy sunflower. They include all sorts of birds of course,
squirrels, and rodents.
Giant Sunflowers - Many people
find growing these to be addicting. A giant sunflower can be either a very
tall plant, or an enormous flower head.
Tithonia, or Mexican Sunflower- Grow
4-6 feet tall, with daisy-like flowers. Blooms summer to fall.
Did you know? If you have a pet hamster,mouse, gerbil or bird, adding
a few sunflower seeds in their diet as a nice treat.
Sunflower Varieties - See
the biggest and the best varieties around.
Sowing Sunflower Seeds:
"Autumn Sun" Sunflower
Sunflower seeds are best sown outdoors directly into the garden. After planting,
cover them with a screen, as the birds and animals love to dig the seeds
out. You can also start them in a seedbed and transfer them when they are
If you plant sunflowers indoors, use individual peat pots. Start two to three
weeks before the last frost date for your area. Plant one or two seeds per
pot, thinning to one before planting outdoors.
If you grow them to feed the birds, look for seedlings growing near the base
of last year's crop. They can be left to grow, or transplanted to another
Whether you plant directly outdoors or transplant them, make the final spacing
Giants: Space three feet apart in rows three to four feet apart.
Regular/Intermediate sizes: Space two feet apart in rows three feet apart.
Miniatures: Space one foot apart in rows three feet apart.
For individual planting, put the seedling or seeds in just about any sunny
location. Plant either individual, in groups, or in patterns. Make sure they
are visible from your deck, porch and windows.
Did you know? Sunflowers always point their blooms or face to the
rising sun in the East. Keep this in mind as you determine where to plant
Tip: Miniatures make great borders or edging plants in flower gardens.
Days to Maturity:
70 to 90 days or more, depending upon the variety. Read the package for the
specific time for the variety you acquire.
How to Grow Sunflowers:
Sunflower plants grow well in average to rich soils. They need to grow their
roots deep and wide, to enable them to withstand strong winds. If you have
a choice, sandy soils are not recommended, as they are easily uprooted in
loose soil. Rich soil is important, when growing giant varieties.
Contrary to it's name, we found they will tolerate some shade as we put them
against an east wall of our house every year. However, they will grow their
best in full sun.
Deep roots help sunflowers to withstand most droughts. They will benefit
from a dose of fertilizer when you apply it to the rest of your garden. Apply
extra phosphorus and potassium when the flower bud begins to develop, to
promote bigger blooms.
Tip: If you are crowded for space, plant one or two sunflowers amidst
your vine crops. One or two will not seriously shade the vines. Make sure
not to plant them near their tap roots for the vines.
If you are growing sunflowers in a windy area and have light, loose soil,
you may want to stake taller varieties, to keep them from falling over.
Harvest sunflower seeds after the flower begins to die back, and most if
not all, of the petals have fallen off. Pull out a seed and open it to see
if it is full. Cut off the head, leaving a few inches of stalk. Hang the
stalks to dry in a well ventilated area. Do not stack them in a box, as mold
can develop during the drying process. As soon as the flowers have dried,
extract the seeds by rubbing two flower heads together. They should come
off of the flower head fairly easily.
Sunflowers are also used as dried flowers in vases and for craft projects.
They can be cut just before the flowers die off and dried over a few weeks.
Miniature sunflowers make lovely fresh bouquets also. For craft projects,
it is important to leave a sufficient amount of stalk.
We enjoy sharing this crop with wildlife. We also enjoy eating the seeds,
too. Birds and squirrels will begin their assault before the seeds are completely
ripe. You can protect against this annual invasion by covering the entire
flower with an old nylon stocking, a cheese cloth bag, or any other covering
that allows light and especially air to flow through. Do not use plastic
bags, as moisture buildup will rot the flower and heat buildup will scald
it. Some people will put a bag below the flower to catch any seeds that fall.
Insects and Pests:
The birds and squirrels are the primary invaders for your Sunflower crop.
Fortunately, most insects are not a problem. Occasionally, ants enjoy the
nectar from the flower. They are no real threat to the seeds.
Diseases of Sunflowers:
Sunflowers seldom have disease problems. Score another point for an easy
to grow and enjoyable plant!
Plant Problems - Diagnosis,
causes and cures for many common plant problems.
Sunflower plants are annuals. They can withstand a mild frost. However, cover
your seedlings, if a hard spring freeze is anticipated.
For More Information:
Roasted Sunflower Seeds- from
Seeds are the rage. Try this recipe from Pumpkin Nook.
Buy Sunflower Seeds for Planting