Every garden needs sunflowers because they’re one of the easiest annuals to grow from seed. Giants can reach 10 to 15 feet tall, while smaller varieties top at around 3 feet. They’re not picky about soil, and naturally, they love the sun! Their name likely comes from the way the flower tracks the sun’s position, turning its pretty face toward it throughout the day (that’s called “heliotropism,” if you want to impress your friends). Sunflowers, also known by their botanical name Helianthus annuus, are native to North and Central America and can be grown for cut flowers or snacks for yourself, birds or other wildlife.
Here’s what else you need to know about how to grow sunflowers.
How do I grow sunflowers?
Sunflowers grow easily from seed after all danger of frost has passed in your part of the country. Make sure to give them a spot in your garden that receives 6 or more hours of sun per day. Plant seeds about an inch deep and space shorter types about 6 inches apart, taller ones about a foot apart. You can plant in rows or groupings of 3 or so seeds. The giant types don’t do well in containers, but the shorter varieties are fine in pots at least 2 or 3 feet deep.
Water the seeds well, then keep the soil lightly moist while you’re waiting for germination in about 7 to 10 days. They’ll need an occasional watering after that if you haven’t had rain for a few days. Fertilizer isn’t necessary but if you decide to add it, use a granular slow-release type that’s high in phosporous (something like 5-10-5 or 4-12-4) to encourage flower development. Make sure to weed because sunflowers don’t like competing for water and nutrients. Stake, if necessary, to offer support as they grow.
Protect the seedlings.
The biggest risk to your baby sunflowers is digging rodents, who are excited to have discovered your sunflower seed hideaway! If you notice your seeds have sprouted and then disappear in a day or two, it may be rodents such as chipmunks. Occasionally, birds like to dig up seeds, too. Protect your seeds by replanting, then create a small cylinder of hardwire cloth, a type of tightly woven metal fencing. Make it about a foot tall and insert it over the seeds and a few inches into the ground to discourage digging.
When do I harvest sunflowers?
Sunflowers are ready to harvest when their heads are drooping forward, the seeds look plump, and the petals have dropped. Cut the flower off with about a foot of stem attached. Hang in a warm, dry, well-ventilated spot for about a week. When the seeds are dry, rub them out gently with your fingertips. Let them dry a few more days, then store in airtight jars in the fridge to retain flavor. Or share them with your wildlife friends, if you like!
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