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Tips on How to Grow Sunflowers From Seed
sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an attractive plant to grow, especially for children. Whether growing for competition or pleasure, practicing the following advice will help provide your sunflowers with the best conditions for optimal growth and health.
Choosing Sunflower Species to Grow
The first step in growing sunflowers is deciding on the species you want to grow. Worldwide there are 67 species of sunflowers with single or multiple stems, growing height, head size and color. Read the details of each popular species below to make an informed choice about the sunflower you plan to grow.
Music box Known as a dwarf variety, it grows to a maximum height of 28 inches, making it suitable for growing in containers.
Teddy bear Sunflower species, smaller than a music box, grow about 12 – 18 inches.
Italian white Sunflower, a small variety but with attractive cream colored flowers.
Autumn mix As above, grows 5 – 6 inches in diameter, usually over 6 feet tall, with yellow and rusty flower heads.
The largest sunflower species Such as the Russian Giant grow over 15 feet tall with a large head diameter of up to 20 inches. Obviously, larger sunflower species will demand more space than the other species mentioned previously. A lot of fun if you have room to grow it.
What is the best place to grow sunflowers?
Grow sunflowers in soil that is exposed to direct sunlight and sheltered from wind. Protect your sunflowers by supporting them with bamboo stems as they reach 1 foot in height. This will help the stem grow straighter and protect the sunflower from wind damage.
When the sunflower matures, the heavy weight of the head on the tall stem leaves the sunflower vulnerable to wind damage. Because wild sunflowers only grow between 2 and 6 feet tall, the risk of wind damage is much lower than domesticated sunflowers.
What is the best soil for growing sunflowers?
Plant your plants in a good quality soil such as my personal favorite – Miracle Grow Potting Mix which holds good water and is rich in plant food. Always make sure to keep the soil moist and prevent it from 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 them in the ground, place at least 10 sheets of absorbent kitchen roll paper towels on a plate and soak them with water. Sprinkle the seeds evenly on a wet paper towel before placing them in a warm place such as an airing cupboard. The more paper towels you use, the better their water holding capacity, meaning less frequent watering.
Checking the seeds with regular watering will prevent paper towel drying, especially common in warm climates or direct sunlight. When your sunflower seeds begin to germinate, plant them in your garden 1 – 2 feet apart at a depth of 2 inches mixed with compost mixed with potting compost.
Planting sunflower seeds in pots
If you are germinating your sunflower seeds in pots, sow a single seed 1 inch deep in 3 inch diameter pots in each pot. Use a good quality potting compost such as Miracle Grow Potting Mix, cover the top of the pot with clear cling film.
When green leaves appear above the soil after germination, remove the film and place the pot near a window that receives all-day sunlight if possible. Rotate the plant pot 180 degrees in the morning and evening, making sure the soil is moist.
If the pot is too small or the sunflower is left in the pot too long, the roots are likely to crowd around the walls of the pot. Because sunflowers have long tapers capable of growing up to 4 feet deep, growth is severely hampered by the plant reaching this stage in pots.
No more than 1/3 of the roots can be safely cut off with a sharp knife. Before planting in the garden, break up the dead soil around the sunflower roots. Remember to be careful not to damage the remaining healthy roots in the process.
Planting sunflower seeds in the garden (recommended)
Sowing seeds directly into the garden is my preferred method with which I have had the most success. Sow your sunflower seeds after the last winter frost is over and night temperatures are above 5º or 10º Celsius. Sow about 50 mm (2 inches) deep in loose soil 1 – 2 feet apart. When the second set of leaves appear, water the seeds regularly to a height of 2 feet. From this point onwards liquid fertilizer should be added to the water for feeding.
- sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is an attractive 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).
- A sunflower head, often mistakenly referred to as a flower, contains 1000 – 2000 individual flowers. The petals around the head are ray flowers.
- The sunflower is the fastest growing plant in the world, growing up to 30 cm (1 ft) per day.
- An attractive feature of the sunflower is its ability to detect the direction of sunlight by pointing the head of the sunflower towards the sun. This behavior is called heliotropism.
- Wild sunflowers have small seeds, grow many branches and/or more than one head. After hundreds of years of careful, hand-picked seed selection, the homegrown sunflower has a single stem and flower head.
- The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas, USA, and the nationally recognized flower for Russia.
- According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the tallest sunflower ever grown was 25 feet 5.5 inches (776 cm) in 1986 by M Hejmes in Oirschot, Netherlands.
- The largest sunflower head recorded by the Guinness Book of World Records was 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 that are the tallest among sunflower growers: Moonwalker, Pastiche, Velvet Queen, Russian Giant and the small Teddy Bear and Big Smile species.
- Sunflowers are very effective at attracting butterflies, bees and birds.
- Sunflowers are used to make sunflower oil. As seeds, they are used as 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 contain calcium and many other vitamins and minerals.
- Scientific Name of 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 toxic to grass so keep them off your lawn which will be killed by falling seeds.
Sunflower: An excellent choice for children
Sunflower is an excellent plant choice for growing children. They are visually attractive, attract a range of insects such as butterflies, bees and birds and are easy to grow.
You can encourage friends or neighbors to compete by seeing who can grow the tallest sunflower. I have personal memories of being a 9 year old competing with my next door neighbor. If my memory serves me correctly, I was able to grow three sunflowers to about 6 feet tall. Being so young, everything seems big at that age, so I could be wrong. I know, I shouldn’t brag, but naturally I won….naturally. 🙂 Sorry!!
BBSRC (BIotechnology and BIological SSciences RSearch CAuncil… phew) has created a sunflower growing activity e-book for kids, learning how plants grow.
Sunflower plant care
Sunflowers need plenty of water and sunlight, usually taking about two weeks to emerge and 90 days to reach full growth. If using chemical herbicides, make sure they are suitable for use on sunflowers or pull weeds by hand. Overwatering sunflowers can cause flower head damage, especially 20 days before or 20 days after full bloom.
Apply about 2 gallons of liquid fertilizer solution around the sunflower roots each week, being careful not to pour the solution onto the stems as this can rot the sunflower stems.
Try to position your sunflowers so that they spend as much as 6-8 hours or more in the sun as possible. If strong winds are forecast, hold off on watering until the wind dies down to prevent the sunflowers from blowing away.
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