Past Articles Library | Learn to Plant and Care for Sunflowers
As a child, I always grew sunflowers in my grandmother’s garden. She would pull out her gardening apron and out the door she would go. Her motivation for growing this annual flower was for the shade that they created in her garden space. The reason I grew them was two-fold. First, it gave me an excuse to spend time with my grandmother and two; I loved to watch the birds feed on the seeds in the winter.
If you are looking for an excuse to get out to the garden with your kids, consider planting sunflowers. They are easy to grow, really do not require any special equipment and the end product can be eaten by friend and foe.
Below is a guide by which you can follow to grow your own sunflowers.
The first step of this process is picking a garden site. Sunflowers like a soil that is well draining. They also like to be planted in a location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. To help the sunflowers stay upright, it is very helpful to plant them also in an area that has a windbreak. As an example, consider planting sunflowers along a fence or on the side of a building.
Now that you have your location selected, the next step is to prepare the garden site. This process starts with removing any vegetation on the ground. Once that is done, begin to dig and loosen the soil to a depth of 2 feet. After the soil has been loosened, it is time to mix in a good amount of well seasoned manure and/or compost. Do not just add it to the top but incorporate it down 8 inches into the garden bed.
After you have prepared the soil, you may need to wait to plant your seeds. Sunflowers are warm season annuals that should only be planted after your local frost free date has passed and your soil has had a chance to warm. Once these environmental conditions have been met, you are ready to start planting your sunflower seeds.
To begin the planting process, one will need a few things and one of the most important items is a ruler. Why is this? Well, at this point you have two choices in planting. The first one is to put several seeds in the same hole but this will require you to come back and thin the plants out. The second approach is to space them correctly while you are planting the seeds. While which technique you choose is up to you, I will talk about the latter.
The planting of sunflowers starts with digging a hole that is 1 inch deep. To keep the spacing correct, at this point lay down the ruler and continue to dig the holes as needed. Once that is done, go back and place one seed in each hole and fill in with soil.
To help the sunflowers develop strong roots, one will need to sprinkle some fertilizer on top of the soil and then water the seeds in. If you plan on planting more sunflowers, make sure to space the rows out 30 inches.
Depending on why you are growing sunflowers, you may want to space out the plantings every 5 to 6 weeks. This will give you blooms all season long but not all of the blooms will have a chance to go to seed.
Continue to monitor the soil moisture and water when needed. Once the seeds germinate, take the watering out 3 to 4 inches. At this point in time, this is the root zone of the sunflower. Watering in this area will encourage deep root growth.
During this time, the seedlings are a favorite food of snails and slugs. They will actually eat the seedlings to the ground. To prevent this, place snail and slug bait around the garden until the seedling are taller than 4 inches.
Even though sunflowers have deep root, they still need some type of support. If you planted your seeds along a fence or wall, you have all you need but if this was not the case, you will need to come up with another technique. As an idea, consider using bamboo stakes or a trellis. Once you have this support, loosely tie the sunflowers to the support. Continue to tie the sunflower plant as it grows in height.
As the growing season continues, you will notice that birds and squirrels begin to show interest in the sunflowers. To keep these animals from eating your seed, cover and secure the seed heads with a garden fleece.
The problems that sunflowers have are pretty much limited. Sometimes, a moth will lay its eggs in the blooms. If this happens, simply pick out the worms.
As far as plant diseases go, sunflowers can get rust, powdery mildew, and/or downy mildew. All of these are caused by wet foliage and poor plant ventilation. To reduce the chances of developing these problems, make sure the seeds are planted 6 inches apart.
If you are growing your sunflowers for the seeds, you may wonder how do you know when the seeds are ready to pick. Well, the answer is simple and starts off with how does the flower head look. The sunflower head will begin to droop as the seeds begin to ripen. The back of the flower head will begin to turn from green to yellow. Once that happens, the sunflower seed head is ready to pick.
Regardless of what you plan on doing with your sunflower seeds, the easiest way of getting the seeds off the flower head is to let nature do it. To do this, cut the seed head so that there is at least 4 inches of stem left. After you have cut one, place the head in a paper bag. Do not use plastic. A plastic bag will cause the seeds to mold and become useless. Next, tie off the bag and hang it in a warm location. Do not be tempted to put more than one seed head in a paper bag. While it can save room, you want good amount of air moving around the seed head for proper drying.
At this point, it is simply a waiting game. As the seeds dry, they will fall off the head and into the bag. If you find that some seeds still remain on the seed head, take your finger and loosen them up from the flower. Keep the seeds inside the paper bag until you are ready to use them.
Now that you know how to grow sunflowers, you may be thinking that they are just too simple to grow in your flower garden space but before you decide that take a look at your local nursery. There are several different types and colors of sunflowers available. With a little effort, I am sure you can find a variety that fits into your landscape design.