Growing Sunflowers: How to Plant, Grow, and Take Care of Sunflowers

Can you name all of the purposes for a sunflower? They have quite a few that are worth mentioning. For instance, sunflowers make beautiful bouquets.

However, they also produce seeds that make tasty snacks, and they also are great for pollinating the bee population as well.

But we can’t forget how much color they can add to your yard or garden, and the simple beauty they provide.

Truthfully, they aren’t that difficult to grow either, and that is why we are going to share with you a complete guide to raising sunflowers and doing it well.

Here is how you can grow gorgeous sunflowers of your own:

Sunflower Varieties

There are many different varieties of sunflowers. I’m going to share the most prominent ones with you, but as you shop for your seeds you may find other varieties that work well for your growing situation too.

1. Giant Sungold

via davesgarden

If you are in the market for a unique sunflower this Giant Sungold will probably take your cake. It is known as a double bloomer sunflower. You will notice it doesn’t look like a typical sunflower. Instead, the head of it is big and puffy like a dandelion. The sunflower stands six feet tall and the blooms will reach eight inches across.

2. Strawberry Blonde

via Birds & Blooms

My favorite sunflowers are the multicolored varieties. I think their colors really add something extra special to them. This variety is a multicolored sunflower that stands at six feet tall. The tips are yellow while the rest of the bloom is a reddish pink.

3. Mammoth Russian

via West Coast Seeds

A lot of people grow sunflowers because of their sheer size. They are hard not to notice when they are extremely tall and produce big, bold heads of color. This Mammoth Russian will grow to be a whopping nine to twelve feet tall. It also produces large, striped seeds that make them easy to identify.

4. Italian White

via American Meadows

When you think of a sunflower, would you rather see a lighter colored flower that stands tall but isn’t quite as flashy? If so, then you’ll love the Italian White. It grows four-inch white blooms but has a large dark colored center. This flower will stands anywhere from five to seven feet tall.

Also, this sunflower variety will produce multiple flowers throughout one growing season. That is great news if you’d like to see new flowers produce throughout the season.

5. Little Becka

via Swallowtail Garden Seeds

Some people really enjoy sunflowers but fear they don’t have the space to grow them. This variety solves that issue. Little Becka is a dwarf sunflower variety that only grows to be three feet tall, and her blooms grow to be six inches in width.

Also, it produces a gorgeous color bloom. The colors start out as a golden color, go to a crimson red, and then back to gold at the base.

6. Moulin Rouge

via Grow me Sunflowers

As soon as you think moulin rouge I hope you think red because if so, you would be correct. This is a darker colored sunflower that has a very courageous colored bloom. It is a dark red that stands out though it is a shorter variety of sunflower because it only reaches four feet.

7. Soraya

via Johnny's Selected Seeds

Do you tend to shy away from sunflowers because of their tendency to fall over? This variety will cure that ailment for you.

In fact, Soraya sunflowers are known for having large blooms and thick, sturdy stems that support the six-foot flower quite well.

8. Lemon Queen

via Groworganic.com

I mentioned in the opening how sunflowers are great for the bees because they love them. The Lemon Queen variety is known as the number one pollinator variety.

9. Super Snack Mix

via Birds & Blooms

A lot of people grow sunflowers with the intent of eating the seeds. If that is the case, then you probably already guessed that the Super Snack Mix variety is a great option since it produces large seeds that are easy to crack open and snack on.

Also, this variety grows to be around six feet tall. It, too, will attract the bees and butterflies to your home as well.

10. Taiyo

via rareseeds

This variety is a Japanese heirloom variety that grows to be between five and six feet tall. They produce big heads with large centers that are most commonly used in flower arrangements.

How to Grow Sunflowers

Growing sunflowers is a rather simple process. It requires a little forethought as to where you are going to plant them and some prepping of the soil.

After that, you should be on your way to producing gorgeous sunflowers for the summer.

1. Prep the Grow Area

Before planting your sunflowers you will need to do some preparation to make sure that you plant them in the right area, to ensure that the soil is fertilized, and also that the soil is loose enough that the roots are able to spread.

First, you will want to be sure to plant the sunflowers where they will have wind protection. This could be on the side of a building, or you could do what I do, which is plant them along a fence line.

Also, you'll want them to be planted where they will get plenty of direct sunlight. The goal is to have roughly six to eight hours a day of direct sunlight.

Second, you need to make sure that you loosen up the soil where you are planning on planting. You will want to loosen the soil along the planting area two feet down and three feet wide.

Basically, this ensures that the long tap roots will be able to spread out because they are what offers stability to the whole plant.

Finally, you need to make sure that the ground is thoroughly fertilized. You want the soil to be richly fertilized eight inches beneath the surface.

This means you need to work in aged manure, compost, or chemical fertilizer ahead of time because sunflowers need the nutrients in order to grow properly.

2. Sow the Seeds

Sunflowers are easy plants to grow. You directly sow the seeds into the prepped planting location. Be sure to wait until after the last frost is finished.

Also, you want to make sure that the soil temperature is around 55-60 degrees Fahrenheit. This is usually around the end of April or beginning of May in most locations.

Once the soil is ready for the seeds, you’ll want to sow the seeds into the ground ensuring proper spacing. This means that your rows need to be 30 inches apart while the seeds in each row need to be planted six inches apart.

Plus, you need to make sure that you only plant the seeds one inch deep. This isn’t overly complicated. Just be sure the sunflowers aren’t growing on top of one another, and that you don’t plant the seeds so deep that they won’t sprout.

Once you’ve got your seeds planted, you’ll want to add fertilizer to help the roots. You want to do all you can to encourage strong roots in your plants because the stronger they are the more difficult it will be for the wind to knock your sunflowers over.

3. Share and Protect the Growth

Our final step in the planting process is making sure that you watch out for birds and squirrels. They like to snatch your sunflower seeds and make a meal out of them.

If you find they are a problem, you’ll need to purchase netting to protect your seeds until they’ve germinated and begin to sprout.

Also, if you want to encourage continuous growth throughout the summer, then for five to six weeks after the final frost, try planting numerous rows of sunflowers.

However, be sure to stagger out the plantings. That way when one planting is ready to stop producing, it’ll be time for the next planting to show up and show off.

4. Plant in Pots

A final note, if you want to plant a dwarf variety of sunflowers in pots, you can do so. Be sure to plant them in well-drained loose soil.

Also, be sure to put plenty of fertilizer in the soil as well to give the seeds what they need to grow.

How to Care for Your Sunflowers

Sunflowers are simple flowers that don’t require a lot of care after planting. There are only a few main things you will need to do to help your plants have a healthy growing season.

1. Stake Your Taller Varieties

The taller varieties of sunflowers will need to be staked in order to avoid the stems from breaking. You will want to put a solid stake at an angle into the ground and tie it to the stem of your sunflower to offer the necessary support.

However, keep in mind that you don’t need a fancy stake. Bamboo or tobacco sticks will do a fine job when tied to the sunflower stem with bailing twine.

2. Water Your Plants

via shutterstock

Watering your sunflowers is very important. They need the water, but you need to be careful not to overdo it.

When your plants are still young, you’ll need to water at the root of the plant in a three to four-inch circumference around the plant.

Keep in mind, you’ll water when the soil around the plant is dry. If there is still dampness in the soil you run the risk of overwatering.

Then as the plant gets older and begins to hold its own, you’ll want to begin watering only once per week. That is unless there is an unseasonal amount of moisture or dryness. You will need to water more or less often in those cases.

When you water a more mature plant, you will want to put three to four gallons of water in the ground around the plant when watering.

3. Fertilize Sparingly

You did the majority of the fertilizing sunflowers require prior to planting them. Now that they are planted, your goal is to not over fertilize them.

Which means, if you fertilize your sunflowers one to two times per month, that should be plenty. You’ll need to be careful when doing this that you don’t allow the fertilizer to touch the base of the plant.

A good idea to avoid that from happening is to dig a circle around the plant and fill it with fertilizer. Then add water and that way you know that no fertilizer will destroy the plants base.

Basically, if you over fertilize your plant, you are running the risk of weakening the stem and your sunflowers falling over.

4. Apply Mulch

By mulching around the base of your sunflowers not only are you keeping weeds down, but you are also helping the sunflowers to hold moisture in as well.

Though sunflowers handle drought well, this will still help them to maintain the moisture they need to stay healthy.

But be sure to put a thick layer of mulch around the base of the sunflower. If it isn’t several inches thick, then it won’t do the job you need it to do.

Sunflower Problems and Solutions

Sunflowers are hassle-free plants for the most part. They do have a few small things that can happen to them, but if you know what you are dealing with upfront, then the problem should be able to be corrected in a timely manner.

1. Rust

via Grainews

Rust is exactly what it sounds like. You will begin to see leaves curl and look misshapen. You will also see red and orange bumps or yellow and white spots on the leaves too.

Also, you may see orange and yellow streaks on the leaves as well. Rust usually doesn’t kill a plant, it just decreases the overall health of it.

Solution:

When rust develops it is difficult to get rid of. You’ll need to begin by clearing out any debris in between your sunflowers. You’ll want to remove any area impacted by it, and also make sure that you aren’t getting the leaves wet when watering.

Also, you can treat it with a fungicide as well. You can also take preventative measures by dusting your plants with sulfur, putting proper spacing between plants for airflow, and making sure not to get the leaves damp.

2. Powdery Mildew

via HomeGrown Lifestyle

Powdery Mildew is a fungus that makes the leaves of your plant look like they have been sprinkled with powdered sugar. The older leaves will often develop it first and then dry out.

Solution:

Powdery Mildew can be treated with a fungicide and by removing any parts of the sunflower that have been infected.

Also, you can prevent this disease by not watering the sunflowers overhead. Powdery Mildew forms in humidity. If you can decrease humidity, then you can decrease your chances for Powdery Mildew.

3. Leaf Mottle

Leaf Mottle is a fungus that forms in the soil.

Solution:

If your soil develops this around your sunflowers, then you’ll need to rotate your crop in order to get rid of it.

4. Empty Seeds

Sunflower seeds have an outer casing that includes smaller seeds inside of it. If you open the casing and there is no seed, then you’ll know you have this problem.

Solution:

Most often this happens when fall comes early. The best way to prevent this from happening is to plant earlier.

5. Downy Mildew

via Jeffco Gardener

Downy Mildew is a fungus that has a blue tint to it. It forms on the bottom side of the leaves.

Solution:

You will have to use a fungicide to treat Downy Mildew, like any other fungus. However, if you don’t like the idea of using a fungicide on your plants, then try mixing one teaspoon of baking soda per one quart of water.

6. Birds and Squirrels

via Chicago Garden

Birds and squirrels will try to eat your seeds when they are first planted, as I mentioned above. Your plants will be safe during sprouting, but once they form heads, they are up for grabs again. They need protection.

Solution:

You will need to cover the newly planted seeds with netting to keep them from being eaten. The mature sunflower heads will need to be covered as well.

But you can use items you may already have on hand, such as a cheesecloth or pantyhose.

7. Deer

Deer will graze in your yard if they think you have a source of food for them. You’ll need to prevent them from entering your property by using proper fencing.

8. Moths

Moths are not a huge threat to your sunflowers, though certain moths will try to lay their eggs on the blossoms of your sunflowers.

However, you just have to pick the worms off of your sunflowers.

Best and Worst Companion Plants

The best companion plants for sunflowers are:

  • Bush beans
  • Squash
  • Cucumbers
  • Corn
  • Lettuce
  • Any plant infested by aphids

Bush beans are a great companion plant because they produce their own nitrogen which means that they and sunflowers won’t be competing for nutrients in the soil.

Also, sunflowers are great to use as natural trellises which is great to support vine cucumbers and corn. Sunflowers also provide necessary shade that cucumbers and lettuce desire.

Finally, any plant that can become easily infected with aphids is a great candidate to plant around sunflowers because sunflowers are known for being hearty and having thick stalks. This is hard on aphids and discourages them from coming around.

The worst companion plant for a sunflower is potatoes. When you plant sunflowers and potatoes near one another they will work against each other and cause stunted growth.

How to Harvest and Store Sunflowers

Harvesting and storing your sunflowers and seeds is a simple process. You can do multiple things with sunflowers, and we are going to cover them all:

1. Harvest for Bouquet

via Get It Girl Style

If you grow sunflowers in hopes of having beautiful fresh cut bouquets whenever you like and for very little money, then you’ll need to know the proper way to harvest them.

You’ll begin by scoping your sunflower out. You’ll need to keep an eye out as to when it appears that a flower head could potentially bloom.

Then you’ll want to cut the main stem that is holding the head before the flower has bloomed. When cutting the flower early, it is in hopes that it will encourage extra side blooms.

However, you need to know to cut your flowers in the morning to discourage the flowers from wilting. You also need to make sure that you put the sunflowers in tall vases in order for them to be supported properly.

Finally, you’ll want to make sure that you give them fresh water daily in hopes that your fresh bouquets will last a week or more.

2. Harvest Sunflower Seeds: Option One

via Easy Living the Hard Way

You will wait until your sunflower has finished blooming to harvest the sunflower seeds. The base of the head will start off green and turn yellow. Then it will turn brown.

When the flower head has turned brown, it is time to act. You will see the sunflower heads begin to hang down like they are sad. When this happens, you need to put a cheesecloth over the flower head to keep the birds away.

Then you will cut the head off four inches below where the head starts. Once the flower head has been cut off, you’ll either use your fingers or a fork to dislodge the seeds.

Next, you’ll need to store or use the seeds. If you want to eat them, they are good for consumption immediately.

However, if you’d like to store them for later use, whether it be to eat or plant, you’ll need to dry them. You can then store them in an airtight container for two to three months and keep them in a cool, dark location.

Also, you can throw the seeds in a freezer bag and leave them in your freezer for up to one year as well.

3. Harvesting Sunflower Seeds: Option Two

You don’t have to wait for the sunflower heads to be hanging over before you decide to cut them off. Instead, you can cut the heads off early at four inches below the base of the head.

Then you hang them in a location where they are free from pests (i.e. indoors) upside down until the flower heads dry.

From there, you’ll know that the seeds are ready for harvest when they are plump and either completely black or black and white striped (depending on the type of sunflower you planted.)

Finally, you’ll preserve them using the same methods mentioned in the first option for harvesting sunflower seeds.

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