A woman watering sunflowers in her garden outside.

A Step-by-Step Guide for Growing Sunflowers

From Seed to Sunshine

When it comes to growing sunflowers yourself, there are several steps to take to get it right. Before you get started, you should learn the necessary pointers to grow a successful sunflower crop. In the U.S., the best time to plant sunflower seeds is usually between April and July, although this could start a little earlier in the South, around mid-March. Once planted, sunflowers dislike their roots being disturbed, so planting directly in the ground is recommended instead of transplanting from pots. Read on to learn more about how to grow sunflowers.

How to Grow and Maintain Your Sunflowers

The Benefits of Sunflowers

There are many benefits that sunflower plants have to offer. From their impressive heights that protect shade-requiring plants from harsh sunlight to their ability to attract pollinators such as honeybees, sunflowers are a wholesomely wonderful plant to have in your garden. Sunflowers also help keep weeds to a minimum in the surrounding areas of their soil, releasing a chemical that weeds cannot stand, almost like pest control. In addition to their useful capabilities, they are stunning to observe and offer edible, nutritional seeds to humans and animals alike!

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Tips for Growing Sunflowers

There are many steps to learn when you want to grow sunflowers. We’ve outlined them in a step-by-step guide below. Enjoy!

Pick the Spot and Prepare the Soil

It comes as no surprise that sunflowers love the sun! With that being said, make sure you choose a decently sunny spot in your garden, averaging six hours of sunlight a day. If you decide to grow a tall sunflower species, position them on the north side of your garden to allow other plants to gain sunlight instead of being blocked by their shadows. Additionally, if you have the option, plant your tall sunflowers close to a structure such as a wall or a fence for extra support.

When it comes to preparing the soil for your sunflower seeds, mix up some compost into the soil to promote healthier plant growth and additional nutrients. As sunflowers are pretty heavy feeders, make sure there is ample space between them and your other plants. The best kind of fertilizer to use at this stage is a slow-release, organic grain fertilizer, which is kind to your environment, too.

Choose and Plant Your Sunflower Seeds

Typically, there are two kinds of sunflower seeds to choose from: tall or tiny! Although there are actually 70 species of sunflower in the world, the most common species is the Annuus sunflower, known for its vibrant yellow coloring. Once you have chosen your sunflower seeds, avoid planting them indoors first as they don’t take lightly to transplanting.

Be sure to wait for the last frost before planting your sunflower seeds, and after that, you are good to go! Before you plant your seeds, wet a paper towel and keep them wrapped up there for 48 hours. Once you see a few little sprouts, your seeds are ready to plant. Push each seed about into the ground around one inch deep and six inches apart. There’s an option to plant seeds across two-week intervals to allow for a longer harvesting period, but this is your choice.

Protect Your Sunflowers Seeds and Plants

Once planted, your seeds are in a vulnerable position due to unwanted pests such as snails, squirrels and rats, who all love to eat sunflower seeds. If you have any of these pests visiting your garden, it is important to protect your seeds to allow them time to germinate and grow. Use barrier methods such as wire or hardware cloth across the whole area so animals cannot gain access to your seeds.

As your plants start to grow, you may notice deer are visiting your garden as they love the tender leaves on sunflower stems. Use chicken wire to prevent the deer’s access to your sunflowers and raise it higher as they grow.

Sunflower Maintenance

Before germination, sunflowers require frequent watering around the root zone to keep them moist until they germinate. To protect them, consider putting some slug bait around the stem as it grows. Once they have matured, you can reduce the amount of watering down to once a week with several gallons of water, which is enough to promote deep root growth and see the next week through. If it is a particularly hot time of year, you can give them a little extra water if needed.

On occasion, you can add diluted fertilizer in their water but avoid overfertilization. It can cause their stems to break. Taller species require additional support, such as bamboo stakes, to help their stem remain strong and intact.

Harvesting Your Sunflowers Once They’ve Grown

If you are growing sunflowers for garden aesthetics, continue with regular maintenance as long as possible. Most of the time, you will want to harvest them in due time. To make an indoor bouquet, cut the main stem just before its flower has the chance to bloom to encourage it once inside. Be sure to cut the stems first thing in the morning to avoid the flower wilting later in the day.

If handled carefully, sunflowers can last around a week in a vase of water, sitting at room temperature. Remember to use tall, supportive containers that can hold their heavy flower heads and change the water daily to keep them fresh and alive!