Have you ever wondered how to grow sunflowers in your garden? Van Gogh painted this vibrant flower because it communicates ‘gratitude.’ The painter hung two paintings depicting sunflowers in the room of Paul Gauguin when he came to live with him in the Yellow House. So what makes this flower so fascinating that even artists are mesmerised by it?
The big, cheerful blooms of the sunflower follow the sun throughout the day and provide food and resting places for birds. Sunflower heights range from dwarf to giant, and the bloom colors range from yellow, red, to tri-color. These eye-catching flowers will bloom for several months during the summer and make long-lasting cut flowers. What not to like when it comes to this exquisite flower?
Discover how to grow sunflowers in 3 easy steps.
The first step is to select the right planting location. As their name indicates, sunflowers love the sun, so choose a planting location that is in full sun.
They are not picky about soil conditions and will grow anywhere except in heavy clay or soil that remains soggy.
A location that provides shelter from wind will be needed when growing the tallest varieties outdoors. Varieties like the American Giant or Skyscraper will reach 12-15 feet tall and be top-heavy, and high winds can easily cause them to topple over and break. A sheltered location, like along a fence or near a structure, will protect them from high winds.
The second step requires a bit of preparation. Sunflowers are very heavy feeders and need to be planted in soil rich in nutrients. Place 4-inches of compost on top of the soil and work it down to 8-inches. This will keep the soil from compacting and provide plenty of nutrition for the fast-growing plants throughout summer.
You can add your favorite type of slow-release plant food to the soil at this time too.
When growing sunflowers in a container, select potting soil that contains compost and slow-release fertilizer.
Use the right technique
To plant or not to plant? This is the question.
Wait until all danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed to 55 degrees F or warmer before planting seeds. Place seeds one 1/2-inches deep and 6-inches apart in prepared soil (in-ground or in a container). Cover seeds with soil, gently pat down, then water thoroughly.
Plant seeds every two weeks from the last spring frost until late spring to prolong the bloom time.
After the seeds germinate and the plants are 6-inches tall thin them out according to their mature size. Varieties that grow lateral branches will need 2-3 feet to spread out, and tall-growing varieties won’t need that much space and can be thinned out to 1-foot apart.
Caring for your Sunflowers
You can take a few steps to care for your sunflowers during the “infancy” stage. From birds to snails, many animals consider sunflowers a delicacy; we list the issues and how to solve the problem!
- Birds love sunflower seeds and will scratch in the soil and dig them up for a quick meal. If birds go after the freshly planted seeds, spread bird netting on top of the soil to prevent the birds from digging them up.
- Snails and slugs enjoy the taste of tender sunflower stems and will devour them as soon as the plants emerge. Apply a 2-inch layer of rough mulch, like tree bark, around the base of the sunflowers to prevent snails and slugs from reaching the plants. Soft-bodied garden pests will not crawl over rough mulch since it will create cuts on their underside and cause them to dehydrate and die.
Water and flower positioning can also become a problem if not addressed immediately. Don’t forget to:
- Water only during times of drought and then only once a week. Water deeply to encourage deep root growth to help the tall plants remain anchored securely in the soil.
- Stake and tie sunflowers if needed to keep them upright.
When the petals fall off and the backs of the flowerheads turn dark, harvest the flower heads. Sunflower seeds can be eaten or used as bird or chicken food. To prevent birds and squirrels from eating all the seeds before they have dried, place a piece of cheesecloth over the flowerheads and secure it in place with a rubber band.