Anyone Can Grow Sunflowers!

Anyone Can Grow Sunflowers!
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flowerSunflowers are easy, and inexpensive to grow, and yes, everyone can do it! The days of sunflowers being contained to the vegetable garden are over. There are now varieties that can be grown in large pots and containers, as well as corners of your yard or garden. Children of all ages love sunflowers and can participate in choosing the variety, planting and harvesting.

The Basics

These are the basic technical tips you need to know about Sunflowers, or Helianthus Annus (their official name).

*Plant in full sun, where they will not shade other plants.

*Be sure to plant after the last frost in your area.

*The seeds should be 1 inch deep and 6 inches apart when planted.

*When the seedlings pop up, thin them to 1 1/2 foot apart or one foot for the dwarf varieties. (In containers you can squeeze them closer) We planted seeds in our porch box of the drawf varieties and thinned to 8 plants in a 3 foot long planter.

*Water well after planting and keep fairly moist until the seeds sprout.

Choosing Your Sunflowers

Children can be involved in every aspect of your sunflower garden. You can guide them in choosing the seeds. These are just a few of the options you will have.

*Teddy Bear: This variety has a full, almost "fuzzy" look and grows only 18 inches tall. You can plant this type in patio boxes or large pots. If you are in an apartment or limited on space this is perfect!

*Music Box: This is also considered a dwarf variety at 28 inches. You can buy a mix of this, so you end up with yellows and creams. This is also a wonderful container sunflower.

*Autumn Mix: The colors are yellow and rust; they grow tall, usually over 6 foot. We grew them in a very small corner off our porch and were able to use twine and tie them for support. The gold finches loved this variety. The flower heads are about 5 or 6 inches wide.

*Italian White: These cream colored sunflowers are small, but cheerful. They grow up to 4 foot tall, but stake easily. The gold finches also loved this variety. These too are great for a small corner of your yard or garden.

*Large Varieties: You will have many large varieties to choose from. Russian Giants grow 20 inch seed heads and the Kong Sunflower grows 10-15 foot tall. You will need more space for these, but they are worth it!

Planting Your Seeds

Using the tips above, plant your seeds after the last frost. The children can easily do this with a ruler, and a gardening spade or large spoon. Any soil will work, but a well drained soil with peat added is a better choice. Have the kids dig a bag of peat (very inexpensive)into the area you will be planting in. For the giant sunflowers, a strip of soil, about 1 1/2 to 2 foot wide or wider is great, especially against a fence where they can be tied to protect against the wind.

Don't be afraid to experiment! If you have a spot that needs something cheerful, then use it! Another project for the kids, with your help, is drawing out the area you will planting in and laying out the steps involved. This can be done ahead of time to get them excited. Remember that you don't have to plant the entire packet of seeds, or limit yourself to one large area. Using several small corners or strips of soil works well.

Growing and Harvesting

Sunflowers will pop out of the ground in a week to two weeks, and will start out slowly. If you notice birds or other animals bothering the little seedlings you can tent a piece of chicken wire, a milk jug with the top and bottom cut off or something similar to protect them. They will pick up speed in their growing process, and the children can be responsible for watching them, watering them, and placing cut up leaves or another type of mulch carefully around the bottoms of each plant.

Many people harvest all of the sunflowers and don't allow the birds to feed. I think for children, a nice alternative is to cover some of the heads with cheesecloth, mesh bags or old pantyhose, so you can roast the seeds later, but leave the other flowers for the birds. The children can record which birds come to the plants and how many, as an extra project.

When the seed heads start to turn brown, they can be cut with 2 inches of the stem and hung to dry in a ventilated place such as a garage or attic. When they are dry, simply rub them together to loosen, soak over night in salted water and then drain. Spread them on baking sheets and roast for three hours at 200 degrees until dry. These can be stored in a container for eating. Be sure to save some seeds out before this process, place in envelopes and label for planting next year. Store them in a dry cool place until spring.

Growing sunflowers can be a unique, family project. So much can be learned about nature and the growing process, as well as teaching children patience. The end result will be something they will always remember and treasure.


Is there a certain time to stake the sunflowers before they start to bend or take the chance of the wind getting to them? This is my first time and they are growing really good and I don't want to take the chance on loosing them. ~Diane

If your sunflowers are in a sheltered position they may not need staking, but that said, mine almost always do. If you can plan ahead and plant them in front of a fence that's the best thing to do. Then tie the stems to the fence. Use ripped cloth or soft plastic (I cut up the plastic shopping bags) that won't dig into the stem. Give it room to move some, but tie firm enough that it won't bend over. If you need to put in an actually stem, then use something thin like bamboo, and you'll have to do it a little bit away from the roots or you could damage them. Next season it would be best to locate them near a place you can tie them, or put in the stakes when you sow the seeds.

Why is it that sunflowers seem to grow with the flower itself facing one direction and I do mean one direction. ~Daniel

I am growing sunflowers and have very large, beautiful flowers! However, the petals have begun withering away, leaving just the seed area. Is this normal, and what could be happening? ~Heather

These are just two of the questions I've received about sunflowers recently. First, yes, sunflowers will turn to face the sun during the forming of the head, and then when they begin to bloom they will face east.

As far as the petals fading to leave the seed area--that's normal and is what all sunflowers will end up doing. Some last longer than others and the very large varieties will become very heavy and droop when the seed is forming. The birds, squirrels and wildlife will want to share your seeds. You can just leave them where they are and let the wildlife munch or you can cover the sunflower head with old clean nylons, cheese cloth or some other type of netting until the head is ripe. Then you can remove the seeds and use them for birdseed etc. Some people also cut the head off when ripe and hang it near their bird feeders.

Many of the questions I get about sunflowers seem to be from people disappointed that the flowers don't rebloom or last longer. This, however, is the nature of the sunflower--it blooms and then spends it's energy to make seeds which are used as food. I think of the seeds as part of the process and love watching the birds as they eat it.



About The Author

Brenda Hyde is a freelance writer living on ten acres in rural Michigan with her husband and three kids. She is a mom, grandma, gardener, cook and writer. She blogs on all of these topics at


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