Sunflowers are some of the most underrated plants in people’s backyards. They are extremely useful for many things, from their seeds which can be used as a snack to the oil made from them or the aesthetic value. Their big yellow flowers bring a splash of color in any darker corner of your yard. That’s why today we are going to learn how to grow sunflowers step by step.
How to Grow Sunflowers in Your Backyard
1. Choose the Variety You Desire
One of the best things about sunflowers is that they come in a huge array of varieties. Most of them will grow to be a couple of feet tall, but there are some cultivars that grow less if you’re a fan of those. Here you have the most popular varieties and a brief description for each of them:
- Teddy Bear – Just like the name says, this is a miniature variety that grows a maximum of 3 ft. It’s perfect for a smaller garden or if you want to plant just a corner of it.
- Sunbeam – This is a medium-sized variety that grows up to 5 ft. tall. It produces flowers that have long, asymmetrical petals, measuring 5 inches in diameter.
- Autumn Beauty – If you want to have large flowers, choose this variety. The flowers produced by Autumn Beauty measure 6 inches in diameter and have a fall-like appearance. As such, if you want a variation in color, go for bronze and mahogany shades.
- Mammoth – There is a reason why this variety is called like this, and that reason is that they grow very tall, between 9 and 12 feet.
2. Choose the Location
The ideal location when you decide on how to grow sunflowers is a place that enjoys full sun. Moreover, it needs to be sheltered from the wind. In general, sunflowers love warm or hot climates. After all, they didn’t get this name for nothing, did they? Ideally, you should plant these flowers on the north side to make sure they won’t shade the other plants you have.
3. Ensure an Adequate Soil
Before planting, make sure that you offer these beautiful flowers the soil they need. Use a soil tester and check for a pH between 6.0 and 7.5. But even if it doesn’t fall between these values, sunflowers can adapt easily almost anywhere. In any case, if you want to increase the pH level, you should add some acid compost or some planting mix. However, if you need to decrease it, add some granular sulfur.
4. Check the Drainage
Good drainage is essential for a good development of your sunflowers. In general, they are quite resilient, but the flooded soil is their main enemy. Check if the soil has proper drainage, or use a planter box instead. If it’s necessary, use cedar boards for a raised garden box. The best thing about cedar is the fact that it doesn’t rot if it’s exposed to water for a long time.
5. Check the Temperature
Before getting down to planting sunflowers, you need to make sure the soil has the right temperature. The ideal time for this is at the beginning of summer when the soil is already warm. Choose a day between mid-April and late May if you want to be sure you’re doing the right thing.
Plant the Seeds
6. Loosen the Soil
With a hand trowel or simply with your hands, loosen the soil. If you know it has a poor drainage or it has a low amount of nutrients, mix 3-4 inches of compost in it.
7. Dig Holes into the Ground
The holes should be 1-inch deep and 6 – 18 inches apart. The latter dimension depends on the variety you chose to plant. You don’t need any complicated tools for this step since you can simply use your hands. If you decide to plant in rows, leave around 30 inches of soil between each of them. Remember that these plants require a lot of space for a proper development.
8. Place the Seeds into the Soil
Simply take a few seeds and place them in each hole. Then, cover it all up with soil. Extra tip: stagger your planting over the course of a couple of weeks if you want to have them bloom at various times in the summer. This is useful if you want a longer blooming period since sunflowers only bloom once a year.
9. Add Fertilizer
After you plant the seed, you need to add a thin layer of organic fertilizer. Spread it all over the area you just planted if you want to enjoy some strong stalks.
10. Water Thoroughly
After you planted the seeds and added the fertilizer, you only need to wet the soil. Be careful not to flood or drench the seeds though!
Caring for Sunflowers
11. Water Regularly
An important part of knowing how to grow sunflowers correctly is to know when to water them. Sunflowers prefer infrequent and heavy watering instead of a frequent and shallow one. This happens because they have deep roots. If you notice a cloudy or hot week, you should adjust the process. These flowers will bloom 2-3 months after you planted them, so you should enjoy their amazing colors from mid to late summer.
12. Mulch the Area
When you’re sure that mulching won’t break your seedlings, cover the area with a layer. Choose a seed-free straw or other similar much. This helps prevent weed growth and retain moisture. After heavy rain, remember to top up the mulch.
13. Use Stakes
Depending on the variety you chose, you may need to use some stakes to support the flowers. This is especially important if you live in a windy area or if you notice your stalks aren’t strong enough. In this case, use some bamboo or wood stakes to support its weight.
Pests and Diseases
14. Take Care of Pests and Mildew
When learning how to grow sunflowers, you must know that they don’t generally attract insects. One exception would be the small gray moth. This insect might lay eggs right in the sunflower face. If you notice this, you should just pick out the worms.
In case of mildew and rust appearing on your flowers, you can use a fungicide to save them. Another danger might come from birds and deer, who use to eat the plants. A good netting can keep them at bay.
Harvest and Display
15. Harvesting Sunflower
Besides knowing how to grow sunflowers, you also need to know how to harvest them. If you want to eat the sunflower seeds, you should cut the flower heads just after they begin to droop. Another hint for the right moment is the back of the head turning yellow. Keep them upside down in a dry, airy place. Cover it with a paper bag or a cheesecloth to catch the falling seeds. If you want to roast the seeds, soak them in water and salt, drain them and put them on a baking sheet. Finally, roast them in an oven at low heat.
16. Displaying Sunflowers
Sunflowers make for excellent decorations, so it’s a great idea to keep them in a vase. Cut the stalk at an angle just before the flower opens in the morning. Keep them looking fresh in the vase by changing the water every other day.
Here you have a brief clip illustrating the entire process:
How to Grow Sunflowers Indoors – Tips and Tricks
Largely, the process is the same whether you plant outdoors or indoors. However, there are some differences you need to consider when planting in a pot. Here you have a couple of tips and tricks for this situation.
1. The containers you use should be clean and sterile, especially if you’re repurposing them.
2. The size of the containers should vary depending on the flower variety. Keep in mind these general guidelines:
- 12” – 16” in width for dwarf sunflowers;
- 18 liters/ 5 gallons for the Mammoth sunflower.
3. You can plant dwarf sunflower seeds in a window or porch box as well, but you need to thin out the weaker seedlings.
4. Add drainage material (such as terracotta pieces, gravel, or pebbles) at the bottom, add soil and well-rotted compost.
5. Plant the seeds 1 inch deep and minimum 10 cm apart.
6. Every seed requires 25 ml (0.83 fl oz) of water. Water every 1-2 days in this amount, depending on the soil moisture.
7. When learning how to grow sunflowers in a pot, remember that the seeds germinate in 3 – 8 days. If after 13 days you see no sprout, this means they won’t grow anymore.
8. The container should stay in a sunny part of the house, veranda or garden. Ensure it has full sun all day long. Don’t keep it in extreme rain, nor too close to a sunny window since the air there can become very hot.
9. You can use some fertilizer if you want an extra boost for your flowers, but this isn’t compulsory.
10. Use stakes if necessary. Some flowers manage on their own, while others require a stake to stay upright. Make sure that the pot is strong enough to support it, otherwise, tie it to a solid element in your home (a drainpipe, objects, the wall, etc.)
Learning how to grow sunflowers is an easy task, even for a gardening beginner. The bright colors these flowers offer make it worth all the effort, plus they require little maintenance. The best part is that you can use them for cooking as well, and they’re very healthy too. Whether you choose to plant them outdoors or indoors, make sure you offer them enough light and water and you’ll have beautiful flowers to brag about.
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