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Tips on How to Grow Sunflowers From Seed
Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is a fascinating plant to grow, especially for children. Whether you are growing for competition or pleasure, applying the following tips will help provide your sunflowers with the best conditions for good growth and health.
Choosing the type of sunflower to grow
The first step in growing sunflowers is deciding on the type you want to grow. There are 67 types of sunflowers in the world with one or more stems, growth height, head size and color. Read the details on each popular species below to help you make an informed choice about the sunflowers you plan to grow.
Music box is what is known as a dwarf variety, growing to a maximum height of 28 inches, making it suitable for container growing.
Teddy bear a type of sunflower smaller than Music Box, growing to about 12 – 18 inches.
Italian white sunflower, also a small variety, but with an attractive cream-colored flower.
Autumn mix unlike the above, it usually grows over 6 feet tall with a yellow and rust colored flower head, 5 – 6 inches in diameter.
The largest type of sunflower such as the Russian giant grows more than 15 feet tall with a large head diameter of up to 20 inches. It is obvious that larger types of sunflowers will require more space than the other previously mentioned types. Great fun if you have room to grow them.
What is the best place to grow sunflowers
Grow sunflowers in the ground exposed to direct sunlight and sheltered from the wind. Protect your sunflowers by supporting the stem with a bamboo pole as soon as the sunflower reaches 1 ft in height. This will help the stem grow straight and protect the sunflower from wind damage.
When the sunflower matures, the heavy weight of the head on the tall stem makes the sunflower susceptible to wind damage. Because wild sunflowers only grow between 2 and 6 feet tall, the risk of wind damage is far less than that of native sunflowers.
What is the best soil for growing sunflowers
Plant your seedlings in a good quality potting soil such as my personal favorite – Miracle Grow potting mix that holds water well and is enriched with plant food. Always keep the soil moist and prevent it from drying out completely. Consider adding manure to the garden soil where you plan to plant your seeds or seedlings.
Tips for germinating sunflower seeds
If you prefer to germinate your sunflower seeds before planting them in the soil, place at least 10 sheets of absorbent kitchen paper towel on a plate, then soak it with water. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over a wet paper towel before placing them in a warm area such as an airing cupboard. The more paper towel sheets you use, the better the water holding capacity, which means less frequent watering will be required.
Checking the seed with regular watering will prevent paper towel drying, which is especially common in warm environments or direct sunlight. When your sunflower seeds begin to germinate, plant them in potting compost mixed with manure in your garden 2 inches deep, 1 – 2 feet apart.
Sowing sunflower seeds in pots
If you are germinating your sunflower seeds in pots, sow one seed in each pot 1 inch deep in 3 inch diameter pots. Use a good quality potting compost, such as Miracle Grow potting mix, before covering the top of the pot with clear cling film.
When green leaves appear above the soil after germination, remove the foil and place the container near a window that receives the most sunlight during the day, if possible. Turn the pot 180 degrees in the morning and again in the evening, checking that the soil is moist.
If the pot was too small or the sunflower was left in the pot for too long, it is likely that there will be a large accumulation of roots around the walls of the pot. Because sunflowers have long taproots that can grow up to 4 feet deep, allowing the plant to reach this stage in containers will seriously compromise growth.
Overcrowded roots can be safely removed by cutting off no more than 1/3 with a sharp knife. Separate and discard the dead soil surrounding the sunflower roots before planting in the garden. Do not forget to take care not to damage the remaining healthy roots.
Sowing sunflower seeds in the garden (recommended)
Sowing seeds directly into the garden is my preferred method where I have had the most success. Sow your sunflower seeds after the last frost of winter has passed and nighttime temperatures have risen above 5º or 10º Celsius. Sow in loose soil about 50 mm (2 inches) deep and 1 – 2 feet apart. Water the seeds regularly to a height of 2 feet when the second set of leaves appears. Liquid fertilizer should be added to the feed water from this point onwards.
- Sunflower (Helianthus annuus) is a fascinating plant to grow, especially for children. Sunflowers can grow up to 12 feet tall with a head diameter of up to 30 cm (1 foot).
- A sunflower head, often mistakenly called a flower, consists of 1000 – 2000 individual flowers. The petals surrounding the head are ray flowers.
- The sunflower is one of the fastest growing plants in the world, growing up to 30 cm (1 foot) per day.
- A fascinating characteristic of the sunflower is its ability to follow the direction of sunlight by pointing the sunflower head towards the sun. This behavior is called heliotropism.
- Wild sunflowers have smaller seeds, grow several branches and/or stems with more than one head. Only after hundreds of years of careful, hand-picked seeds is the native sunflower much larger with a single stem and flower head.
- The sunflower is the state flower of Kansas, USA and the nationally recognized flower of Russia.
- According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the tallest sunflower ever grown was in 1986 by M Heijms in Oirschot, Netherlands, at a height of 25 feet 5.5 inches (776 cm).
- The largest sunflower head ever recorded in the Guinness Book of World Records was 32 1/4 inches (82 cm) in diameter and was grown by Emily Martin of Maple Ridge, Canada in the hot summer of 1983.
- Although native to America, 60% of the world’s sunflower population is grown in Europe and Russia. Popular species among sunflower growers starting with the highest: Moonwalker, Pastiche, Velvet Queen, Russian Giant and smaller species Teddy Bear and Big Smile.
- Sunflowers are very effective in attracting butterflies, bees and birds.
- Sunflower is used to produce sunflower oil. As seeds, they are used to feed birds and as a healthy snack for children and adults.
- Sunflower seeds contain 50% polyunsaturated fats and are rich in Omega-6 fatty acids, which have been proven to reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases. Sunflower seeds are rich in calcium, as well as a number of other vitamins and minerals.
- Scientific name for sunflowers; Helianthus comes from two Greek words, Helios meaning sun and Anthos meaning flower.
- Sunflowers are perennial plants that grow every year.
- Sunflower seeds are poisonous to grass, so keep them away from your lawn, which would be destroyed by falling seeds.
Sunflowers: a great choice for children
Sunflowers are an excellent choice of plants for growing children. They are visually appealing, attracting a range of insects such as butterflies, bees and birds, in addition to being easy to grow.
You may be able to encourage friends or neighbors to compete with them to see who can grow the tallest sunflower. I personally have fond memories of competing with my neighbor as a 9-year-old child. If memory serves, I was able to grow three sunflowers to about 6 feet tall. Although so young, everything looks bigger at that age, so maybe I’m wrong. I know, I shouldn’t brag, but of course I won… of course of course. 🙂 Sorry!!
BBSRC (Bi. technology and Biologically WITHof science RResearch Ccouncil…yikes) have produced a sunflower growing activity e-book for young children to grow their own sunflowers, while learning how plants grow.
Caring for sunflower plants
Sunflowers need lots of watering and sunlight, taking about two weeks to emerge and 90 days to fully grow. If you use a chemical weed killer, make sure it is suitable for use on sunflowers or pull the weeds by hand. Overwatering sunflowers is likely to damage the flower heads, especially 20 days before or 20 days after full bloom.
Pour about 2 gallons of liquid fertilizer solution each week around the sunflower roots, being careful not to pour the solution over the stem as this has been found to cause sunflower stem rot.
Try to position your sunflowers so that they spend as much time in the sun as possible, preferably 6-8 hours or more. If strong winds are forecast, delay watering until the wind passes to prevent the sunflower from blowing away.
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