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Growing Sunflowers

Sunflowers are beautiful, easy to grow, and attract many kinds of birds to the garden. This is a guide about growing sunflowers.

Growing Sunflowers
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September 14, 2006 Flag
1 found this helpful

closeup of large sunflowerSunflowers are perhaps the most cheerful and endearing native flower in the United States. For centuries, Native American tribes have harvested these versatile flowers for a variety of nutritional, medicinal and spiritual purposes. Today, they are grown on virtually every continent in the world. Here are some helpful hints for growing and harvesting your own.

Easy-to-Plant & Grow

Sunflowers are one of the easiest garden crops to grow. They tolerate most soil types and their roots grow deep and spread wide, giving them the ability to withstand a fair amount of drought as well as tolerate any soil disturbance brought about by the cultivation of nearby crops. Seeds come in a variety of colors including black, white, red and black and white striped. Start seeds indoors in 4-inch peat pots or sow them directly into the soil. Plant them in a sunny position in soil that affords adequate drainage and has warmed to at least 45º F (preferably above 50ºF). For plant to develop fully flowering heads, avoid fertilizers high in nitrogen.

When purchasing seeds, keep in mind that most commercial varieties of sunflowers seeds are hybrids. This won't make a difference when consuming the seeds, but if your planning on collecting seed for future stock, look for heirloom varieties instead. Seeds should be planted at a depth of 2 inches and spaced 12 inches apart in rows spaced 24 inches apart. Tall varieties or those with extra large heads will need more space. Germination occurs quickly, usually within 7-10 days (often sooner). Most varieties reach maturity in 80-90 days.

The twenty-day period leading up to harvest is the most critical time in the development of sunflower seeds. Avoid placing water stress on plants during this time (either too much or too little) and keep soil moisture levels as consistent as possible.

Pests & Disease

Common Diseases: Watch for verticillium wilt, downy mildew, rust and white mold. As with most garden diseases, prevention is the best medicine. Good sanitation and cultivation techniques (e.g. crop rotation) will go along way toward warding off potential problems.

Non-Insect Pests: Birds and Squirrels love sunflower seeds as much as the gardeners that grow them. Because sunflower seeds mature right around the time these critters are gearing up for fall, your sunflower crop can quickly become ransacked if not protected. Cover sunflower heads with nylon stockings, cheesecloth or paper bags to make robbing the seeds more difficult. Avoid growing your sunflowers near fences or low buildings that offer quick access to squirrels.

Insect Pests: Sunflower moths (the larvae), aphids and white flies are the primary insect pests to watch out for. Sunflowers need bees for pollination, so the use of chemical insecticides isn't recommended. Aphids and white flies can usually be kept under control by periodically spraying your sunflowers with a strong jet of water. Delaying planting until late May or early June will reduce the likelihood of sunflower moth problems.

Drying Flower Heads

To dry heads for floral displays, cut the heads (with the desired portion of stem attached ) just as they are starting to open. The heads will continue to open as they dry. Bind the stems together with a rubber band or soft string and hang them upside down in a warm, dark room to dry.

Harvesting Your Seeds

Seeds can be harvested while green or allowed to remain on the plant to ripen. Regardless of the variety, most sunflowers will tell you when their seeds are ready to be harvested. Their heads will stop tracking the sun and start bowing to the ground, the backs of their heads will turn a light yellow color, the florets in the center of the head will start to shrivel and when cracked open, the seeds will be plump with meat. Cut off heads along with a portion of the stems and hang them upside down to try. Cover the heads with paper bags or cheesecloth to catch any falling seeds. When seeds are dry, simply scrape them away from the head with a knife, or thrash them onto a sheet.

Roasting Your Seeds

To prepare seeds for roasting, cover unshelled seeds with a solution containing 1/4 to 1/2 cup of salt in 2 quarts of water and allow them to soak for 24 hours. Drain and spread out on an absorbent material to dry. Roast sunflower seeds on a cookie sheet or in a shallow pan at 300º F for 30 to 40 minutes or until golden brown. Optional: Add one teaspoon of butter to 1 cup of roasted seeds and salt to taste. Seeds intended for animal food can be stored immediately after drying in an airtight container.


July 8, 2015 Flag
2 found this helpful
man tying up sunflowers

Photo Description
I tried to grow these 20 years ago, but a big storm took them away. Now I have been growing the biggest I have ever seen for the last two years. I love watching them grow; it is fabulous.

Photo Location
Scottsdale, AZ

Arizona Sunflowers 1

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December 29, 2005 Flag
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Sunflowers From Bird SeedsI feed all birds and they always leave me a gift of Sunflowers. I have hundreds of sunflowers, just from birdseed.

By PJ from Oklahoma

August 22, 2013 Flag
Finch on our Sunflowers

Photo Description
I captured these photos of a goldfinch eating the sunflower seeds from our flowers in our front garden. I took the pictures from inside looking through our glass doors.

Photo Location
Maryville, TN

Finch on our Sunflowers

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August 12, 2012 Flag

I captured these photos of the bees on our sunflowers busy pollinating the flowers.

Bees and Sunflowers (Maryville, TN)

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July 14, 2015 Flag
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I have been growing very special sunflowers for two years now. They seem to really take off as soon as I put the seed in the ground. It is almost magical.

sunflowers in vases

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September 13, 2007 Flag
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SunflowerTips for growing sunflowers from the ThriftyFun community.

Basics For Sunflowers

Here are some basics on growing sunflowers:
  1. Plant them in full sun.

  2. Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 6 inches apart (or according to package directions). Water well after planting.

  3. Seedlings usually germinate within a week or two and take 80-90 days to reach maturity.

  4. For taller plants that flower earlier, start them in 4 inch peat pots indoors.

  5. Seedlings are usually thinned to 12-18 inches apart, but can be plants more closely together in containers.

  6. Russian Giants, Kong, and Mammoth varieties grow as tall as 15 feet and have flower heads as large as 20" in diameter. You'll need a pot at least 15" inches deep and 15" in diameter (or larger) to grow these giants.

  7. Sunflower roots grow deep and spread wide so make sure you use a large enough container.

  8. Tall plants may need staking.

  9. Keep the soil in your containers moist and fertilize them with a 1/2 strength organic liquid fertilizer every two weeks.

  10. Sunflowers need lots of water (plants 6 feet tall can consume 8 gallons per week), but over-watering them can cause deformed seed heads. Use well-drained soil and keep the soil in your containers evenly moist. Water seedling deeply once per week for the first month so they develop deep roots. After that, water your sunflowers lightly every day.

Good Luck!


Soak The Seeds

Try soaking the sunflower seeds in warm water the night before you plant them.

Remove Wilting Foilage

It helps also to take off any foliage that is wilting or being eaten by bugs. Of course deadhead those plants to get blooms throughout fall!

By Wendola

Coffee Grounds

My nanny used to fertilize hers with some old coffee grounds once every couple of weeks and they grew and bloomed beautifully! Just sprinkle the grounds around the base of the plant and water.

By Michelle

Sunflowers Need...

Lots of sunshine and water!

By Frugalelf

Grow From Seed

Sunflower are super easy to grow. In Canada, it is cold most of the year, I plant the sunflower seeds in my garden the end of May. By the end of August, my heads are mature and ready for drying, for eating, or feeding the birds. I would not buy a mature plant. The beautiful yellow flower only lasts a few days.

By Maggie

Grow In Potting Soil

I have grown sunflowers since I was young. I am wanting them to grow big and use them in senior pictures. I started them in regular dirt and one in potting soil. The ones in the dirt were eaten, I think by something, and the one in the potting soil is amazing. Since then, I have planted 11 in cups with potting mix and potting soil. When you plant them in this, make sure you make a hole in the bottom or near the bottom. They look amazing, I just planted them 5 days ago and they are coming along great.

By Sunflower Queen

Balcony Tips

Sunflower seeds aren't that costly. I'd go to a garden section of a hardware store and buy them. If you are going to grow them in a planter on the balcony, first invest in a heavy planter to put them in. They'll grow tall and would be top heavy. Nice soil, sun, some water and patience, and voila! Good luck!

By Badwater

June 13, 2006 Flag
0 found this helpful

I have found feeding your flowers with a nice solution of plant food makes your blooms look wonderful. . .

Sunflowers With Bees

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April 9, 2012 Flag
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Any tips for growing sunflowers?

By Billy

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April 10, 20120 found this helpful

Well, the obvious answer is full sun! We plant them near our barn so that they are sheltered from damaging wind, and make sure the soil is very loose and rich. A bumper crop every year!

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April 10, 20120 found this helpful

I agree, just lots of sun. Sunflowers are super easy, you shouldn't have a big problem.

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April 10, 20120 found this helpful

We live on a hill, good breeze & wind all the time and our soil is a bit on the clay-ey side. I just plant the seeds, water them every now & then and basically leave them alone. They grow beautifully. The ones I planted on Mar. 3rd are about 4" tall now and doing great, even with a couple of late season light frosts.

Yes, they're quite easy! Good luck & have fun with them!

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May 27, 2015 Flag
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I have entered a competition to grow the tallest sunflower. At the moment it is three feet, but has started to come into flower. Will this stop the plant from growing taller?

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May 29, 20150 found this helpful

It will probably stop now. You will probably get more blooms and they will be a bit taller.

Here's a guide if you would like to try again:

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October 4, 2010 Flag
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Are sunflowers perennials? Do they re-grow each year or do you have to plant new seeds every year?

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March 19, 2008 Flag
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My questions are, why are they "bending" like that? Is it normal? What can I do to make them straight? Although some of them grow straight and are not bending like that. Should I move them to pots? I can't plant them out yet because they are so tiny, weak and will be destroyed by rain or wind.

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