Sunflowers are beautiful, easy to grow, and attract many kinds of birds to the garden. This is a guide about growing sunflowers.
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Sunflowers 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.
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.
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.
By Ellen Brown
Tips for growing sunflowers from the ThriftyFun community.
Plant them in full sun.
Plant seeds 1 inch deep and 6 inches apart (or according to package directions). Water well after planting.
Seedlings usually germinate within a week or two and take 80-90 days to reach maturity.
For taller plants that flower earlier, start them in 4 inch peat pots indoors.
Seedlings are usually thinned to 12-18 inches apart, but can be plants more closely together in containers.
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.
Sunflower roots grow deep and spread wide so make sure you use a large enough container.
Tall plants may need staking.
Keep the soil in your containers moist and fertilize them with a 1/2 strength organic liquid fertilizer every two weeks.
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.
By Sunflower Queen
I feed all birds and they always leave me a gift of Sunflowers. I have hundreds of sunflowers, just from birdseed.
By PJ from Oklahoma
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Here are questions related to Growing Sunflowers.
Any tips for growing sunflowers?
By Viktorija 04/10/2012
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!
By Red (Guest Post)03/21/2008
They do need direct sunlight. When starting plants indoors like that, it's helpful to put a "grow" light right over them so they don't have to stretch so far to find sunlight.
Are sunflowers perennials? Do they re-grow each year or do you have to plant new seeds every year?
Hardiness Zone: 6a
By Mark from Birmingham, MI
By Shirley 10/09/2010
Sunflowers are annuals, but do self-seed! Mulliens look like overgrown Foxglove, are annuals too, and also self-seed prolifically. They are not nearly as pretty as sunflowers, and can be quite invasive and do only come in yellow! Helleniums are family members and some are perennials. There are so many beautiful Sunflowers, it is just fun to plant different colors/versions each year. They are varied from creamy whites, to beautiful deep burgundies, even multi-colored!
Hardiness Zone: 9b
Marcia from Alturas, FL
There are a couple of different insects that specifically go after the seeds on sunflower plants. One is the Sunflower Seed Weevil (the Red or Gray variety), and the other is the Sunflower Midge.
In the larvae stage, Sunflower Seed Weevils have cream or yellow colored bodies that are legless and c-shaped. The larvae usually emerge in mid to late summer to feed on the seeds. There are several non-chemical methods used by commercial growers here in the Midwest to control the weevils. They include yearly crop rotation, early planting, fall plowing to destroy over wintering larvae and trap cropping.
If you're are not familiar with the term, trap cropping is planting a border consisting of a row or two of "bait" sunflowers around the perimeter of your main sunflower crop. These "bait" sunflowers should be planted so they bloom 10-14 days ahead of the rest of your crop. The emerging larvae will naturally migrate toward the first sunflowers that bloom and produce pollen. When they become concentrated in one area of the field, it is easier and more economical to manage them. When your trap crop becomes infested with weevils, you can then spray them with the appropriate chemical control. What you spray will depend on whether or not you're going to sell the sunflowers as cut flowers, or for consumption by animals, etc. Laws regarding insecticide use on commercial flowers can vary from state to state, so I would contact your local county extension agency for more information on the rules governing the commercial growing and selling of sunflowers in Florida.
The Sunflower Midge larva has a small (0.07 inch) cream colored body that is tapered to the front and rear. The larvae emerge in early July to feed on the sunflowers' developing heads and seeds.
Most conventional insecticides are not effective against the Sunflower Midge, because the larvae crawl inside the seed soon after hatching so they are protected from topically applied chemicals. By delaying planting until late May or early June, you can significantly reduce the amount of crop loss due to midge damage. Again, your country extension agent should be able to give you more detailed advice on controlling these pests in your area.
By Ellen Brown
By Malinda/Pa (Guest Post)08/07/2006
I agree with the panty hose. Please don't use any sprays, because some of beautiful song birds may eat the seeds or the bugs.
My sunflower just keeps growing! The head hasn't come out yet and I am wondering if there is anything I should do to ensure that the head gets big as well. I've tied it up loosely to the garage so it won't fall over.
It looks like a "maximimus", or something similar to that name...lol
We grow regular sunflowers by the acre here and we just use ferilizers, 10-10-10.
But in my small gardens and flower beds i plant these also and i use the above fertilizer and every now and then a dose of the liquid for flowers. And the heads get so big and heavy if it is not tied to something it will bend and break.
But yours looks like it is gonna be a normal size head. This is what you want.
Will you post a picture of it when it does bloom???
I am a sunflower fanatic....lol.
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?
By Swifty 
By Abigail A. 05/29/2015
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: http://www.sunflowerguide.com/giant-sunflower.html
Why my sunflowers turn brown from top to bottom as soon as they start to bloom?
Hardiness Zone: 7b
Glavern from N.C.
By Sherry (Guest Post)09/06/2007
I would think it is from the heat and drought we are having as I am in Greensboro, NC. Sunflowers are very hardy and easy to grow. Better luck you next year!
How do you grow sunflower seeds?
By Kristina K.
My 8 foot sunflower has 4 buds appearing on it. Should I remove 2 of them to give it a chance of flowering? It has been 3 weeks and the other ones are all blooming.
This is my first time growing sunflowers. The one that is the farthest along is so big, it is drooping almost all the way to the ground. Am I supposed to stake it? Am I supposed to continue to water it? Thanks.
By Renee M.
My sunflowers have started to bloom, but the are not lasting long before they die. What can I use on them? Some of the leaves are big, but don't have any buds on them. What's wrong? I water them everyday sometimes even twice a day.
By Pamela T.
My brother said that the poop of African worms is organic and in their school they have something like a pig pen, 3 meters wide and 2 meters tall and inside of that is full of soil and African worms. Every month their teacher harvests the poop using it like soil for planting. My brother got some and put it in our backyard. I got some of it and put it on my sunflower; is it good or what?
By Eunel from Philippines
How many leaves should a sunflower have if it is more than one month old?
By Eunel from Philippines
The plant has two or more sucker flowers heads. Should I cut them out or trim the bottom leaves?
Below are photos related to this guide.
I captured these photos of the bees on our sunflowers busy pollinating the flowers.
By lovingnature from TN
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.
I have found feeding your flowers with a nice solution of plant food makes your blooms look wonderful!
By Wendy from Highland Michigan
Thrifty Fun has been around so long that many of our pages have been reset several times. Archives are older versions of the page and the feedback that was provided then.
I am planning to grow sunflowers in my dryland. Please give me some advice to grow a perfect harvest.
Hardiness Zone: 1
By Srinivas from India
I grew some mammoth sunflowers and have seeds. Can I plant those seeds? How do I use the seeds for planting?
Hardiness Zone: 7a
By Venman from Ocean County, NJ