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Growing Sunflowers

Category Flowers
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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By 1 found this helpful
September 14, 2006

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.
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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.

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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.

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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.
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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.

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By 0 found this helpful
December 29, 2005

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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By 0 found this helpful
September 13, 2007

Tips 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!

Ellen

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

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April 10, 20120 found this helpful

This guide is about growing sunflowers in containers. Sunflowers are a wonderful addition to any garden space for their beautiful colors and visiting birds.

A sunflower plant growing in a light green container.

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Questions

Ask a QuestionHere are the questions asked by community members. Read on to see the answers provided by the ThriftyFun community or ask a new question.

April 9, 20121 found this helpful

Any tips for growing sunflowers?

By Billy

Answers

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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March 13, 20170 found this helpful

Full sun and good drainage. Also protect from birds.

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March 14, 20170 found this helpful

I grew them. You need full sunlight and plenty of water.

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By 0 found this helpful
October 4, 2010

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

Answers

October 5, 20100 found this helpful

While most sunflowers are annuals and the seeds have to be replanted every year, there ARE some very similar to sunflowers that are perennials, depending on the SIZE that you want. Check out by googling or ask etc to ask what is similar to sunflowers but are perennials. I know that helleniums (I am not sure of the spelling), and I think Mullins are similar, if you want tall ones. But if you want true sunflowers, you must plant every year! (But they are sure worth it in beauty!)

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October 9, 20100 found this helpful

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!

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August 6, 20060 found this helpful

Question:

I raised Mammoth Sunflowers this year, and they were beautiful. I would like to try to do it for a living, what spray should I use for the bugs that get into the seeds?

Hardiness Zone: 9b

Marcia from Alturas, FL

Answer:

Marcia,

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.

Good luck!
Ellen

Answers

By guest (Guest Post)
August 7, 20060 found this helpful

Cover them with panty hose.

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By guest (Guest Post)
August 7, 20060 found this helpful

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.

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By 0 found this helpful
May 27, 2015

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?

Answers

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: http://www.sunf  t-sunflower.html

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September 4, 20070 found this helpful

Why my sunflowers turn brown from top to bottom as soon as they start to bloom?

Hardiness Zone: 7b

Glavern from N.C.

Answers

By guest (Guest Post)
September 6, 20070 found this helpful

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!

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February 28, 20150 found this helpful

How do you grow sunflower seeds?

By Kristina K.

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August 9, 20130 found this helpful

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.

By Jax

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July 11, 20130 found this helpful

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.

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June 22, 20130 found this helpful

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.

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By 0 found this helpful
September 29, 2012

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

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By 0 found this helpful
September 29, 2012

How many leaves should a sunflower have if it is more than one month old?

By Eunel from Philippines

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July 12, 20110 found this helpful

The plant has two or more sucker flowers heads. Should I cut them out or trim the bottom leaves?

By Erik

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Photos

Share on ThriftyFunCheck out these photos. Click at right to share your own photo in this guide.

By 3 found this helpful
July 30, 2017

Photo Description
We decided to plant sunflowers around our entire garden this year since they are needed for the continued support of the bumblebee, which have been added to the endangered list. They are a real symbol of joy and hope~

Photo Location
Sterling, PA

Comment Like this photo? 3

August 12, 2012

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

By lovingnature from TN

Comment Like this photo? 4

August 22, 2013

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

Comment Like this photo? 6

June 13, 20060 found this helpful

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

By Wendy from Highland Michigan

Sunflowers With Bees

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August 16, 2007

Here are my giant sunflowers I grew this year. I am only 5'2" so you can see how tall they are. Some of them are 14 feet high. They are beautiful. I have them planted in a square shape around my pumpkin patch.

Have a great rest of the summer, fall will be here before you know it (my favorite time of year.)

By Sandy from Bluff City, TN

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By 2 found this helpful
July 8, 2015

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.

man tying up sunflowers

CommentPin It! Like this photo? 2

By 1 found this helpful
July 14, 2015

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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February 24, 2009

Here's a picture of sunflowers near our home. You can see some are shorter than the others. I cut them off before they bloomed so they would not be so tall. I like them shorter. I will cut them all this summer.

Sunflowers

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October 4, 20100 found this helpful

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

Answers:

Advice for Growing Sunflowers

Dry seeds and remove from heads. Do not remove from shells. Store in cool, dry location and plant outdoors in the spring after frost, just like purchased seed. Or start in pots a few weeks before last frost, then transplant. (09/11/2010)

By Contester

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September 4, 20100 found this helpful

I am planning to grow sunflowers in my dryland. Please give me some advice to grow a perfect harvest.

Regards.

Srinivas


Hardiness Zone: 1

By Srinivas from India

Answers:

Advice for Growing Sunflowers

Srinivas, I live in Phoenix, Az., US. It is low desert and very hot in summer. I grow sunflowers here with a little water. I grew up in Kansas where it gets pretty hot, but has more rainfall than here and sunflowers grow wild there. Good luck with them, I love them and there are many kinds.

Pat (05/18/2010)

By desertgal

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