Growing Sunflowers

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September 14, 2006

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.

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December 29, 2005

I feed all birds and they always leave me a gift of Sunflowers. I have hundreds of sunflowers, just from birdseed.

Sunflowers From Bird Seeds

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September 13, 2007

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.


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30 Questions

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June 7, 2018

My sunflowers were about 4-5 feet tall, but not yet flowering. Deer chomped the tops off. Will they continue to grow and eventually flower now?


Gold Post Medal for All Time! 677 Posts
June 7, 20181 found this helpful
Best Answer

Put pieces of Irish Spring soap in pantyhose legs and hang them around the sunflowers

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June 9, 20180 found this helpful
Best Answer

When I used to raise sunflowers, I was all about prevention (I liked using old CDs on colorful string to scare off critters). Since they were in the back and side of the house, the esthetics were OK. I polled my friends who still raise them and no one has had luck getting them to re-bloom after deer grazing.


Every variety is your experience could be different. I love it when they reseed and come back year after year.

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July 11, 2021

Yes, I've got many of these sunflowers planted in my yard but just this one has blooms growing all the way up the stem. Why is it doing this?

Can you please help me to figure this out? It's driving me crazy not knowing? Please and thank you.

A sunflower that grows flowers up the stalk.


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July 12, 20210 found this helpful
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I love sunflowers (in their place) but the branching variety is especially nice as you can many times cut several flowers at one time from only one plant.


As to how this one seed happened to be in a package with 'plain' sunflower seeds is not really a mystery as growers many times have seeds of different varieties in bins next to each other.
I have purchased seed packages that had a seed or two of an entirely different plant. may not happen often but it does happen.

There are a large number of different types of sunflowers and quite a few branching types; the branching type is not usually found in stores (maybe could be found in Ace Hardware stores?) and I have always had to order online.
Some sites call these heirloom but many varieties are easy to find online.

"Branching sunflowers last weeks longer than single cut sunflowers because they keep sprouting new stems, even if they go uncut for a week. They are a true 'cut & come again' cut flower. Branching sunflowers get so tall and literally look like trees with huge branches of sunflowers growing out of their sides (hence the name). I find that branching sunflowers produce stems that are shorter and skinnier, which makes them easier to work with in vase arrangements."

Two of my favorites are; Strawberry Blonde and Maximilian


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April 9, 2012

Any tips for growing sunflowers?

By Billy


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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February 28, 2015

How do you grow sunflower seeds?

By Kristina K.

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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


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, 2006


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



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!


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

Cover them with panty hose.

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By Malinda/Pa (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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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?

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September 4, 2007

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)
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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August 9, 2013

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, 2013

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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