How to grow Sunflowers

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Sunflowers can be sown indoors in pots or seed trays from March or alternatively grown outside in the ground from late May.

There’s something incredibly uplifting about sunflowers, isn’t there? With their towering stems and vibrantly petals, these gorgeous plants are not only a feast for the eyes but also a fantastic way to introduce young children to the joys of gardening.

Being both easy to cultivate and care for, it’s not surprising that sunflowers are a firm family favourite across the UK.

You might also be interested in: Annual Plants for Wild Gardens

Top Tip

For a captivating display, plant a mix of different sunflower varieties – this will not only give you a range of heights and colours, but also extend the overall blooming period of your sunflower garden.

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Indoor Cultivation of Sunflowers

Starting as early as March, you can sow sunflower seeds indoors. Consider using individual pots or seed trays, approximately 10 cm in size. Fill these containers with a high-quality, peat-free multipurpose compost, which will provide your sunflower seeds with all the nourishment they need in their early stages of growth.

Indoor sowing is a savvy move as it shields your seeds and young sprouts from any potential frost damage. A sunny windowsill or a warm greenhouse can serve as an excellent nursery for your baby sunflowers.

Once you’re confident that the danger of frost has passed, typically around late May, you can move these sprouting stars to your outdoor garden.

Outdoor Sowing of Sunflowers

sunflowers growing guide

If you lean towards more traditional gardening methods, sowing your sunflower seeds directly into the ground might appeal more to you. Of course, this method will require you to wait a bit longer – until the risk of frost is completely out of sight and the soil has sufficiently warmed up. This is generally around late May to early June.

Before sowing, ensure your chosen patch is weed-free and raked to a fine tilth. Sow the seeds about 2cm deep, offering them a healthy drink of water afterwards. Once the seedlings start to appear, you may want to thin them out to leave the strongest contenders a minimum of 45cm apart. This spacing will allow each sunflower enough room to grow and flourish without competing for resources.

Caring for Your Sunflowers

Despite being relatively low-maintenance, sunflowers do require some attention.

As these plants start to shoot up towards the sky, they might need a bit of support. Consider loosely staking them with a garden cane, especially if your garden is prone to high winds. This simple step can help prevent your beautiful sunflowers from toppling over.

When they’re still small, sunflower seedlings can be quite attractive to garden critters such as slugs and snails. To protect these tender young plants, consider placing a protective ring around them. You can easily create one by repurposing a plastic bottle.

It’s also worth noting that sunflowers are sun-lovers (the clue is in the name!). They will thrive in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Regular watering, particularly during dry spells, will help them reach their full height and maintain their vivacious appeal.

Different Types of Sunflowers

Sunflowers come in an array of sizes and colours, each variety boasting its unique appeal. Knowing the different types of sunflowers can help you choose the one that best suits your garden space, soil type, and personal aesthetic.

Giant Sunflowers

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If you’re aiming to create a dramatic visual impact, nothing beats the towering beauty of giant sunflowers. Varieties such as ‘American Giant’ and ‘Russian Mammoth’ can reach astounding heights of up to 12 feet or more!

They produce large, dinner plate-sized flowers and are ideal for creating a natural screen or a standalone spectacle in your garden.

Medium-sized Sunflowers

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If space is at a premium, you might prefer medium-sized varieties. Sunflowers like ‘Sunforest Mix’ or ‘Velvet Queen’ grow to around 5-6 feet and still offer the classic sunflower look. They are perfect for brightening up borders or adding a splash of colour to your veggie patch.

Dwarf Sunflowers

For those with limited space or who love container gardening, dwarf sunflowers are an excellent choice. Varieties such as ‘Pacino Gold’ or ‘Little Dorrit‘ grow only up to 2-3 feet tall but don’t skimp on the charm, producing cheerful, vibrant blooms.

Colourful Varieties

Sunflowers aren’t just yellow! There are varieties with colours ranging from deepest red to soft pastels. ‘Cherry Rose’ has beautiful, rich red petals, while ‘Moonwalker’ flaunts lovely pale-yellow blooms. These colourful varieties can add an unexpected pop of colour to your sunflower garden.

Are Sunflowers Beneficial to Pollinators?

Sunflowers are a powerhouse in the world of pollination. Their large, vibrant blooms are a veritable feast for a range of pollinators, making these cheerful plants a vital component of a thriving, biodiverse garden ecosystem.

The primary pollinators attracted to sunflowers are bees, including honeybees, bumblebees, and solitary bees, all of which are drawn to the ample nectar and protein-rich pollen the flowers offer.

Butterflies, with their keen sense of colour, also frequent sunflower gardens.

By incorporating sunflowers into your garden, you are not only enhancing its aesthetic appeal but also contributing significantly to the health and sustainability of these crucial pollinator communities.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How long does it take for a sunflower to grow in the UK?

From sowing the seed to seeing the first bloom, it typically takes around 80 to 120 days for a sunflower to grow in the UK. The exact time can vary depending on the variety of sunflower and the specific growing conditions. So, it’s always best to check the packet of your chosen variety!

Q: Do sunflowers regrow next year?

Sunflowers are annual plants, meaning they complete their life cycle in one year. They do not regrow each year. However, if the sunflower heads are left on the plant, they can drop seeds which might germinate and grow into new plants the following year.

Q: Do you deadhead sunflowers?

Deadheading, or removing spent blooms, can encourage some varieties of sunflowers to produce more flowers. However, if you want to harvest the seeds or leave them as a food source for birds, you should leave the heads on the plants.

Q: How long do sunflowers last?

Once a sunflower blooms, the flower usually lasts around two to three weeks before it starts to wilt. But the exact lifespan of the bloom can depend on the weather conditions, the health of the plant, and the specific variety of sunflower.


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