What Sunflowers Seeds to Buy?
When you buy sunflower seeds you may also see their botanical name on the packet -Helianthus Annuus. The variety of the sunflower is written after this. The Greek word ‘Helios’ means sun and Anthus means ‘flower’, hence sunflower. Not all sunflowers are tall and yellow.
Helianthus Annuus ‘Russian Giant’ This easily grows to 3m or more with a yellow face and bright yellow petals.
Gardening Which’s top tall variety of sunflower is Helianthus Annuus ‘Claret’ with dark red flowers and centre growing to a height of 2.3m.
There are dwarf sunflowers which grow to the height of an adults’ knee i.e. toddler eye level. Because they are smaller they are usually quicker to grow and are good for impatient little ones. The following are all dwarf.
Helianthus Annuus ‘Munchkin’ This is one of the best dwarf sunflowers to grow in pots and it is also long flowering.
Helianthus Annuus ‘Little Dorrit’ has a large, yellow head with a deep chocolate centre. It grows up to a metre and is good for the border.
Helianthus Annuus ‘Autumn Time’ has different coloured blooms of gold, yellow, orange and bronze blooms with more than one flower on a stem – It is good for a small garden.
Some seed companies promote sunflower seeds especially suited for children to grow. Look out for the packets labelled ‘Kew for Kids’. In the High Street Wilkinson stocks sunflower seeds and so will your local garden centre.
When to Start GrowingApr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Planting time ← at least 10 weeks→ Flowering time
It takes from at least 10 weeks to grow a sunflower from planting the seed to the flower opening. The seeds will sprout and start to grow in 2 to 3 weeks.
Where you decide to plan your sunflower seeds will dictate how and when you plant them. You can plant sunflowers in small pots for potting on, straight into the ground, in pots for the flower to grow there. If you have brought a packet of sunflower seeds then read the basic instructions set out on the back of the packet.
Sowing in Under Cover in Small Pots
Sunflowers can be started in small pots with the seedlings then moved to where you would like them to grow. From March onwards you can sow the seedlings at a depth of 2.5mm indoors in small containers filled with seed or multipurpose compost. Cover with a small polythene bag. Place on a warm windowsill inside and then harden them off outside in a sheltered position. When they have at least 4 leaves transplant them into your border once frost is no longer a danger, usually from mid- May onwards.
If you do not want to move seedlings then you can sow them in a sunny prepared flower bed when the soil is warm, usually from mid-April at 1cm depth (see seed packet for spacing) though watch out early in the season that your seedlings don’t become a tasty meal for the slugs. Make a second sowing about 2 weeks later to extend the flowering season.
Sow Outside in a Large Pot
Most varieties will work in pots, but leave plenty of root space. Dwarf varieties are happy in smaller pots. All pots will need to have drainage holes and your sunflowers may need support. From April onwards fill the pot with multipurpose compost, with a layer of stones at the bottom to aid drainage, and plant 1 to 3 seeds per pot.
Where to Grow Sunflowers in the Garden
All sunflowers like to be grown in a place that gets full sun. They need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. When placing plants it is worth remembering that the buds follow the sun from east to west, but once they open, they usually face east. The French name for sunflower is ‘Tourne-a-sol’ meaning–turn to the sun. Tall sunflowers also work well grown against a sunny wall.
If you grow vegetables why not grow some sunflowers in the vegetable plot. How about growing some in your front garden so everybody can see them? The dwarf varieties work well on balconies.
Water regularly whilst your sunflowers are growing. They will also benefit from being fed with a fertilizer. Once the flower has opened water the plant daily. Tall varieties with large flowers, especially if grown in a windy location, may need to be staked with a bamboo cane. You can do this as the sunflower grows.
The dead flower heads containing seeds can then be left in winter as a bird feeder.
Why Might Your Sunflower not Grow?
Sometimes seeds may not germinate. If the soil is too wet then the seeds may drown. If the soil is too dry then the seeds could die. Many small sunflower seedlings and plants are eaten by slugs and snails so you will need to protect them.
Nearly all sunflowers grown in this country are annuals, which means you need to plant them each year. Don’t forget to save some of the seeds from the seed head once the flowers have died to grow more sunflowers next year.
The large flower heads of sunflowers attract bees and other pollinating insects. Your children could conduct an insect count on them.
In the summer holidays a real sunflower treat is a visit to a pick your own farm which grows flowers. You can then see fields of sunflowers and will be able to pick your own. Send a photograph of the sunflowers you have grown to kidsinthegarden.