If you want to grow something really impressive this year, plant sunflowers (Helianthus annuus). Not only are they a wonderful flower because of their architecture, but also because they make a stunning cut flower.
Last summer, one of my highlights was a competition I had with my two year old daughter and her little friends to grow their own sunflowers. The enjoyment factor was immense for all of us and the children were amazed at something so tiny, which grew into something so big and beautiful, which was a joy. Watering the sunflower every day is a magical activity for any child and ideal for teaching them to look after the garden. Sunflowers are also perfect for inviting wildlife such as birds, bees, and butterflies into the garden.
Sunflower seeds aren’t just available in recognizable sun yellow – there are a variety of wonderful hues of light yellow, orange, dark red, purple, and even white flowers. Its bright flowers can be seen from midsummer to early fall.
Before buying, make sure you double-check how tall they get and that there is enough space – some get up to six feet tall.
I’d recommend something out of the ordinary that adds a color injection – Double Dandy, Ms. Mars, Procut Plum, and Claret are my favorites.
Sunflower seeds – Mrs. Mars
If you want a big yellow sunflower then go for a giraffe that can grow to heady heights of nearly five meters. The Russian giant is also another high-yielding variety.
Great dwarf varieties for container gardening include Baby Bear, Little Dorrit, Copper Queen, and Vanilla Ice.
‘Claret’ Helianthus annus
‘Russian giant’ Helianthus annuus
Thompson and Morgan
‘Giraffe’ Helianthus annus
‘Teddy bear’ Helianthus annuus
How to plant sunflowers
- Plant your seeds indoors between mid-March and May. Fill small pots with multi-purpose peat-free compost. I usually add some mineral vermiculite to improve drainage.
- Plant a seed in a peat pot about 1.5 cm deep.
- Pour the pots and cover them with a bell (or use a clear freezer bag).
- Place the pots on a windowsill that will not be exposed to direct sunlight. Make sure you always keep the compost moist.
- Once the seeds have germinated, usually after 10-14 days, remove the covers.
- Plant your seeds outside after the last frost, usually in April / May.
- (You need to harden the plants two weeks before planting them outdoors, moving the pots outside during the day and bringing them back inside at night.)
- Alternatively, sow the seeds directly in a container or in the ground in May. Make sure you clear the soil and add compost to the soil. Sunflowers need full sun, so put them in a sunny spot.
- Place the plants 45cm apart in the ground or use a dwarf variety and plant three seeds per pot in a 40cm pot.
How to care for sunflowers
- Water well after planting and always keep the soil moist. They don’t recover when they dry out.
- Once the flowers appear, feed them weekly.
- Support your flowers with sticks so that they not only grow straight up, but also become very heavy when they are tall. You don’t want them to bend or tear.
- Watch out for pests. Snails love them, so protect containers and young growth with wildlife-friendly snail or wool pellets.
- Leave the heads on the plants so the birds can eat until autumn.
- Cut off the plants in late autumn.
Tips for the tallest sunflowers
- Sow directly in the ground.
- Position in full sun.
- Give them space.
- Water and feed well.
- Remove any extra side shoots by growing just a single stem with a flower on it so that your sunflower will raise all of its energy.
How to collect sunflower seeds
- Wait for the petals to fall off. (You may need to cover the flowers with a net to protect them from birds that love to feed on them.)
- Cut the flowers and hold a long stem.
- Cover the flower heads with a paper bag and hang the flowers in a warm, dry place for a few weeks to dry them out.
- Once the seeds are dry, peel the seeds off the heads.
- Store the seeds in an airtight container.
incredibly fat-free multi-purpose compost
Thompson & Morgan
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