There’s something special about seeing the joy in a child’s eyes as they gaze up at a stately sunflower, which just a few months earlier was a tiny seed in a cut-off milk carton. Sunflowers come in all sorts of colors and shapes and can enhance any garden.
Choosing a Variety
There are countless types of sunflowers in various colors and shapes. Choose according to taste but also the intended location. Tall-growing sunflowers can reach over 3 meters in height, so if you’re growing on a balcony or in a window, you should probably choose a low-growing variety. Mixing varieties with different colors in the same spot can be very beautiful.
If you’re sowing directly, you should think carefully beforehand, so that the sunflowers don’t risk shading other sun-loving plants. However, sunflowers are well suited to be intercropped with other flowers and vegetables, such as cucumbers and potatoes.
Where Can Sunflowers be Grown?
Sunflowers, as the name implies, thrive best in a sunny and warm location. If you’re growing a tall variety, it should also be somewhat protected from the wind, so the plant doesn’t risk breaking. Choose a spot with plenty of nutrients in the soil (or fertilize well before planting).
Sunflowers can both be started indoors and directly sown outdoors. Sunflowers are easy to grow and require minimal effort. A classic is to put a couple of seeds in a cut-off milk carton (or a pot) and watch them take off indoors. The advantage of starting indoors is that the sunflowers will bloom earlier in the season than otherwise.
When starting seeds indoors, fill a pot (or whatever you have available) up to two-thirds with regular (nutrient-rich) soil and top with seed compost. This way, you won’t have to transplant the sunflower when it starts to grow and needs nutrition. Cover the seed with a centimeter of seed compost. Before the seed has started to germinate, you should place the pot in a warm place. When the plant starts to emerge, it wants to be a bit cooler and with as much light as possible. Planting outdoors is done when the risk of frost is over.
If you choose to direct sow your seeds, wait until the middle of May or the beginning of June (depending on where you live in the country). Essentially, you just need to poke your seeds in, water, and then wait for them to germinate. But remember the location, that the sunflower likes it sunny and that nutrient-rich and loose soil yields taller and more stately plants.
As mentioned, sunflowers don’t require much care, but it’s important to water continuously. Tall varieties often require some form of support, so they don’t break or collapse when they start to shoot up. Use plant supports or whatever you have at hand.
Two potential problems are slugs and deer. If you have a lot of slugs in your garden, it may be a good idea to start your sunflowers indoors, so they are more resistant when they finally go outside. Against hungry deer, only fences or other physical barriers help.
Sunflower seeds can be harvested and eaten, but we usually leave them for the birds. A three-meter high sunflower is hardly something you pick – it has its rightful place in the garden. The lower varieties can be fantastic centerpieces in a go-away bouquet. But remember that bees and other pollinators love sunflowers – so only pick when someone has a round birthday!
Author: Johanna Damm
Fact-checked by Erik Hoekstra
Last updated 2022-10-14