Sunflowers

This grew from a seed a squirrel buried for later.

Credit: Jeff Childrey
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Botanical name: Helianthus

Plant type: Flower

Sun exposure: Full Sun

Soil type: Sandy, Loamy

Soil pH: Neutral
, Alkaline/Basic


Flower color: Yellow

Bloom time: Summer

Sunflowers say "summer" like no other plant.

Sunflowers are annuals with showy, daisylike flowerheads that are usually 2-4 inches across and bright yellow (though occasionally red). Tall and course, the plants have creeping or tuberous roots and large, bristly leaves. Today, varieties have even been developed for small spaces and containers.

Most sunflowers are remarkably tough and easy to grow as long as the soil is not waterlogged. Most are heat- and drought-tolerant. They make excellent cut flowers and many are attractive to bees and birds.

Planting

  • Sunflowers grow best in locations with full sun; they prefer long, hot summers to flower well.
  • Though they're not too fussy, sunflowers thrive in slightly acidic to somewhat alkaline (pH 6.0 to 7.5).
  • If possible, put seeds in a spot that is sheltered from strong winds, perhaps along a fence or near a building.

Planting Sunflower Seeds

  • It's easiest to sow seeds directly into the soil after the danger of spring frost is past. Ideally, the soil temperature has reached 55 to 60 degrees F.
  • Plant the large seeds no more than 1 inch deep and 4 to 6 inches apart in well-dug, loose soil after it has thoroughly warmed, from mid-April to late May.
  • A light application of fertilizer mixed in at planting time will encourage strong root growth to protect them from blowing over in the wind.
  • Experiment with plantings staggered over 5 to 6 weeks to keep enjoying continuous blooms.
  • Give plants plenty of room, especially for low-growing varieties that will branch out. Make rows about 30 inches apart. (For very small varieties, plant closer together.)
  • When the plants are six inches high, thin them to two feet.
  • If you see birds scratching around for the seeds, spread netting over the planted area until seeds germinate.

Care

  • Water plants deeply but infrequently to encourage deep rooting.
  • Feed plants only sparingly; overfertilization can cause stems to break in the fall.
  • Tall species and cultivars require support. Bamboo stakes are a good choice for any plant that has a strong, single stem and needs support for a short period of time.

Pests

  • Birds and squirrels will show interest in the seeds. if you plan to use the seeds, deter critters with barrier devices. As seed heads mature and flowers droop, you can cover each one with white polyspun garden fleece.
  • If you have deer, keep them at bay with a tall wire barrier.
  • Sunflowers are relatively insect-free. A small gray moth sometimes lays its eggs in the blossoms. Pick the worms from the plants.
  • Downy mildew, rust, and powdery mildew can also affect the plants. If fungal diseases are spotted early, spray with a general garden fungicide. 

Harvest/Storage

  • For indoor bouquets, cut the main stem before its flower bud has a chance to open to encourage side blooms. Cut stems early in the morning, when the buds first start showing color and are just beginning to open.
  • Arrange sunflowers in tall containers that provide good support for their heavy heads, and change the water every day to keep them fresh.

Harvesting Sunflower Seeds

  • To harvest seeds, keep an eye out for ripeness. The back of the flower head will turn from green to yellow and the bracts will begin to dry and turn brown; this happens about 30 to 45 days after bloom and seed moisture is about 35%. Generally, when the head turns brown on the back, seeds are usually ready for harvest.
  • Cut the head off the plant (about 4 inches below the flower head) and remove the seeds with your fingers or a fork.
  • To protect the seeds from birds, you can cover the flowers with a light fabric such as cheesecloth and a rubber band. Or, you can cut the flower head early and hang the heads upside down until they seeds are dry; hang indoors or in a place that's safe from birds and mice.

Recommended Varieties

Everyone is familiar with the huge sunflowers that grow on towering eight-foot-tall stalks. But, did you know that some varieties top off at a modest 15 inches?

  • The towering 'Mammoth' variety is the traditional giant sunflower. It is excellent for snacks and bird feeds, too.
  • 'Autumn Beauty': One of the most spectacular cultivars, has many 6-inch flowers in shades of yellow, bronze, and mahogany on branching stems up to 7 feet tall.
  • 'Sunbeam': A standout bouquet flower, the van Gogh sunflower grows on a 5-foot plant with 5-inch flowers. The big, no-mess, pollenless flowers have rich, golden-yellow rays.
  • 'Teddy Bear': Just 2 to 3 feet tall, this small flower is perfect for small gardens and containers. The fluffy, deep-gold, 5-inch blossoms last for days in a vase.

Special Features

  • Attracts Butterflies
  • Attracts Birds

Cooking Notes

  • Some varieties provide small black seeds that are used in cooking oil, margarine, cosmetics, and animal feed; they are the best sunflower seeds for attracting the greatest variety of songbirds.
  • The bigger, striped seeds are grown for snacking and as an ingredient in bread and health foods. They, too, are used for feeding birds, especially larger species such as jays and mourning doves.
  • For eating, the seeds must be dried on the plants. Rub the seeds off and soak them overnight in a gallon of water to which a cup of salt has been added, then dry them again in an oven at 250 degrees F for 4 to 5 hours. Store them in an airtight container.
  • One way to remove them is to rub the head of the sunflower across an old washboard or something similar. Just grip the head and rub it across the board as if you were washing clothes.

Wit & Wisdom

  • Need a bird seeder? Save dry heads and set them out in winter.
  • Save thick sunflower stems and dry them for winter kindling.
  • Interesting Fact: An anonymous buyer paid over $39 million in 1987 for Vincent van Gogh's Sunflowers.
  • Kansas is "The Sunflower State."

Here and yonder, high and low,
Goldenrod and sunflowers glow.

–Robert Kelley Weeks (1840–76)

E-Cards

Send a free e-card of a golden sunflower. Click here to find more sunflower images in our e-card gallery.

Comments

I missed the violence that

By Anonymous

I missed the violence that you are speaking of...sounded like simple solutions to repel critters and keep them away from your plants. Wasn't suggested to let the dog loose on em or pegged with a bb gun lol that my friend is violence!

Planting Sunflowers in August?

By Anonymous

I want to plant a sunflower patch at an outdoor community festival occuring in the beginning of August (we are located in Detroit, MI). Is this really bad timing since we will more than likely only have 2 more months of summer? If we do this will we be prepping for the seeds to come up the following spring?

Most sunflower varieties

By Almanac Staff

Most sunflower varieties blooms 55 to 75 days after planting. Find the number of days to maturity on your seeds packets. As long as it blooms by your first first, it's OK to plant. You can your first fall frost dates here: http://www.almanac.com/content/frost-chart-united-states Your frost is probably around early October so they may flower in time.

Sunflower

By Anonymous

my sunflowers seem real dry, watering them daily (twice. We are in Arizona seems when heat turned up, they started looking dry. Too much water? Second, at end of summer, do you need to remove stalk and all? Or will the grow flowers following season?

Sunflowers in Arizona enjoy

By Almanac Staff

Sunflowers in Arizona enjoy DEEP watering once a week--or, when the soil is dry below the first joint of your finger. For most varieties, you should expect them to grow for about 90 days and then the bloom will last a week or so. They will slowly dry out until it's a dried head on a brown stalk. At that point, you can take out some seeds to plant next year, harvest the seeds for eating, or let the birds enjoy the seeds. As far as the stalk goes: remove it and hack it up into the compost pile -- or leave it and use for a stake or trellis!

sunflowers

By Anonymous

can u have a house sunflower ?

They now have varieties that

By Almanac Staff

They now have varieties that have been developed for small spaces and containers. However, sunflowers often need lots of sun so location is extremely important.

Try talking with someone at your local garden center on the varieties that will work well in your home.

Thank you for your interest in the Old Farmer's Almanac and our Web site.

Ants

By Anonymous

Ants are eating the leaves of my sunflower what can I do to stop this happening?

Usually, when you see ants,

By Almanac Staff

Usually, when you see ants, you have lots of aphids (pests). Aphids love sunflowers, and ants follow the aphids to farm them for the honeydew. Use a soap spray to get those aphids off your flowers.

sunflower

By Anonymous

Can you have a sunflower plant growing upside down.

We've never tried this.

By Almanac Staff

We've never tried this. Flowers prefer to face the sun. When finished harvesting, you do hang the heads upside down to dry them.

Sprout the seed first?

By Anonymous

Someone recommended that I soak the seeds and place them in the sun to assist with the sprouting of the seed. Do you recommend this?

For sunflowers, soaking the

By Almanac Staff

For sunflowers, soaking the seed isn't needed for your everyday flower. However, crop studies that have shown pre-soaking of sunflower seeds in water for 12 hours or 24 hours followed by drying ensured higher germinability, early emergence, better growth of crop, and increased yield. Time can be saved between sowing and emergence.

My Sunflower

By Anonymous

I've just sowed a sunflower seed in a pot because I'd like to transfer it later on. Will the sunflower be stunted or altered in any way, as opposed to its brethren in the free soil? Also, how often is "infrequently" regarding the watering? Thank you!

As long as the plant has been

By Almanac Staff

As long as the plant has been properly cared for -- given enough light (about 6 to 8 hours at least), good potting mix with soil nutrition, proper watering, no pests/diseases, etc. -- then it can be as healthy as one planted directly outdoors. There’s a chance that it may be even healthier, as there is more opportunity for animals, cultural, other problems to pop up and disturb seedlings sown outdoors. When transplanting, choose a good site and be careful with the roots—try to disturb them as little as possible.
As for watering, sunflowers need about 1 inch of water per week. They can tolerate drought for a time. The soil should not be soggy. If the soil feels dry (say, down to about 1 inch deep from the surface), then it is time to water.

Sunflowers

By Anonymous

I have amazing sunflowers that came from my birdseed. How do I replant the seeds. We just had strong winds in FL and it blew them ALL down. I would love to plant the seeds next year. These sunflowers had numerous stalks/stems and about 15 + flowers each stalk.
THANKS !

Storing sunflower seeds

By Almanac Staff

The seeds need to be ripe and dried properly before storing. You can hang the seed heads in a sunny dry location to dry. Store the dried seeds in a paper bag in a dark cool place, away from critters, until ready to plant. Sow the seeds in good soil that has been amended with some compost or aged manure.

sunflower

By Anonymous

my daughter gave me a sunflower in a pot for mothers day. well the seed sprouted,long green vine now,i don't know what kind it is so i don't know if i should re-pot it outside or in larger pot,what should i do?

re-planting sunflower

By Almanac Staff

If the sunflower is planted in a small container, you need to repot it or plant it in the garden. Depending on what kind of sunflower it is it may need a new pot that is about 16” deep. Sunflowers have long roots.

Forgive the stupid questions...

By Anonymous

I have planted some sunflowers in my flower bed and am getting ready to plant a few mammoth sunflowers in front of my house. I have a few stupid novice questions, bare with me :)

- For the mammoth's, I can just let it keep growing right? Will it rebloom or do I have to harvest it and replant? I have no problem letting the birds get the seeds :)

- For the regular sunflowers, will they rebloom or will I need to replant seeds?

I'm just now getting into the gardening thing and had to start with my favorite flower the sunflower :) tia!!

can i plant the sunflower given to me for mother's day?

By Anonymous

Yesterday I received a sunflower from my mother in law for mother's day. It is about 2 feet tall already & the head is about 4-5 inches across. My great grandmother had a sunflower in her garden when I was growing up & I've always wanted one! Can I keep this thing alive?!

SUN FLOWERS ARE ANNUALS---THEY BLOOM AND DIE

By Anonymous

THE BEST WAY TO HAVE CONTINUOUS BLOOMS IS TO PLANT A VERY SHORT ROW ABOUT EVERY 3 WEEKS TILL MID SEPTEMBER---THE FROST AND FREEZE MAY GET YOUR LATEST PLANTING---BUT IF YOU START IN MARCH AND PLANT EVERY 3 WEEKS YOU WILL HAVE DONE THE BEST YOU COULD TO HAVE BLOOMS ALL SUMMER

planting sunflowers

By Almanac Staff

If the sunflower is planted in a small container, you need to repot it or plant it in the garden. Depending on what kind of sunflower it is it may need a new pot that is about 16” deep. Sunflowers have long roots.
If this is a single flower sunflower, the flower will eventually mature and you can collect the seeds for the birds. Some sunflowers have multiple blooms on one stalk and last longer.

Sun love

By Anonymous

I really love sunflowers ....and somehow i think they live me too!

sunflowers

By Anonymous

my son brought me home a sunflower that he started growing 22 days ago at school when is the best time for me to plsnt it outside and where should i plant it? and i live in florida and my yard is very sandy is that ok?

replanting sunflowers

By Almanac Staff

Yes, you may replant from a small container. Sunflowers grow best in full sun. They prefer average to rich soils as they have very deep roots so sandy soils aren't recommended as the sunflowers might get uprooted. Perhaps it would be better to replant in a bigger pot (that's about 16 inches deep) and set in a place where you and your child can enjoy from the window?

My son brought me home a

By Anonymous

My son brought me home a sunflower too for Mother's Day - I planted mine next to the fence which is sandy also but will receive up to 6-8 hours of sun each day - I'll see in a couple of weeks if it likes where it is - Good Luck & HAPPY MOTHERS DAY!

Slugs

By Anonymous

I have a problem with slugs. Do slugs eat sunflowers?

slugs and sunflowers

By Almanac Staff

Yes, slugs eat sunflowers. There are different ways to get rid of them: Put out shallow containers filled with beer. You'll find drowned slugs in the morning Or, if you can do it, handpicking is effective (in early morning or night with a flashlight!). See our SLUG page for more remedies: http://www.almanac.com/content/slugs

Sunflower

By Anonymous

I am planting some new ones this weekend. When I grew Mammoth ones in 2005, they were taller than my mobile home !! You can grow peas as companion plants and the peas will climb up your sunflower stalks. Just be sure to let your sunflowers get a foot tall or more before you plant the peas. Happy gardening.

the sunflower head

By Anonymous

watch the head of the sunflower during the course of a bright sunny day and you will see it rotate to face the sun, fascinating.

Beautiful!

By Anonymous

Beautiful!

Sunflowers

By Anonymous

I am a city girl who has moved to the county. I have always, always wanted sunflowers. I am on my way out to plant them for the first time ever. I hope they survive the efforts of a novice!

sunflowers

By Anonymous

as long as you don't plant them to deep or plant them in full shade they should be fine.

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