How to Grow Sunflowers in Your Garden
Sunflowers, the large, happy blooms that show their faces at summer's peak, often stand heads above the rest. As a matter of fact, their height is one of the things that set them apart from other blooms. So, how can you add these cheery plants to your yard this year? We talked to two garden experts to find out.
Sunflowers thrive in an environment with full sun, so you'll need to first locate the sunniest spot in your garden. After you've decided where to grow them, Adrienne R. Roethling, the Director of Curation and Mission Delivery at Paul J. Ciener Botanical Garden, suggests picking up a pack of seeds to get started. "Never buy sunflowers from a nursery," she explains. "My biggest issue with that is plants are forced, flower, and are done so fast." Additionally, she says, the root system can get disrupted during the planting process.
Choosing a Variety
Sunflowers come in a myriad of colors and heights, ranging from two to 10 feet tall; both branching and single cut varieties exist, says Natasha McCrary, the owner and operator of 1818 Farms. "Branching sunflower varieties are planted if your goal is to use them as a tall, back border of your garden," she says. "If you plan to grow sunflowers for cutting and flower arranging, I recommend growing a pollen-less, single-cut variety such as the Procut series." Single-cut means that you will get one flower bloom per plant. "To have single-cut sunflowers all season long, plant seeds every seven to 10 days during the summer months."
Sunflowers seeds can be directly planted in your garden in the spring, after the danger of frost has passed. "Germination will be more successful once the soil temperature reaches 70 to 75 degrees," notes McCrary. "Seeds should be planted approximately one inch deep in well-drained, nutrient-rich soil." Branching varieties should be planted 18 inches apart, and single-cut varieties should be planted six inches apart; water the area daily until they germinate. After germination, water the plants as needed, using the dryness of the soil as a guide.
If you are growing sunflowers for cutting, it is recommended that you cut the stem as soon as you see the first petal unfurling. "This minimizes the chance for petal damage from common garden insects," says McCrary. To cut fresh sunflowers for your home, she suggests clipping them to the desired stem length, stripping all but the top three leaves, and placing the stem in a vase of fresh, cool water where the sunflower will continue unfurling over the next few days.
In addition to their beauty, sunflowers can also bring desirable visitors to your garden. "Insect pollinators love them in full bloom and gold finches love them for the seeds," says Roethling. "They are among my favorite in the garden."